Irises and open doors.

“Not knowing when the Dawn will come,

I open every Door.”

Emily Dickinson wrote that thought in 1884. I suspect she meant it relative to inspiration. Because she went on to finish the poem with the lines:

“Or has it Feathers, like a Bird,

Or Billows, like a Shore – ”

And, in my experience, that is so very much like how inspiration comes to a writer or an artist or a scientist or mathematician or builder or musician or any other dreamer of dreams. Sometimes it’s windborne, sometimes terribly elusive, sometimes crashing about, but often just creeping up like shadows at sunrise.

Of course, “open doors” are the other part of the equation – minds that are curious, two-way hearts, listening, seeing, a noticing intentionality, slanting shutters into our souls for slipping in fresh new things.

I do believe inspiration comes to all of us. It’s certainly available. And free. Like a public library filled with stories and poetry, art and experience. Inspiration is there in the world – in life – for the taking. It’s there for the borrowing.

What we do with the inspiration, however, and all its possibilities, is entirely up to each of us. Expression is not mandatory. But to do so is lovely. And incredibly human.

Not long ago, I was at the public library on Chesterfield Street in Aiken. Upstairs, in the research section, against the wall behind the bookcases that radiate out behind the checkout desk, I noticed (for the first time) three rather massive old microfilm reading machines.

Each machine is draped in a medium-grey-green, loosely fitted slipcover made of heavy serviceable material. The colors don’t quite match, one to the next, as if made over time by different hands. At first glance, they rather resemble hooded, primitive, ghost-like creatures with corners. And there they might simply wait to serve; huddled, crouched together at the end of the room, with raggedy chairs halfheartedly scooted under their laps.

And yet, on the front of each of their otherwise plain jackets is appliquéd a sort of patch; a beautifully, skillfully, lovingly, handmade cross-stitched and embroidered work of art – depicting irises in full flower. A single purple bloom in a square is on the left; the center patch is a row of irises in a multicolored mix; on the right is a thin column of massed blooms – mostly purples and greens with a splash of yellow.

Inquiring at the desk, I learned the covers, complete with their artwork, were crafted and donated by a local embroidery guild, to help protect these large, infrequently used giant magnifying boxes from dust and other sedentary elements. But that purpose would have been perfectly served without the art. The beauty was applied with hands and hearts that were visited by inspiration. Hands that then used the inspiration in this everyday, practical, impractical, completely wonderful way. Beauty for the sake of beauty. Art for inspiration’s sake alone. Perhaps to bring a bit of joy – and inspiration – to another human creature, who might be sitting, reading, working, writing, at a lone and quiet table nearby.

In silent appreciation, I walked up and looked closely at the covers and their art; touched them with my fingertips and imagination, made private memories of them. And I thought again of Emily Dickinson – a lover of flowers and gifts and beauty and all the things these creations represented, including solitude and hiding.

By the end of Emily Dickinson’s life, she had become so reclusive she never went out in public, rarely ever left her house, eventually not even venturing beyond her room – at least not in daylight. And she spoke to visitors who came to her home from behind a closed door only.

Yet, even in the end, she somehow continued to “open every door” for inspiration – for the dawn – for whenever it would come. And she transformed her inspiration into works of art: outlined and colored with words, stitched in cadence and rhyme.

And for longer than 100 years, she has loaned her inspiration out for free – perhaps to other writers who create small stories to pass along to other hearts and imaginations, perhaps to inspire one small moment of their lives.

Leaving the library, I went home and opened all my doors.