By Parker Eidle
I want to say a few words about being in the middle, not so much in space (as in, “the middle of nowhere”), but in time, in an action. When you’re in the middle, you've left behind the hopeful and enthusiastic beginning, but you're not yet in sight of the end, which you hope will bring a sense of relief and achievement. Every journey begins with a goal or destination in mind, or has a point at which one could say it is complete. On the cross Christ says it is finished, it being the mission of the incarnation, he signifies the completion of an undertaking. There would have been no beginning in the stable at Bethlehem if Christ’s purpose for mission, which he alludes to on the cross, where not already present, in a word the end or purpose is what motivates the beginning; it calls the action into being. It is where the traveler looks to and consequently why he travels as well.
In the Divine Comedy, we immediately find ourselves thrown into a place of darkness, confusion, and uncertainty, the middle! The very first canto of the Divine Comedy starts, “In the middle of the journey of our life, / I awoke to find myself in a dark wood, / for the straight way was lost.” The paradox to note here is that the middle of the journey of our life (as the poem says) is the beginning of the poem that introduces a different direction. What could that mean if we say the new beginning is the middle?
Recall for a minute the journey of Odysseus. The tale of his journey, the Odyssey, starts in the middle when he is in Kalypso’s cave. Kalypso promises him the nectar and ambrosia and the immortality of the gods if only he considers her cave the end of his journeys. Perhaps a much lesser man would have given in to Kalypso, but Odysseus kept his mind on his homecoming and never lost sight of his purpose. However, he was still stuck on the beach, lost, as it were, in the “dark wood” of the journey toward the end. But it is there in his lost state that Hermes comes to guide him, and it is in that lost state that the poet Virgil comes to guide Dante the traveler as well. It is when we are in the middle of our journey that we are most disposed to divine intervention and consequently a “resetting” or a “rejuvenation” of our purpose. The real beginning, the one when you wake up and realize what your purpose is, what you actually want to do, comes in the condition of being stalled, stuck, and lost. There’s suddenly a new direction, a new consciousness of what you’re doing, perhaps a little glimpse of what seeing the face of the divine might be like, and a new willingness to trust those who know the way.