Canto 4

“The Ledge of the Indolent.”

That’s basically where I lived during the first two years of high school. Accomplishments of substance took so much effort, such sustained focus, to both of which I felt profoundly allergic.

Not unlike, say, American society in 2011 with regard to our strong disinclination to get moving on the de-carbonization front. Our guts and minds keep telling us we have important work to do, but our feet stay still—right on top of our gas pedals.

No surprise, of course. Newton codified indolence so neatly: A body (politic) at rest tends to stay at rest.

And, to a considerable degree, for good reason. Try to do something big, especially in a collective sense, and you get not just opposite reactions but oppositional reactionaries.

So, moving past (through?) indolence is not for the faint of heart. It requires some kind of catalyst. But of what kind?

The catalyst that propelled me out of my high-school indolence was spiritual, visceral. Literally. In the middle of sophomore year, I was hanging at a pizza joint on a wintry Friday night when, suddenly, I got a jolt in the gut that told me I was, as the saying goes, “going nowhere, fast.” Everything in my being told me I needed to get moving.

Luckily, I also got a jolt telling me how: “Boarding school.” Barely knew what one was, but again my gut offered illumination: “Immersion. Total commitment. Living at school. If you are already in it, surrounded by it, you’ll have a better chance of getting into it.” By September, just turned 16, I was a junior in boarding school. I was moving. (I wasn’t just in a different place. I was working REALLY hard.)

Now, change had come, progress away from The Ledge of the Indolent, not just because I had been moved, not just because of that jolt in my gut. On many levels what was stirring wasn’t about me. It was about me—beyond me. So many other, outer forces were reaching me, helping me, serving me.

Dante talks about those who need help entering Purgatory. “Prayer could help…if a heart God’s love / has filled with Grace should offer it” (Ciardi, Canto IV, 133-4). So many grace-filled hearts offered help. My parents, who didn’t really have the money for such a school, allowed me to apply anyway. People wrote letters of recommendation. Kind admissions personnel interviewed me, despite my applying well beyond the formal deadlines.

Boarding school redeemed my life. At least, it started to. It gave me a fresh chance to grow. It gave me purpose. It gave me my work. Now I’m a teacher, propelled by a calling. To help others grow.

We all need help. We all need to help. To listen for prayers. Then to offer them—in action.

Purgatory is a challenge and, potentially, a blessing, a chance. If we can get—and help others— past the Ledge of the Indolent.

Pier Kooistra, March 2011

3 responses to “Canto 4

  • bobsinner

    Passing “The Ledge of the Indolent.” One must pass it – Heaven awaits!

    BUT! BUT! BUT! BUT! – Oh, there is always a “But!”

    As Pier so powerfully concludes his discussion of the fourth canto:
    “We all need to help. To listen for prayers. Then to offer them—in action.
    Purgatory is a challenge and, potentially, a blessing, a chance. If we can get—
    and help others— past the Ledge of the Indolent.”

    And there IS help available!

    I think I find my viewpoint about this is best expressed in a song.

    Now, there is an old song I just love by Peter, Paul And Mary, called
    “Take The Chance,” (written by Peter Yarrow)

    Starting mid-way: the third verse goes:

    “Now on a hill there stands a cross above a graveyard
    And the simple word carved in it says ‘forgive’
    No war or killing anger can match the force it carries
    It can heal the generations so that other ones can live
    It can heal us, so we can live”


    “Now there’s a moment between forward and retreating
    When you’re just not sure which path you ought to choose
    Then the sun shines brightly on the golden meadow
    And suddenly, you’re not at all confused
    Suddenly, you’re not confused
    That’s when you take the chance
    And let your tears start falling
    And Ignore The Fearful Warnings Of Your Mind
    And You Let Your Heart For Once Do All The Talking
    And Believe That You Deserve For The Sun To Shine
    You always did deserve for the sun to shine
    I love you, and I want the sun to shine.”

    Belacqua is SO WRONG.
    Nothing starts until you start.
    It is all too obvious in Dante’s portrait of Belacqua, just how little this punishment disturbs his friend. Even with Grace, and prayers helping him, Belacqua just never may get “for the Sun to Shine.”

    Thanks, Pier,
    Bob Sinner

  • jeffvamos

    A brief comment – perhaps apropos of the discussion on how and whether prayer is efficacious to lessen the wait of the indolent, and others in ante-purgatory. In general, this bespeaks the need for the help and compassion of others. What do we make of the fact that Virgil, at several points – and against his Y chromosomed nature – asks directions?

    ; )


  • bobsinner

    A the guide is inevitably an XX to hoot!

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