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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Dante Invented the Mid-Life Crisis

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The Italian poet and moral philosopher of the 13th century, Dante Alighieri, knew more than most just how messy life and our shared humanity can be. He opens his epic work The Divine Comedy with these words. Written over seven hundred years ago, he knew how lost and disoriented we all become at times in our lives.

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself in a dark woods where the straight way had been lost sight of. How hard it is to say what it was like in the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense and gnarled the very thought of it renews my panic. It is bitter almost as death itself is bitter. But to rehearse the good it also brought be I will speak about the other things I saw there. How I got there I cannot clearly say, for I was moving like a sleepwalker the moment I stepped out of the right way.”

I have been in these woods that Dante described. I have been there more than once. He describes finding himself lost in the dark woods. When we find ourselves lost, we tend to think of it as a crisis. The reality is it can be a crisis or an opportunity. We get to decide. But this opportunity is not to be squandered. Immersed in these fires we can learn more about ourselves in one year than any other ten years of our lives.

Dante says so much in these few lines. It was the middle of his journey. He was in the dark. He had lost sight of the straight path. He didn’t recognize where he was. It was like nothing he had known, so much so, that he could not rightly describe it other than to say it was like a dense wood. So thick he was in a panic. He likens it to death, but points out that good things came from it. He didn’t know how he got there, but was aware that he had been walking unconsciously. And he knew he had stepped off the right path.

How do we know if we are experiencing these dark woods Dante describes? There are many signs, and everyone’s experience is different. But some of the signs are: you begin asking deep probing questions; you lose interest in the things you were once passionate about; nothing seems to make sense; the future seems particularly unclear or uncertain, or the future you see seems especially unattractive or meaningless to you; you have trouble getting to sleep, trouble sleeping through the night, or all you want to do is sleep; you have become generally restless; you become apathetic, everything seems vanilla; you start behaving recklessly; or you are unusually envious of other people.

Are you having a mid-life crisis or a mid-life opportunity? You get to decide.

Matthew Kelly

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