I’ve been reflecting on a poem found in an old navy blue-covered book, published sometime in the 1920s. The two collections were found purposefully placed in a box, sitting in the rafters of a garage built by Country Man’s grandfather in the 1950s.
I wasn’t surprised that the books have been left up there for more than twenty years; his grandparents aren’t the reading kind, and they’re ok with that.
The poem is by the famous Emily Dickinson, called “Not In Vain.” It goes like this:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall no live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Each poem in the book is marked with a quickly written ‘A’; for why I am not sure. What I do know is my nose begins to burn each time I turn a page, stirring up long settled debris, a result of being left alone too long. I know his grandmother said they had to read some of these in school, a one room building not far from this house I live. I’m not sure if it’s still there anymore. Perhaps she marked it fast to say she read it, before scampering off outside to play.
When I read anything by Dickinson, beneath it all I read the word lonely. While I am far from scholarly enough to even pretend to critique or discern each line of her work, I still know what comes to mind, and I usually read sadness. It’s complicated and full of despair, much like those behind the pen and paper. But not always.
I am thankful for those with the gifts of words and prose; who continue to seek truth and meaning in life. It’s a gift to those who enjoy the words, and to those who may not have the passion or desire to take the road less traveled.
I appreciate Dickinson’s “Not In Vain”. That’s the road I understand. In my nature I could choose the life of a recluse, but I know I’m not created for that. I would look back with regret otherwise. I want to make a difference in the lives of other people. Be a friend.
Because I can’t do this life thing alone. It’s often a battle with my nature, but I won’t surrender.
Photos taken from our trip to Bear Country, South Dakota. We took my five year-old cousin, William, who was mesmerized with the snake. It must be a family thing.
What path have you chosen?