"Pain has an element of blank."

While Emily Dickinson may have intended, as the rest of her poem goes, for this element of "blank" to encompass "infinite realms" and "new periods of pain," I like to consider it to mean something akin to Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" blank. A placeholder. A zero. Not zero as in zero pain, but as in an empty O, a gasp of air and awareness where a realization, both soggy and leaden, can thump resolutely down. Because while pain can -- and does -- radiate, ebb and flow, potentially for years and years, I think it's this blank space in our hearts, always specifically left there for pain, that is the most painful definition of pain of all.

When someone writes of a great trial which they have endured and from which they have emerged, there's a little sentence where they say, "I had no idea what I was going to do, I thought it was over," after which they almost immediately tack on a smug and clean "and then I realized," and then supposedly everything begins to look up without a hitch. As if the pain they felt not only didn't take its own sweet time ebbing away, but even took with it that omniscient placeholder, leaving zero trace behind.

Why do we make mistakes? Well, besides the fact that we're infallibly human (nope, that's not a typo, just a paradox), of course. We assume mistakes are simply closed doors, but the truth is that mistakes are closed doors that open the way to new knowledge, insights, and experience -- the truly beautiful stuff of human existence. And while we may realize that the pain we feel upon making a mistake radiates, the pain does not eternally go on. The secret you weren't intended to see. The thought you should have repressed. The kiss that wasn't supposed to happen. With all of these mistake-moments comes a gasp, a startle, a shuddering knowing: something awry has occurred, and a rush of epiphany and ecstasy crashes into self-pity and anguish.

But only for a moment. Only to fill that placeholder. Until something new punches a hole in your gut, suffusing that perfect, painful O with a shock of color and flavor. Blue-green tears. The metallic taste of surprised laughter.

So, my response to Emily Dickinson is not one of perfect agreement, but qualifying diffidence; a resounding "this too shall pass." "Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. No feeling is final..." as one of my other beloved poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, whispers.

Make mistakes. Fill your pain placeholders. Wait until they're empty. Fill them again. Learn in between.

Moments of pain are just blank spaces. Joy and knowledge are everywhere in between.