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Beatrice the Helper

When the most loving thing one can do is call you on your b.s.
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On the dedication page of How Dante Can Save Your Life, it says To Julie, my Beatrice. Somebody said to me at Eastern University the other night that my wife Julie is the “unsung hero” of the story. True. She kept things going while I was falling apart, even though the failure of our mission of return hurt her too.

This morning, having breakfast with some great students from Loyola of Maryland, we talked about how interesting it was that the first time (in the Commedia) that Dante the pilgrim meets Beatrice, she reads him the riot act. You’re all set up to expect a grand, glorious, romantic reunion, but that’s not what happens at all. Instead, she calls him on all his nonsense. In the same way, though I wanted my wife to comfort me in the middle of my own suffering — and she did that — it was more important to my healing that she called me on my b.s., and my evasions. Julie wouldn’t let me weasel out of it. From How Dante:

All of us have something like that from our pasts (or maybe our present) that we can point to, a situation in which we masked our fear of acting behind a veil of virtue. This moment is an opportunity for Dante to be honest with himself, to take unsparing stock of his real motivations, and to conquer his fear. That is an incredibly hard thing to do.

After the rheumatologist’s report, our family doctor and my wife told me that it was time to start seeing a therapist. I did not want to do this. I intellectualized my fear by telling myself that therapy was nothing more than navel-gazing and narcissism.

“You need help with this situation,” Julie said. “You are letting your pride keep you from getting it.”

“Am not,” i said petulance rising in my voice. “I just don’t see the point in sitting around talking to a stranger for an hour every week about my problems. I know why things are messed up. I don’t need somebody to explain that to me.”

She wasn’t letting me get away with that.

“You know what? You don’t know everything,” she sassed. “What you need is someone outside of the family system to take an objective look at it and help you figure out what to do. And you are going to do it because the kids and I are tired of you being absent from our lives because you’re always sleeping.”

The doctor texted me the name of a licensed Baton rouge therapist he trusted, a guy named Mike Holmes, who happened to be an ordained Southern Baptist minister as well.

“I don’t know about this guy,” I said to my wife. “Do I really want a preacher doing my therapy? It seems weird to me.”

Standing next to my leather armchair, Julie crossed her arms and fired a don’t-mess-with-me look my way.

“Humble yourself and call him,” she said, with buckshot in her voice.

Thank God for her. Literally, thank God for her. The most loving thing she could have done for me at this moment was to stand firm and speak hard truths, and insist that I act on them.

OK, I’m about to board a plane at BWI, headed home for 12 hours, then off to South Bend. More later. Say, I just saw this great five-star review on the Amazon.com page for How Dante. Thank you, anonymous professor:

I have been reading and teaching Dante for 15 years on the college level. Dreher says he is not a scholar, but trust me when I say that he offers more insight into the meaning of the Commedia per paragraph than many “scholarly” works do in their entirety. Here is a modern day Virgil to assist any wayward seeker who is genuinely looking for real happiness.