The shores of oblivion

'They say that Death embellishes those he strikes and exaggerates their virtues, but it is rather that life has generally wronged them. Death, that pious and irreproachable witness, truthfully and charitably teaches us that in every man there is usually more good than evil.' What Michelet says here of death is perhaps even truer of that other death which follows a great and unhappy love. Is it enough to say of the person who, after having made us suffer, is nothing to us any longer, that, in the popular phrase, she is 'dead to us'? But we still weep for the dead, we still love them, and for a long while we are still under the irresistible spell of their charm that survives them and keeps us returning often to their graves. On the contrary, the person for whom there is nothing we have not suffered, with whose essence we are saturated, is now powerless to cause us even the shadow of a pain or of a joy. After having held her as the only precious thing in all the world, after having reviled her, after having despised her, now we can barely distinguished her features with the eyes of our memory, dimmed from having gazed on them too fixedly and too long. But this opinion of our beloved, an opinion that has so often varied, sometimes torturing our blind hearts with its clairvoyance and sometimes blinding itself to put an end to that cruel disaccord, must now accomplish a final oscillation. Like those landscapes seen only from the summits, only from the heights of forgiveness does she appear in her true light, the one who was more than dead to us after having been our entire life. We only knew that she did not return our love; now we understand that she gave us her true friendship. It is not memory that embellishes her, it is love that had wronged her. For the person who demands all -- and obtaining it would still remain unsatisfied -- a little can only seem a senseless cruelty. Now we realise what a generous gift it was from her whom all our despair, our irony, our unremitting tyranny could not discourage. She had been invariably kind. Several of her remarks, repeated to us today, seem to us indulgently just and full of charm, remarks of the woman we had believed incapable of understanding us because she did not love us. While we, on the contrary, have talked about her with such selfishness, harshness and injustice! Besides, how much we owe her! While that great tide of love has ebbed forever, yet, strolling through ourselves we can still gather strange and charming sea-shells and lifting them to our ear can hear, with a melancholy pleasure and without suffering, the same mighty roar as in the past. Then we begin to think tenderly of the woman who, to our misfortune, was more loved than loving. She is not 'worse than dead' to us. She is someone who is dead and remembered with affection. Justice requires that we should alter our idea of her. And through the omnipotence of justice she is mentally resuscitated in our hearts to hear this final judgment that, far away from her, we render calmly and with eyes full of tears.

(Marcel Proust, Pleasures and Regrets, tr. Louise Varese, (Peter Owen Ltd 2000) pp. 153-5)

Sam Mok