The Last First Time

There are so many times in our lives where we do something for the last time and never realize it. If we think about this too much it will break us. The last time we played with our neighborhood friends as children, the last time we kissed that high school boyfriend or girlfriend, the last time we saw our a dear friend before they passed away suddenly, without warning.

Conversely how many firsts do we have without even thinking about it–do you remember the first time you tasted orange juice, or read Winnie the Pooh, or stepped into your first classroom? Firsts may be more memorable because they can alter our sensibilities, but there are still so many that we take for granted.

This year, I was privileged to introduce a class of students to The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Only one of the students had read it before. The journey of magic and delight has been nourishing for my soul. It has commended me to take extra care in presenting it in a way that will inspire them to come back to this incredible work again and again. Will they think about the fact that this was their first time, or their last first time they read The Lord of the Rings?

As I wrote in post, “Down the Rabbit Hole” I recently spent a week gathering with wonderful people who inspired me emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. It was the first annual Close Reads Retreat. The hosts of the Close Reads podcast hosted us live for a week of reading, discussion, and fellowship. We took a deep-dive into Wendell Berry’s novels, essays, and poetry. I was drawn to the retreat because I love Berry already–Jayber Crow is one of my favorite books, but the idea of reading in community–now THAT was something we rarely have the opportunity to do in our cyber-based, McMansion-dwelling society. I was struck several times throughout the week that this was the last first time I would come to this retreat, because I DO have the intention to go again next year. I found myself reminding myself, however, not to have my expectations set on a repeat experience. The highs might not be as high, or if they are they will be different. The mix of people alone will account for different dynamics and new perspectives, both good, but not the same and the group that has embedded itself so deeply into my mind and heart.

One thing of which I had been previously unaware is that Wendell Berry was a Dante scholar, and that the Divine Comedy had deeply informed his writing. My least favorite of the novels that we read, Remembering, quickly rose in my estimation when we discussed that it was modeled up the Divine Comedy and even made allusions to Homer and the Odyssey in places…

But there was this one thing. I’ve never read Dante. I can’t say exactly why, but it just was not something I was deeply aware of with my shallow academic roots that have deepened only as I have educated my own children. There are lots of gaps that I continually discover, and this was one of them.

So today, for the first time, I opened Dante’s Inferno and began. Be jealous if you must–Perhaps you remember your first reading of this masterpiece. If you love it, I know you must be feeling some of that “I wish I could read it again for the first time,” but I envy you your mastery. Even so, I’m diving in!

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