To Live Is So Startling

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”

Emily Dickinson

Sometimes the answer to the question–the one you weren’t quite aware you were asking–comes in the mail. At least that’s what happened to me on Friday.

Let me backtrack a bit. I have this new plan to blog once a week. Well, it’s actually an old plan, renewed. But new or old the plan is to blog once a week.

N.O. M.A.T.T.E.R. W.H.A.T.

So I sat down Friday with little more than an idea in my head about continuing this business of trying to love more.  In a grand mood, I was home from a haircut with Robbin. She’s magic, that one. I’m always a bit hipper and prettier when I leave her shop.

And yet, even in my I-look-pretty-awesome mood, I was grousing around because on my walk home I noticed and avoided a lot of

dog poop on the sidewalk.

Hold on dog lovers, it wasn’t like one dog shit on the sidewalks. It was more like every dog in town pooped on the sidewalk. And the truth, while I’m not a super complainy- type person, I am a rabid hater of dog poop on sidewalks.

I don’t understand why dogs can’t relieve themselves in the grass–isn’t it more pleasant there? Hell, I don’t even care if dog walkers neglect to retrieve their dog’s poop, bag it, and throw it away. As long as it’s in the grass, I can imagine it decomposing and making its way back into the soil. Go Nature!

I don’t; however, like to see the decomposing poop on the sidewalk. I don’t like to almost step in it or worse to step in it and have to scrape it from the treads in my tennis shoes. I hate having to train my eyes on the path instead of the sky which on Friday was full of huge white clouds quilted with thin streaks of blue. I don’t like to almost miss the doe and her two babies making their way through the ball park as if they were late for a game because I’m worried about stepping in a big pile of poop.

So when I began my blog post about loving more, it immediately devolved into a blog post/rant concerning the treachery of dog poop.

Enter Ms. Dickinson.  Here’s how it goes most days–after writing for a minute or two, I get up. Writing for a minute or two affects me that way–I just gotta move–run a rag over the kitchen countertops, toss a load of towels into the washer, make sure I have enough salt or flour or milk for lunch, let the dogs out. You name it, if there’s a distraction, I’ll ferret that sucker out. On Friday, mail was the distraction of choice.


And in the mail–a letter from a friend. Handwritten on the envelope, this Emily Dickinson quote taken from a letter she wrote to T. W. Higginson in the 1870s. It was, perhaps, the truest thing I’d read all week.

To Live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.

Yes, dog poop on the sidewalk is startling, but so are sky-quilted clouds and meandering deer and the way early morning sun glints off the million beads of dew on shaggy late summer grass.

It’s not hard to love more, is it, when you wake to the sound of your husband  lifting a fallen nest of baby robins, and you open the curtains, just as he places the nest full of gape-mouthed babies in the hydrangea bush outside your window.

To love more is to allow yourself to be startled.

Wait, I think I can say that better. To love more is to say enough with the resistance–go ahead and startle me world! I may not be ready for it, but I sure as hell don’t want to miss it, any of it. It’s about acknowledging and accepting that uncertainty is the norm. It’s to remember, as Nina Riggs wrote beautifully in her memoir, The Bright Hour that:

living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

To be startled is to know we are always on that tightrope.

To accept that the whole damned enterprise of living is a tightrope.

We resist being startled to our peril, and goddess knows it’s hard not to resist it. How much news about passports taken away from Latino US citizens can you take? How often do you have to read that the Secretary of Education wants to protect the rights for those accused of sexual abuse on college campuses while reducing liability of colleges? How many times can you bear to hear the president say the press is the enemy of the people?

It’s startling. And when I get startled, sometimes I get scared. So resistance kicks in, doesn’t it. Who wants to be startled all the time?

Like Emily Dickinson contends–it’s hard to get anything else done.


And yet, I am calling on myself, and you too, if you’re interested, to resist shutting down. To go ahead and say to the whole damned world–keep startling me. Because I’m beginning to believe it–to live is so startling.

In my back yard, the honeysuckle is fierce. Every year, I pull some of it down, and still it comes back and it climbs and weaves and clings its way up through the lilac and the burning bushes. And the crepe myrtle is just now bursting fuchsia. Right now. Right outside the window!

It’s startling, isn’t it. The tenacity of the honeysuckle, the grand display of the crepe myrtle. It’s startling, isn’t it. The baby girl grandchild who calls you “Gigi” for the first time. The 19 year old who cries at the possibility of a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Life is startling, people. Every fucking minute of it.


A friend of mine has a pre-schooler who asked her the other day, “Mom, do you think president trump will get peached?”

She answered, “I hope so buddy.”

A few minutes later her son asked again, perhaps with a bit more urgency, “I really hope president trump gets peached this week.”

I love this story for a couple of reasons:

One, it makes my heart glad that pre-schoolers see the necessity of impeaching our president.

And two–what if we just peached the fuckers? I mean, isn’t that the essence of loving more? Peaching those we disagree with? 


I’d love to sew this up neatly. I’d love to make all the stories come together. That’s what a writer does, right?

Maybe so, maybe not.

Maybe right now our job (writers, parents, dog owners, politicians, bakers and artists and conductors and vets) is to accept that “to live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else”

and to act accordingly.




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