Life Lessons from Dante and Pink Ice Cream Vans

It’s a funny old life. Who would have imagined a connection between one of history’s most iconic and enduring works of literature and a modern novel about travelling the world in a converted bright pink ice cream van. And yet here we are.

On 1 January, I decided to join a ‘Divine Comedy Read-Along’. Hosted by Nick Senger, this is the first part of his 2021 chapter-a-day project. This was a rather random, impulse decision on my part. I had not previously been harbouring any particular desires to read Dante in 2021. However, as 2020 drew to a close, I was looking for ways to kickstart my reading mojo that had sadly deserted me for most of last year. Committing to reading something small each day, in the form of a single Canto, seemed like a positive contribution in the right direction. And so, why not make a daily date with Dante?

I sat down this morning to write this post about how I have found this project so far. Of course, there was the inevitable noodling about on the internet first (I’ll just check in on Facebook, then see what is happening on Twitter, and THEN I’ll start…..). For once, this proved to be justifiable time-wasting because it led me down a rabbit hole of the most wonderful kind. I stumbled on Cat Walker’s YouTube video, Lockdown Life Lessons, in which she briefly shares with us and her recently deceased father some thoughts from her novel The Scoop. Making the most of a chair placed by a kind soul at the end of a pier, she sits by a gently lapping sea and reads a short extract to us and her Dad. It is utterly beautiful in every way.

And what has this got to do with Dante? Cat’s life lessons happen to encapsulate perfectly my thoughts so far on reading The Divine Comedy:

  • life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it or necessarily want it to;
  • you cannot know all the answers and the more answers you find, the more questions you’ll want to ask;
  • learning is a goal in itself, a reward in itself and a profound frustration;
  • and all of this is normal.

For now, I am just about keeping up with the ‘story’ of The Divine Comedy, with the help of endnotes, internet cribs and my fellow read-alongers (thanks guys!). This is clearly a work to which one could devote a life time of study. But in this moment I am enjoying being in the daily presence of greatness, immersed in writing that seems as relevant now as it did in the fourteenth century, even if it means enduring a constant reminder of how much I do not know. It’s good for the soul (I’m sure Dante would approve!), as is Cat’s writing too. I have downloaded a copy of The Scoop and look forward to reading it – another helpful step in the mojo-recovery direction.

Meanwhile, perhaps the best overall lesson for today is the importance of noticing, so that we may gather to ourselves all those tiny moments of joy and serendipity which bring such unexpected wonder. 🙂

Life goes headlong… Now pause, now possession is required, and the power to swell the moment from the resources of our own heart until it supersedes sun & moon & solar system in its expanding immensity.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson