If you were told, by a reputable scientist, that the world would end tonight, how would this news change the way you lived? Also, what would you do in this final hour?
Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922
In 1920s Paris, there was a publication called L’Intransigeant. It featured a section which posed big questions, relating to various topics. In 1922, a rather elaborate question was formulated. The premise being that a scientist has announced the world will end and that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. The question read: “If this prediction were confirmed, what do you think would be its effects on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm? Finally, as far as you’re concerned, what would you do in this last hour?”
French novelist Marcel Proust (pictured above) sent in the following reply:
I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies it – our life – hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.
But let all this threaten to become impossible forever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.
The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.
I fell upon this story while reading How Proust Can Change Your Life by one of my favourite authors, Alain de Botton. I think it’s a wonderful reminder to live for now, appreciate life, and chase your dreams. Proust longed for the Louvre, love and India, and died just four months after submitting this reply. I wonder what you long for.