Connecting past and present through Proust

Linda - Brookline, Massachusetts
Entered on August 6, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the power of reading to make connections that are like thought bridges that connect us to ourselves, to the author, to other readers. I believe in the power of reading to inspire us to live more fully, to fuel our aspirations, to reclaim lost time, to sustain us.

My desire to read Proust’s six-volume opus, In Search of Lost Time, was fueled by my love of reading and of all things French. I lived in Paris during my junior year of college and I walked by the Proust Institute often. One day I screwed up my courage to walk in and ask about classes to read Proust in English. The response was a resounding non! The desire to take on Proust has been simmering ever since.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone as I had tried and failed. I enlisted Georgette, my reading soul mate and close friend from college days, and we agreed to nudge each other on and to share our experiences as we started on our parallel reading journey. As it turned out, we not only discovered Proust’s lost time but our own as well: our college selves lived again as the e-mail correspondence followed us from Boston to Buffalo and Phoenix to San Francisco and Amsterdam to Barcelona. We found ourselves and our friendship in our stories of times past and made times present richer and fuller as we shared the loss of parents, career setbacks, medical close calls, and the challenging passage of our teenage daughters into emerging independence.

Our reading progress was slow – it took us two years to complete the six volumes. I set goals to push me through page-long sentences that would wind around my brain and get lost. Our combined journey took us through millions of words, words that created complex connections between Proust and his Belle Epoque and us and our Age of Excess.

We tried to discipline ourselves to write about topics from the book – his obsessive desires, his mocking commentary on the social hierarchy, his close connections to his mother and grandmother, his desire to be a writer and to be a close observer of his world and the changes that time had wrought. More often though, we wrote about our lives and shared that prickly sense of our own mortality and recognition over how little control we have over what happens.

I take some pride in actually reading Proust, not just referencing him. Proust’s madeleine has become a cultural reference point for lost memory reborn as well as Proust’s slice of immortality. Reading Proust takes patience and mindfulness. His slow, meticulous layering of detail to create a lost world is a world that I miss. Reading Proust woke me to my own lost time and the rich connectedness of my life and reminded me to be grateful to be alive right here, right now.