One of the most resplendent moments in “Swann’s Way” by Marcel Proust, my absolute favorite book of all time, occurs when the narrator dips his madeleine cookie into a cup of tea (a decoction of lime-flower!). He shudders as he suddenly recaptures beautiful memories about his childhood that were previously inaccessible to him.
This gorgeous moment is suspended in time, or is perhaps beyond time, as the secrets of the previously impermeable past become the ripe fruits plucked from an orchard at the apotheosis of late summer, or the skeins of sunlight wreathing between linden blossoms. Truly, it is the present becoming transfigured by the lost past.
That book has been with me for such a long time. I read it in high school, and ever since then, I have never been the same. That book is fundamental to the intricacies of my being; from my profound interest in aesthetics to my identity as a flaming homosexual and genderfluid artist, to my unbridled synesthesia that transforms my experience of life into Stephen Dedalus walking Sandymount strand (though for me, color and sound are enwreathed).
It seems that my entire life is predicated upon this moment of recapturing the beauty of the past, not because of beauty alone, but because of the suffering and anguish I have felt throughout my life.
It is remembering moments of metaphysical revelation, beholding great works of art, reading beneath diaphanous shawls of passing sunbeam, drinking coffee and enjoying la dolce far niente in one of the many European cafes I have frequented, writing poems, creating drawings, working on my novels, immersing myself in philosophy and mathematics or watching the play of light dapple the countenance of a flower that have given me the highest joy, in a period of happiness, or solace in a period of great pain. I often say that I am not simply a Renaissance woman, though I am. I am a literature of memories; each time I recapture them, they enrich my existence with their insight.
For how could I remember my time at Xavier without recapturing the moments of transfiguration I experienced beholding great works of art, great moments of beauty?
From reading “Swann’s Way,” and almost certainly before then, I inherited a profound, almost religious, reverence for beautiful works of art, which has paved the way for who I have become.
I remember watching the performance of the “Canzonetta Sull’aria” at Xavier’s Opera Workshop, and I had to hold back tears because it was so beautiful. I remember the rapturous experience of feeling inspired by all the cappuccinos, espressos, cornetti, fruit tarts, mille-feuille and the cioppino I’ve enjoyed during my travels. The afternoon I spent writing in a café in Venice is still perhaps the most exquisite time of my life. And nothing could compare to the moment when I was walking with my friends in Rome, when suddenly I could hear strains of opera floating from a nearby window. How could I forget the cinematic experience of following the music and discovering ineffable beauty?
And still, how could I not treasure the pleasures of being merely human with my friends, enjoying each other’s company — the riotous laughter or the quiet camaraderie?
When I recapture these moments, and so many others, I cannot help but feel a numinous sense of joy and gratitude for all my undergraduate experience has given me.
To recapture a beautiful moment in time is to reacquaint oneself with one’s former self, to return to a moment of being that, though it has passed, still astonishes and intoxicates the consciousness with its profundity, its meaning.
For like a work of art that remains in our minds and elucidates a hidden fractal of meaning from our lives, we find, in our memories, a brief but dazzling glimpse of beauty, of significance, of revelation, of existence.