I’ve been anxiously awaiting kicking the year 2021 into the dustbin of history. However today, I started to think about Dante’s long narrative poem “Divine Comedy.” Dante framed his book using the Christian construct for the afterlife, dividing the book into sections: “Paradiso” or Heaven, “Purgatorio” or Purgatory and “Inferno” or Hell.
I had thought that there was very little positive about 2021. I then started thinking about my personal interactions with people I hardly know. I realized that, according to Dante, many of these people will end up in paradise. I have been treated so well by so many people.
I think of those people who are keeping our hospitals and nursing homes up and running, including all of those in the background like laboratory workers. I am grateful to those administering COVID-19 shots and tests. Teachers and librarians have had to reinvent themselves, and they have succeeded. I appreciate all the delivery drivers and warehouse workers, print and broadcast journalists as well as printers and camera people. I am grateful for all the religious leaders and their support staffs and all transportation workers. I am certainly grateful to all the recycling and trash collectors. I am grateful to most government leaders and their staffs. Obviously, I could make a very long list. We should all be grateful for the efforts of all the men and women who have kept us functioning. I really am grateful for all the people who have treated me so well. This was the year when we learned who our true friends are.
Catholic theology includes the concept of purgatory for good people as a place of purification prior to entering paradise. Hell is a terrible destination. I believe that a modern Dante would see most Republican politicians marching in lockstep across the River Styx straight into the fiery Inferno. They would be closely followed by a caravan of anti-vaxxers and anti-mask-mandate people who will continue to infect their families and so called friends to the bitter end. This sad group will be followed by a regiment of NRA supporters and gun advocates. Sad and pathetic and very boring racists will have a very large contingent. Scam artists and drug dealers will be followed by people who have hurt children. These people will be assigned their own circle in Hell. White collar crooks who charge usurious interest rates and won’t pay taxes will not be far behind.
Actually, It’s not quite that simple. Neither Dante nor this writer really know who will be assigned to Hell, as Catholic theology and this writer firmly believe in redemption. We’ve all heard of deathbed confessions. As hard as it maybe to believe, there really are people who regret their terrible behavior. It might not be wise for them to depend on deathbed contrition as we know not the day or the hour.
Looking forward through 2022, I hope that all of those good people who got us through 2021 will continue to flourish, and I hope that all of us will work on becoming better people. This is a daily challenge.
Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore
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