Memento mori, Crypt at Santa Maria Del Popolo, Rome
Photograph by the author
Like most of my posts, this one is prepared a few days in advance, but a subtle and pervasive depression has been with me during this whole trip to Italy. So the state is entirely appropriate to the subject—even though in a certain and very real sense death is an occasion for rejoicing.
Such practical facts don't, unfortunately, really serve to heal the emotions much. They have their own ways, many of them inevitably connected to the underworld.
On that note. Following the death of his wife, Pier Francesco Orsini underwent an inner transformation which led to unusual and even remarkable forms of questioning. He created the Parco dei Mostri, an astonishing garden which readers will be hearing a good deal more about in coming weeks, since I'm planning to write an extensive piece on the esoteric symbolism of the sculpture.
It's safe to say, in my case—and, I think, his— that a death close to one's own soul causes an earthquake, a shattering of inner foundations, whose full effect cannot be understood in weeks or months or even years. The closer one comes to death—and the closer death comes to one's self—the more one questions. Having been in a car accident that should have been fatal in 1995, I have now been on both ends of the question; and that makes it no easier. The shattering of foundations is absolutely, irrevocably necessary for any real inner work: yet no one suffers it gladly.
There are territories of the soul that carry no doubt in them; the knowledge of the divine flows unbrokered into the soul itself. But this does not answer all the questions; and since our faces are turned, in their essence, away from the higher and away from divine energy—an intentional condition bestowed upon us as a blessing, no matter how vigorously we may reject this idea—we are doomed, in this life, to suffer the contemplation of our mortality; the mortality of those around us; and, perhaps, if we are concise enough in our awareness, the nature of our sin in regard to this life as it stands.
I'm not prone to depression; quite the opposite, in fact. I tend to be unusually optimistic and motivated. So when the taste of this sorrow, this essential lack and this essential misunderstanding of life, of God—well, let us be honest, of everything—goes deep into the bones, it suggests that there is a lost mooring down in there somewhere.
In such cases one has to grasp for the rope; perhaps in darkness, but nonetheless. I wonder; do any of us realize we are perpetually grasping for a rope in darkness, always and forever thinking that it is light inside and out, and that there is a safe place to tie it? Is it only the most terrible shocks that can help us to realize that it is night within this life, and we are asleep in it?
This evening we sat in the train station of Ostia Antica—an ancient port city— where more appropriate to seek lost moorings than in a place whose ships are gone?—and I watched the sun set against a row of poplars in the distance. The golden light and their changing leaves played golden bronze and yellow against the late blue sky. Everything looked preternaturally crisp, in the way that only the inner eye can paint things, and I realized that Presence was with me, alongside the depression.
It was a curious moment, because it was apparent, for that instant, that the depression was not of any ordinary kind: not the kind that saps the strength or steals the soul, but one that announces.
And this Presence that announces is exactly that depression which Swedenborg reports the angels feel when they turn their faces away from God.
We are still of heaven; yet don't know it. And the more we know it, the deeper heaven sinks into the soul; and so greater the inner anguish, as one sees the lack that so preoccupies the place that God wants to be within us.
So I will mourn a little bit today; but, I hope, not too much.
May your soul be filled with light.