In this short life

by Elouise

Here’s another wise comment from Emily Dickinson, found in a volume of poetry for young people. I think it’s for us older folks, too. My comments follow.

In this short life
That only lasts an hour,
How much, how little,
Is within our power!

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Young People
Edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin
Illustrated by Chi Chung
Sterling Publishing Co., 1994

Not much here for me to love. If life is short and only lasts an hour, and since I’m nearer the end of my hour than ever before, my time to make an impact has come and almost gone.

Or so it seems. How do we assess the impact of one human life?

It’s easy to understand the quandary Emily describes. I want to make an impact. I want to make things better. I want to do volumes of good. I want my life to count for something. I don’t want to do it all, have it all, climb every mountain or ford every stream. I just want to make a measurable difference. For good, of course.

Yet life as lived is almost unbearably repetitious and often filled with poor decisions.

Emily Dickinson spent most of her short, painfully private life taking care of others, enjoying nature, reading, scribbling words on paper, and stuffing them away unseen. Today they’re everywhere in collections and volumes. The gift of a short life now gifting us with insights into nature and human nature.

St. Thomas Aquinas suggests we can’t judge the power of one person’s life narrative at the time of his or her death. The full, true meaning of a human life can’t be known until it plays out in the lives of others. Thus our good looms longer and larger than our lives; so does our evil or neglect of the good. What we do and what we don’t do matters.

Emily’s words ring painfully true. We’re faced with an exasperating quandary. Each day the seconds tick away, presenting us with limited options, limited time and limited power.

Because of this, we can’t pronounce final judgment on ourselves, much less others. Not just judgment about the meaning of our lives, but about the meaning of any one day, hour or minute.

Instead, I choose to focus on loving God, loving myself, and loving my neighbors. Not just my next-door neighbors, but those who live on the other side of this globe or the other side of the road.

Further, I choose to do this as a woman loved in all my glory and ignominy by my Creator. Every second of every day. And yes, I still choose to make a difference for good. Even though that means making a difference for ill from time to time, regardless of my best intentions.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 June 2017
Image found at 

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