“The Love which moves the sun and other stars”: What Dante is Teaching Me about Resilience
By Crystal Hurd
Canto I of Dante’s Divine Comedy begins with darkness and despair:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
Of course, Virgil shows up after a few stanzas and offers to guide Dante through the Inferno, a horrid and terrible experience. Dante sees souls who are tethered to misery and torment in the afterlife. If you keep reading, he eventually ascends to Paradiso, but you have to wait 67 cantos (according to my copy) for him to arrive.
Isn’t that how life is? The Divine Comedy is still so powerful and moving because it is relevant (and some suggest allegorical). We enter this world from a dark womb and meet, soon after, a string of suffering. We cry out, arrested through our dependency by hunger or fear. As we age, we meet new and equally frightening things (from our experience) that introduce us to the old acquaintance of pain. The college of your dreams turned you down. Boyfriends/girlfriends break up with us. We distribute an endless number of resumes with still no job opportunities.
But that can’t last forever.
We eventually find the college that’s right for us. We settle into a satisfying major. We finally meet the man/woman who will become our spouse. We get a job in our field. We buy a house. We have children. Even after these events that establish us, we still at times deal with insignificance, flailing self-esteem, and grief. We move, as Dante, into different realms and experiences which discourage us for a time but should never cripple us.
You and I know the darkness doesn’t last. We are merely visitors, not residents. As we journey through, we come to understand that life is scattered with these moments of sadness and doubt. Personally, January always brings with it a dark, long melancholy which settles over me like a heavy blanket. I watch as my once-blooming roses freeze over and the grass fades. The vibrant trees in my backyard lose their verdant leaves and stand sharp and naked, like dreary and ominous thorns which stretch up to prick the sky. Everything is dying, I say to myself. It was just three years ago that my grandmother passed away in January. The ground was covered with snow, the soil crunching under our boots as we went to visit her. She – now this upturned Earth, this gathering of flowers and ribbons, this lingering emptiness. The loss of a loved one can deeply injure us. In the case with family grief, you truly never “get over it”; you simply make room for the numbing absence in your life.
But like Dante, I must remain on the path. I cannot let the past ruin the present as I travel toward a brighter, promising goal. True, I’m not happy all of the time. I am often so tangled in my complexities that I can’t diagnose winter’s discontent. But this year, I am making good on the promise not to stress out about the frivolous things. I am saying “No” to responsibilities which will demand my time and zap my energy. I am spending more time with friends and family and less worrying about career advancement.
And when I focus on these things, I am renewed. Dante had a mentor, a guide to help illuminate the landscapes but also to move him forward. And sometimes we need these valleys. We need an event which brings, with sometimes a stinging clarity, a new realization. When the time comes, embrace your brokenness but don’t surrender to despair. I am not a fan of whitewashing pain for the sake of appearing without blemish to others. I try to exercise patience and thankfulness in the darkest valleys although the struggle remains.
This month, as I have wrestled with sadness and attempting to implement my “New Year” goals, I remind myself that I will fail but I will get back up. I cling to friends and family for help, guidance, and reassurance. For Dante, it took an arduous survey of mankind in all of his flaws (as well as a final ascent with Beatrice and his vision of meeting Christ) to come to this understanding. Here we only see “through a glass dimly” but Dante’s vision reminds us that healing, that “ascension” is possible. Note how Dante has changed through Divine Comedy: he is paralyzed by fear in his first two cantos but evolves as he travels from darkness to light. The lesson is not lost on modern readers. With help surrounding us and hope within us, we can progress to the beloved places we long for.
Love is our guide; Love is our destination.
Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love which moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso, XXXIII, 142-145)
Dr. Crystal Hurd is a writer, reader, public school educator, and adjunct professor. She is happily married with three beautiful Terriers (adopted from local shelters). She is a certified book nerd who loves to read and research works involving faith, literature, art, and leadership. You can visit her webpage www.crystalhurd.com , friend her on Facebook, (Crystal Sullivan Hurd) and follow her on Twitter: @DoctorHurd and @hurdofficial.