This past month I was in New Haven for the 60th Anniversary Concert of the Yale Russian Chorus, in which I’d sung as an undergraduate (I’ve even been taking voice lessons in preparation).
The first day I arrived, to greet 140 men I had not seen in decades, it was an
astonishing experience. As we prepared for the rehearsal, I met people, one after another, who I could barely recognize. A few faces were familiar, but I had forgotten their names.
For almost everyone, I had the dizzying impression that Marcel Proust conveys so vividly in the last book of his monumental novel, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, the volume labeled “Time Regained.” There the hero, Marcel, attends a dinner party at the home of the Guermantes, where, after a long time, he meets again the characters he has known and who we have come to know in the novel. But now these figures, some renowned, have been changed by time. To Marcel as if they are dressed up for a masquerade ball, with their dyed grey hair and wrinkled faces. And in that gathering, the hero realizes that he, too, is aging, is running out of time:
“I had not perceived how much I had changed but how did the people who laughed at me know? I had not a grey hair, my moustache was black. I should have liked to ask them how this awful fact revealed itself. And now I understood what old age was—old age, which, of all realities, is perhaps the one of which we retain a purely abstract notion for the longest time…”
And so I wondered: how could I have studied gerontology all these years and yet
retained “a purely abstract notion” about aging? I was happy beyond words to meet these old friends, to sing the old songs, even to remember those who were no longer with us. After a day or so, I recognized all the faces and at this reunion, they began to seem entirely familiar to me. But the shock of “time regained” remains with me, a reminder of our common journey.
For more on Proust’s work and its relevance to aging, visit:
Originally published in the Human Values in Aging Newsletter by H.R. Moody, Copyright 2013; all rights reserved.