🎋 Third Circle of Hell 🎋

A woman walking up stairs towards an exploding ball.

In the 14th century, Dante, in his Alighieri’s Inferno (14th-century poem, Divine Comedy), condemned to the “Third Circle of Hell” those who fall prey to “the pernicious sin of gluttony.” In Hell, according to Dante, we classify sin in one of nine circles, with gluttony punished in a realm of icy mud representing our excess.

As we all know, gluttony is habitual eating to excess. These past few months have revealed, by the scale that hates me, that I have been gluttonous and, apparently, headed for that Third Circle he refers to. I have been in icy mud before, and it’s pretty uncomfortable, but likely more so at the location he describes. As a youngster in the mountains of Virginia, I had to deal with icy mud every winter, so I could adjust to it if I had to…maybe.

In my semi-annual visit with my family physician a few days ago. I asked him about the new weight-loss medications on the market (Wegovy, Ozempic, & Rybelsus). He looked at his record of my weight over the years and calmly asked me why I wanted to lose weight now, and then he advised me that all I had to do was use a little willpower. I told him I thought willpower wasn’t the answer; if it was, I would have lost the weight long ago. He asked me what I was trying to achieve. Did I want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger? No, I replied, I think the health benefits of losing weight outweigh the potential side effects of the medicine, although I wouldn’t mind having the Schwarzenegger look 😊.

After more discussion, he said he would prescribe it if I wanted to try it. After thinking it over, I said I would wait until my semi-annual visit in December and give the old “willpower” another shot at losing the pounds that need to exit stage left. John F. Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. When it comes to losing weight, I feel like an orphan ☹.  

💫 “I need a long-term story to make sense of my life.” I read that statement a while ago, and it gave me pause. Do I need a long-term story to make sense of mine? If I needed one, what would it be, and how long would it take me to write it?  My failure to do so made me angry, and we know that anger encourages deception. The deception was that I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t need a long-term story, all I needed was to believe that my life has been fruitful, filled with moments of joy, and all my efforts to improve my life and the life of others was all that was needed for me to be content with my life.

In reality, we all must have a long-term story, regardless of how we assess it. If I look at my life, say from the age of ten to the ripe old age of 82, I see little that I did that disappointed me greatly. Sure, I made mistakes like everyone else, and I paid the price. Sometimes, my punishment was more than merited, but it eventually made me a better person.

My long-term story will show that I have continually made the safety and comfort of those around me as vital as mine. That I have loved deeply and hold no remorse. I have tried to live the Christian life, often failing but always trying. I can’t go back and make a brand-new start, but I can start now and make a new ending if I feel my story needs mending. Richard Feynman said it best, “the first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” ~ Richard Feynman     

💫 As humans, we’re usually limited to around 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. I read that in an article recently and I believe it is true. I have made about 80 new friends in our retirement community and, if I include old friends and family members, I can reach 150 people easily. Unfortunately, I suspect that some people I know have very few friends. At the lowest point in my life, I also felt like I had very few friends. I knew my family members still loved me, but the friends I once had deserted me when the going got rough. Fortunately, I could pick myself back up, restart, renew, and move on. In my article above, II stated I did very little in my life that greatly disappointed me. Losing my friends during the most troubling time in my life had little to do with me and everything to do with them. If I share any blame, it’s because I wasn’t the happiest person to be around, but friends see the turmoil in your life and stand beside you, giving you the moral support you need to get through. Fortunately, my tumultuous days were long ago and have mostly receded from memory. I hide them in the darkest, most secret places in my mind, but they are waiting to wreak havoc on my sense of well-being. Now, deep in the throngs of old age, I’m determined to rely on being alarmed only when something is seriously amiss. Calmness is sacred, and violating it requires something to be done immediately. I’m always making calculations now, talking about happy moments in my life as if they were currency, constantly feeling scarcity and greedy for more. The bad memories collectors are coming, and they want me to know that there is no such thing as forgiveness, only a shifting expectation of how and when I will pay them back. Zhuang Zhou said, “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” Hmm, I’m not sure I agree with him 😊. 

💫 The latest figures show that 66% of Americans lack a four-year college degree. Yet, we are constantly told that everyone needs one. That may be true for girls but not for boys. Men can get well-paying jobs in many places not requiring college, but those jobs mostly vanish for women, and they are relegated to doing menial work.

Many college-educated young people find it challenging to find a job related to their degree, and if they do, it rarely pays a salary significantly associated with the years of study they endured. In today’s world, a liberal arts education has little value. Many of those students will carry a college loan on their shoulders for a long time. The Biden administration attempted to forgive many four-year college loans but was denied that prospect by our Supreme Court. There are good arguments to be had by both sides. Still, I remember how the GI Bill affected our nation in the 40s and 50s. It helped us, as a nation, to raise our standard of living by making our population more productive and ingenious.

Our children can get a free education now by serving in the military. Still, many prefer to avoid going that route, instead incurring a mountain of debt. We should devise alternatives for our young people, such as serving two years as a teacher, in a charity organization, or working in a hospital as a certified nursing assistant. I believe asking them to serve four years would be asking too much. Many more would sign up if they only had to do two years. If I were 18, I think I would be willing to do two, not four. That’s a big part of your life to lose.

One thing we know for sure: with our Congress so divided, unable to agree on almost anything, nothing significant will be sent to our president for his signature. Congress should be a safe place for thought, not a safe place from thought. But we have elections next year; things may change 😊. Groucho Marx said, “These are my principles, if you don’t like them, I have others!” Our congress lacks principles, except the ones that benefit them.