Up late finishing another Dante paper. I love having written these essays, but, boy, they never do seem to happen without taking everything I've got. Of course that's the reason they're fulfilling.
I do always love to take breaks from paper writing by writing blog posts, but tonight I only have time for a short one. The gist of my current paper is that Dante finds a way to combine his love for a woman and his love for God. Beatrice, his beloved, doesn't just show him how to love God, but in some ways (possible heresy alert!!!) she actually becomes Christ for him, and his salvation comes through her. It's quite complicated, and it depends on about two hundred (actually about two thousand) years of poetic precedent for the mingling of the erotic and the divine loves. It's not my easiest paper because the issue is so thorny.
Listen to these tracks from the Shadowlands soundtrack:
In the autumn of 2010, Greer and I visited his parents at their lake house in Indiana. It rained and rained for days and Greer and I both got sick, and we were both trying to address big life questions about our next steps. I was agonizing over my grad school applications and Greer had just gotten news that his start date with the Army was delayed nine months. The trip was a little tense as we both tried to figure out how to navigate our professional plans, our love for each other, our big dreams for our lives, and the logistics of the immediate.
Greer rented this movie on VHS from the local library, and we watched it together in his parents' room upstairs. A lot of Lewis fans criticize this movie because Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Lewis isn't jolly enough, and that might be a fair point. But that aside, there is something about the mood of this movie that always stays with me. There's the almost painful longing that characterizes romantic love, the tragedy of death, the brisk thrill of the University, the stalwart institution of liturgical praise. There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in this soundtrack.
The soundtrack makes me just about die with love for Greer, first of all. It's the symbol of how much my interests and dreams mean to him. He has learned to love the things I love with similar passion, even though they're nowhere near his own discipline. That love then turns into my love for what I've decided to do professionally with this arduous academic track. It's like Greer's love for me is a coating over all of my academic work - because I mean something to him and this work means something to me, my schoolwork participates in our relationship. Every time I have one of these nights, where I'm filled with self loathing for failing to finish my paper days ago when I had more time, I remember that the midnight oil produces things in me that I can't seem to acquire any other way, and Greer somehow becomes a part of that. Every once in a while I'll have a moment when I'm overcome with joy and gratitude for being here - I'm learning the things I wanted to know, developing a few of the virtues I strive for, acquiring new eyes to see the world and other people. I think it's rare to long for something the way I longed for grad school and have it work out just as I'd hoped.
C.S. Lewis will always be my first academic love. He was the one who, right before my eyes, turned homework into prayer and scripture, and had an imagination fit for the task of feeding it to us in remarkably delightful stories. He's the one I turn to when I need a reminder that true expertise is displayed in simplicity.
Then my love for Yale feeds into the greater river of my one Love. I suppose the hunger for philosophy flows from my restlessness about my distance from God. Reading and discussing gives me the peace to love God with abandon in spite of the things that are wrong with the world - the answer to which is all about Love. Love for and from Greer, love for my schoolwork, love for God - not one of those threads can be pulled away from the others after they have met in me.
So I understand it, Dante. Your love of poetry, your love for Beatrice, and your love for God are inseparable. Poetry and Beatrice aren't symbols or allegories, but real flesh-and-blood loves that lead the way to the greater Love.