ON LIFE, DEATH AND DANTE

There are some pretty amazing poets out there. After my interaction with Shane Koyczan, I’ve been exploring poetry more broadly.

Dante Alighieri (Italian) finished the Divine Comedy in 1320, after twelve years of working on it. He is considered to be one of most outstanding works of world literature to date, and it was written almost 700 years ago!

This got me thinking about change – we see the world change at a monumental pace: industrial revolution, technological advancements, the internet. The globalized world means something entirely different than it did twenty, fifty or one hundred years ago. Yet we see the same challenges, even looking back 700 years: divisions between land, food and community. Conflict and war. Desire for peace and equality, with passive ignorance for the growing inequality. It’s like the world is the same, with a different suit. (Note – I’m not saying that to be grim! I just think that there are common threads to human history due to us all….being…..human. If we wish to find out purpose and make a positive impact, it’s important to remember this to balance our expectations with reality, and search for meaning with our own spheres of influence. And we can do it! There’s so much good to do in the world!)

So back to my story: I worked in DR Congo, where the need was great. Despite working in the education sector, much of my role looked at governance: stakeholder mappings, power distributions, understanding political economy and the impact of state governance structures on its people. The inequality gap between the rich and the poor is so large that it’s overwhelming to think about where to start. The fragmentation of society, the lack of cohesion, perpetuates the problem. As I poured my energy into my work, it felt never-ending. I worried I was making the wrong choices, saying the wrong things. Everyone is constantly hoping that they are making a difference. Yet it’s hard to see change, especially when you are one small cog in the wheel. So many times it felt like I was lost in the dark, alone, scared, overwhelmed, and hopeless.

In comes Dante:

In the middle of our life’s walk
I found myself alone in a dark forest
Where my path was confused.

Ah how hard it is to retell

How dense, dark, and dangerous

The thought of it alone fills me
with fear!

So bitter that death is scarcely worse;
But to speak of the good I found there,
I shall tell of the other things
that I saw.

              – Dante, The Divine Comedy, Hell

Sometimes we go through experiences so complex, it’s hard to de-compartmentalize and explain to others. We start to reflect on a moment, and emotions become so overwhelming that all we can do is feel them. It becomes difficult to express the – Why? How? When? For what?

This can leave us feeling more lost. For me, I felt like I went through so much yet had nothing to say for it. What impact did I leave? Why was I there at all? One way I’ve learned to accept and move on is to think about my experiences as a story. I spent time in a country filled with beautiful people, who sing and dance, who love and hope. Yet many have struggles which seem insurmountable. I bore witness to these stories of light and dark. While the dark fills me with dread and fear, I’ve found the light and will be able take these stories with me to places they could not go alone. I can be the voice of the voiceless. This is powerful.

Dante’s Divine Comedy is very much about the soul’s experience towards God, towards the enlightened. It is worth reading the whole works to understand its implicit meaning. Or, if you fancy a parody version, watch it here. As much as entire works matter, I also believe that excerpts on their own have significance. The excerpt above spoke to me about dark paths leading to light – finding the sun beyond the trees. Descending into the 8 levels of hell, only to end up at purgatory, ready to change one’s life course. Even if you aren’t religious (I’m not), this has a lot of meaning: only when you descend to the deepest parts of your soul will you learn who you really are and alter your course towards your divine purpose.

We are the collective sums of our experiences. You are the collective sum of yours, just as I am of mine. We have our entire lives to carry stories and messages. You may not see the meaning in them now, but you will. Ah oh, shall you tell of the other things you saw. Don’t be afraid to struggle. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Ignoring them will certainly lead to self destruction.

It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having

as little misery and as much happiness as possible.

Samuel Johnson

Patience, little seedling.

Much love,

Ella

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