The Special Purpose of Highly Sensitive People {Poem}

a highly sensitive person has a special purpose

Every highly sensitive person senses things that others miss. Often, we speak of those things as physical sensations — the pad of a footstep, the exhausted grunt of a hard-worked man — but, just as often, they are intangible. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) pick up on the mood, the intent and, sometimes, on secrets that were meant to stay hidden. 

That experience weaves through the lines of this wonderful poem by Catherine Reid Day, just as it has woven through the seasons of her life. In it, Day describes how her sensitivity has allowed her to know things that should be impossible, and how it’s been an endless source of guidance — one which comes whether she asks for it or not but, often, just when it’s most desperately needed. 

This is only the second poem we’ve run at Highly Sensitive Refuge, but it speaks to the most misunderstood part of being a sensitive soul. If you’re a highly sensitive reader yourself, I believe you’ll find it uncannily familiar — and more than a little validating.  —Andre Sólo, editor

Moving Souls Over Thresholds

Catherine Reid Day


In August of 1952 my 
polio stricken mother 
lay beside a woman 
in an iron lung.
Relentless pressure 
felt in the womb.
Automated breathing
in the hospital room they shared.
my mother delivered me 
months later 
in isolation
convinced I’d arrived 
with a special purpose.

I caught my mother’s father’s last heart beat 
before it flew 
out my dormer window
brushing a limb of the oak tree
snagging a remnant of his hard life.
He’d leave it with me
to tend and carry on.
I did not understand why 
he refused 
to answer my childish demands.
I just wanted him to wake up.
I was four.

Ghosts visit me in every bedroom I inhabited.
Was he the first, asking me to walk his soul 
across the threshold?


I was 15 when a redheaded man 
deviled his way in while
my parents were away.
He lunged for my pinkness 
determined to amplify what he thought he
With a dizzy head 
I butted him off
my narrow bed onto the 
blue carpeted floor. 
I imagined 
it turned by night into shark infested waters.
I can’t recall that one’s name anymore.


Harsh sawing sound of
the London phone
ripped through my slumber. 
Waking me at midnight. 
It announced my friend’s brother’s suicide.
I’d never met him yet I already knew who was dead.
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “It was by shotgun.”
What am I to do for him? 
Or for his grieving sibling?
I was 20.


Shopping for a place to live with my darkly cynical husband
I spotted the stuccoed house in the city I call mine now.
I felt urgently that this was the house for us.
It’s got good bones.
Art deco plaster ceilings and wide windows
drew me in.
I could not get it out of my mind.
I wanted that house. 
It did not hold the same pull for him.

Disturbances started right away.
Each night I’d wake up 
always staring at the ceiling fan 
we’d installed.
I’d whimper. “Leave me alone.
Stop bugging me.”
No one I could see floated up there. 
Just a fan.

Months. Years. This waking and protesting.
My husband departed with his mistress
Proudly wearing a badge of his fellowship to Harvard.
I stayed and talked to the walls.

Then I learned who’d owned the home 
long before me. 
A gangster named Leon.
A known bad man.
He and one of his daughters 
each kidnapped
from the house. 
How many homes 
have endured multiple kidnappings?

He drove head-on into a wall
and left behind crimes 
he could not reckon 
or redeem.


My baby was just one
when she started talking to the ceiling.
Oh no, I thought.
You won’t bug the baby, too.

The ghostbuster told me it took a long time to contact him,
and when she did he said, 
“I do not wish to be interviewed.”

“I can bust him,” she advised.
“But you can do it yourself. 
You remind him of someone he loved. 
He likes the love in your home. 
He promises not to bother the baby.”

I played my part,
nudged Leon with assurances.
You did bad things. It’s okay. 
But you can’t stay here.
Move on please.
Good souls wait for you.
You are not the sum of all the bad in your life. 

I must have talked him over.
He doesn’t bother me anymore.


I get warnings.
A voice in my head while driving.
“Don’t stay in this lane. Go ahead and move over.”
I change lanes on the freeway
and just miss the wrong way driver speeding toward me.
I drive on through the chaos of vehicles 
stopped akimbo in their tracks.
Once safely home I unbuckle my little girl 
from her car seat.

Later that night watching local TV news 
I learn the end of the story.
Police chased a stolen car. 
That stolen car struck and killed a man 
in the lane where I’d been seconds before 
I changed lanes.

Now I drive that highway often and 
count the seconds 
between the warning words 
and where I was 
when the fleeing car 
crushed him. 


Or the warning.
Before we took the train from Nice to Paris.
November 13, 2015.
Urging me to watch out. 
For what? 


Hours later after our stroll along the river Seine
I lay awake in our hotel room
my husband and daughter sleeping next to me.

Sirens ripped the night. 
So many sirens.
My phone started to buzz on the night stand.
Messages from home. 
“Are you in Paris?” Are you okay?”

In the dark I reached for the remote and turned on French news.
Terrorists just two blocks from us at a cafe. 
And a soccer stadium.
And the Bataclan.
Bodies ripped by gunfire, drinks floating 
out of hands to smash 
on the floor.
We were sheltered from the carnage, 
yet so close.
My dread 
a premonition of ghosts to come.


I read somewhere that for every physical adventure, 
there’s the possibility of loss. 
That’s what makes it an adventure. 
For every spiritual adventure, there is only gain. 
So every physical adventure is really a spiritual one.

Maybe that is what my mother believed she knew,
locked in birthing pain,
to deliver me,
the one she thought was special,
into this lifetime.

What am I here for?
Moving souls over thresholds.
Wondering now, 
what beckons me 
on my own path 
to my other side?

Catherine Reid Day is a poet, essayist, psychologist, storyteller, and founder of Storyslices LLC. She’s adapting her story-based identity development method into the forthcoming book Identity, Longing, and Desire: The Urgency of Who You Are

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