Emily Dickinson famously said, “I dwell in Possibility.”
The first time I encountered Dickinson’s poetry, I was very young. I loved it immediately, but understanding it has been an ongoing adventure as I’ve grown older and as my experiences have broadened and deepened and become more various.
To really understand how glorious it is, to dwell in possibility, it’s helpful to consider the opposite—being imprisoned by impossibility.
Dwelling in possibility is not about living in the future, or about obsessing with maybes and what-ifs; it’s about believing that all things are possible. It’s about not giving up, not allowing oneself to be crushed—about not letting disappointment drown the remains of hope.
Dwelling in possibility is the way to keep on going when things get tough, and the way to avoid being discouraged in the tiny things that can seem so heavy and so hard. It’s how to live when the differences we make to the world seem so minute in the face of so much need. It’s looking at relationships between countries like Israel and Palestine, or at the inequalities between women and men or between different ethnic groups or at any of the many injustices in the world, and not writing them off as a lost cause.
It’s helping one person at a time—beginning, I think with our own selves—to live a better, richer, more fulfilled life.
Almost exactly a century after Emily Dickinson’s birth, another poet was born: Maya Angelou. Perhaps her most famous title was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and, by the end of the book, we know too: She dreams of freedom.
I think these two wonderful women were, essentially, saying the same thing: Never give up hope.
is the darkening of hope—
the tightening of the noose
as the rope drops,
the smashing of the infrangible atom;
the devil set loose.
is the inability to see
or to divine the shape
turning off all the lights,
and hides in the shadows
of self-fulfilling-prophesy’d nights.
Impossibility is the death of hope
—and love and faith;
the wraith of life.
And so I choose to dwell
alive in Possibility;
it’s why the caged bird sings in me:
She’ll dream, and dream eternally,
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photos: Author’s Own Paintings