Reflections on 2019: walking through the circles of hell

It has been a difficult and personally challenging year.

Much of the year has been consumed by profound stressors. I have been stalked by the threat of redundancy. I have endured the daily reality of ostracism and being an outcast at work. I have stared into the frightening prospect of unemployment in my later 50s in a world in which age discrimination is rife. At the start of the year I believed I could transition to a respected role, that built on my achievements and contributions. The review of assisted reproductive treatment I led with Michael Gorton and a team I nurtured was a major achievement. And the response from the Department of Hell and Human Suffering? Exclusion, no recognition, threats of redundancy, rejection for roles I was more than capable of in favour of insiders and sycophants.

I was beaten and thrown alone into a deep dark wood, and there descended into the circles of hell. Or rather I realised during this year that I had been journeying through those circles of hell for some time.

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself

In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell

About those woods is hard – so tangled and rough

And save that thinking of it now, I feel

The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.

And yet, to treat the good I found there as well

I’ll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter

I cannot well say, being so full of sleep

Whatever moment it was I began to blunder

Off the true path. But when I came to stop

Below a hill that marked one end of the valley

That had pierced my heart with terror, I looked up

Toward the crest and saw its shoulders already

Mantled in rays of that bright planet that shows

The road to everyone, whatever our journey

Dante, Inferno, Canto I, translated by Robert Pinsky

In the last six months I have begun to see the rays of that bright planet. The experience of travel showed me a way of escaping the prisons of my home, and traversing the world in discovery. The great love of my family restored me. New possibilities of reshaping my working life slowly broke open. Confidence in my independent judgement and my character strengths came back. My writing showed me the bright planet, even though my arms were weak and strangled by the briars of the dark wood.

Next year, I will walk away from this dark wood and its tunnels that stretch down into the underworld. Next year, I will shed these chains and robes of the exile, and I will walk into the sun-filled clearings of yet-to-be imagined lands.

Image credit: Dante’s world gallery

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