La Valle d’Abisso Dolorosa

Day 315 of A Year of War and Peace


When Dante awakes from the fainting fit he suffers on the banks of the river Acheron he strains his eyes to get a focused impression of his new surroundings. It’s not a pretty sight. “I found myself upon the brink,” he says, “of an abyss of suffering filled with the roar of endless woe.” Roar of endless woe. In the fictional universe of Dante’s Inferno we understand that the poet is looking for the first time at the realm of Hell. For readers medieval and modern Dante could just as easily be describing the world as it exists. For how else are we to describe a reality plush with experience similar to what the Rostovs endure in today’s reading?

We are speaking, of course, about Petya’s passing. Few experiences are more traumatic than the death of a child though it be but one mere fruit in this garden of misery and melancholia. The Rostovs react as we’d expect them to: The Count losses himself in horrible sobs. The Countess envelops herself in denial. Natasha feels a “dreadful ache as if something were being torn inside her and she were dying.”

This loss will be with them forever. Accompanying emotions of grief and guilt and pain will walk alongside its memory. Also, and this will be familiar to anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one, they are likely to find themselves asking the disquieting question of why? Why is it the world’s emotional baseline is that of suffering rather than joy? Why do such things happen?

There are no easy answers. The first step in understanding is probably to seek out a grief counselor. Then, as the initial pangs of pain subside, it helps to consider the vast expanse of all creation, its nature, and our vanishingly small part in it.


The universe is either a confusion, a mutual involution of things and a dispersion; or it is unity and order and providence. If then it is the former, why do I desire to tarry in a fortuitous combination of things and such disorder? And why do I care about anything else than how I shall at last become earth? And why am I disturbed, for the dispersion of my elements will happen whatever I do. But if the other supposition is true, I venerate, and I am firm, and I trust him who governs.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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