Dante was 35 when he got lost in the woods. He said he was “midway on the journey of our life” and then suddenly realized that he wasn’t sure about anything. He thinks “the straightforward path had been lost.” Think about that. You go through childhood, school, early career–life generally feels like it’s on a certain trajectory. Every act, milestone and decision contributes to and reaffirms that trajectory. It is as if you’re traveling along a rainbow. Certain moments can turn green, red or violet, but at the end of the day, there’s still a pot of gold waiting. Reaching that gold just requires a solid mix of patience and hard work. But at some point, one wonders if the rainbow actually exists, let alone the pot of gold. Maybe there are different roads, alternative paths to reaching that pot. Dante’s “come to” moment in the forest pinpoints that exact moment when the words “what the” shoot through your brain and leave you wondering, “what next and where to?”
My Dante’s forest happened this summer. I woke up with a piercing pain in my lower back. It was as if someone had shot a nail through the upper part of my hip bone. All of a sudden I couldn’t bend over. Buckling my shoes was impossible. Driving a car was hell, and getting in and out was worse. Worst of all, I couldn’t lay my daughter in her bed without my lower body screaming. I went to doctors and chiropractors. I took pain meds. And at the end of it all, I wondered, “is this the way it’s gonna be?” What next and where to indeed.
In my prior 34 years, I felt as though I’d journeyed far and wide. I lived and worked abroad.
Knew a second language. Had friends at home and abroad. Had walked a rice paddy in Vietnam and experienced the mid-afternoon call to prayer from an Indonesian cornfield. Had been around the world, back again and was starting to put down roots in suburban America. But if I could never bend over again? What of my rainbow road? Sometimes we create our own Dante-like forests, and sometimes they are given to us. This summer, I had a little of both. And so began the run-up to my Dante Year (#danteyear), which officially begins today on the 35th anniversary of my birth. I plan to read one canto from his Divine Comedy every day and post two of the most fitting lines to Twitter (my feed). Over the course of 365 days, that will give me a chance to read his work three full times with another 65 quotes sprinkled in from other favorite poetic works. Blogs shall be posted at least every week.
This won’t be a journey like the other Passport Chronicles. This will initially be a journey of the mind. But ultimately, my goal is to cultivate my mind and body so that its ultimately ready to spend two weeks at a monastery somewhere in East Asia. And Passport Chronicles will help me get there.