Movin' On with Nellie: Stand the soul ajar and welcome life


“The Soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience” – Emily Dickinson

These words are from the mid-1800s poet Emily Dickson well known to literature majors. She wasn’t published until after her death and none of her poems, except maybe 1 or 2, had any title. She never married and lived most of her life in the attic of her father’s home. She also would capitalize common words like “Soul,” which then inflates the meaning of the word. Punctuation was used differently in her poems, as well.

But still the gist of these words have soulful meaning today, to us, even to those of us who can’t get away from our smart phones or laptops. The saying on decorative pieces for the home of “Live, Laugh, Love,” illustrates Emily’s stance to embrace life.

I remember in high school that I practiced this notion when I smiled at my fellow students and bellowed “Hi!” as we traversed the outdoor hallways in anticipation of lifting spirits and opening the door for reciprocity. When I wrote short stories and poems, I was close to that ecstatic experience. 

We can hear the notion also in Joseph Campbell’s urging, “Follow your bliss.” If we look at life as an invitation to leave the confines of onlooking to find that activity or purpose that makes “our heart sing” (another cliché), we will touch happiness. If we do not venture, we do not gain.

In 1989’s Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams, Mr. Keating teaches the boys the meaning of “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day.” He wraps the meaning of living in lessons like look at the world from atop the teacher’s desk, taking a risk to try out for a play, write a poem, or even to ask a girl out. 

If we unlock our arms that are crisscrossed on our chest, we can then spread them out to receive new adventures.  Our body language speaks, so practice talking or standing without crossed arms to invite the adventures of our lives into proximity.

In art studio, I found that throwing clay that I had mixed in the huge vat, forming the figures with my hands, then firing them until they were as hard as rock made me beam. It was cathartic as well since I worked out angst from spousal abuse. I still feel the wave of excitement when I think back to those days and knowing my pieces were received. Likewise, creating that article, short story or poem also had that Carpe-Diem moment for me too. 

I followed my bliss and left the door ajar when I went to college. My mother couldn’t understand that pull. She often said, “Get a real job,” because she saw the depth of my commitment –long nights studying or writing—instead of words like “I’m so proud of you.” Yes, it is bravery that hatches when we move ourselves out of our “comfort zone.” Does your soul stand ajar, ready to welcome life’s experiences?

—Nelda Curtiss is a retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her at [email protected]

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