Dwelling in Possibility

“I dwell in possibility.”
-Emily Dickinson

I’ve always thought this quote was pretty enough, but I hadn’t identified with it until quite recently. Maybe it’s the springtime. The days are getting longer. Trees are budding and birds are singing and people are re-emerging from the layers of winter. It’s a time of graduations and moves. It’s the season of new beginnings.

Whatever it is, it distracts my already easily diverted mind. Suddenly, everything is a possibility.
“Why don’t I be a writer? I think I’ll quit my job and be a writer.”
“Why don’t I lose 30 pounds and become a serious athlete again, a warrior woman?”
“Why don’t we move to the southwest–New Mexico, perhaps?”

We all know people who’ve always known what they want their lives to be. Ever since middle school, they’ve known they wanted to be a teacher. A doctor. A singer. And they go out and live that life, despite difficulties and obstacles. What is it about them that makes them able to stick with their dreams–happily so?

Most of us aren’t like that. Most of us, during that decade after 18, struggle to pare down the possible livelihoods we envisioned for ourselves, and to name what it is we want out of life. We may start down one path, only to realize–better sooner than later–that it is not the path for us.

I’m well past that decade now, but I still ask these questions. When is changing one’s path the right thing to do? (Is there such a thing as “the right thing?”) When is it just being fickle? My dream of being a warrior woman, for example, would be one such frivolity. Much as I’d love to be strong, fast, and lithe, I would not choose to prioritize it enough to give it the hours and sweat that path would demand.

The choice to change paths is made difficult because the options are in fact much more balanced. It’s not, say, a matter of giving up on my current path because it has gotten too difficult or risky. (I am a firm believer that nothing worthwhile is easily gained, anyway.) In fact, one of the things that holds me back from following all those other possibilities is that there is nothing wrong with the path that I’m on. I have a job in which I feel l am doing good, worthy things. (Got to put that law degree, and the hours, sweat and tears that earned it, to some use after all!) The work is challenging but the hours are flexible. I can count on a paycheck and my employer contributes to my retirement (to be banally practical for a moment, and there’s nothing I am if not overly practical). More broadly, I love our home, our city, our friends here. Sure, there are things missing we always wish for–or things we wish were missing–but for the most part, we live content lives.

Neither is it a matter of choosing another path because it is clearly better. I’m not at all sure that I’d live a “better” life were I on a different path. Having never traveled it, I simply can’t know.  But maybe, possibly, it is better.  Maybe.

It may be instead a matter of wondering–always wondering–if I would find more fulfillment on a different path. Is this urge just a case of the grass being greener? Yes, I know no choice would be perfect. But would I be less easily distracted if I was doing something that captivated my interest a little more? Maybe. Or maybe Ms. Dickinson had it right. Maybe this is not a phase. Maybe I too will dwell, always, in possibility. Maybe that’s why spring remains my favorite season.

PS: Two days after I posted this, I saw the following saying, and couldn’t help but add to my earlier musings:

The grass is always greener
where you water it.

Well, yes, there’s much value in making your own happiness no matter what path you find yourself on, but if you’re privileged enough to have a choice in paths, what then?

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