"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."
—Michelle K.
The Fire Within Blog
Suffering Leads to Meaningful Work

All great work comes from suffering – one of the big takeaways from Marcel Proust’s 4300 page masterpiece, “In Search of Lost Time.”

Since becoming ill and bedridden with CRPS and fibromyalgia 32 years ago, I’ve been addicted to the classics. I mean seriously, John reminds me that he has to visit new libraries because I’ve read everything they’ve got. I’m almost insatiable when it comes to these great works. They’re thought provoking, entertaining and provide great misdirection for pain control.

Classics have survived the ages. I’m forever in awe of writers who shared feelings and experiences hundreds of years ago that describe exactly what I’m feeling today. Classics are deep, tragic. Because of my life experiences, I’m drawn to darkness. I don’t relate to happy endings. They feel phony, unreal.
While Proust is considered by many to be the greatest writer who ever lived, I resisted his seven-volume opus because people say it takes a year to read. But the more I heard about Proust (life-long illness, close relationship with his mother, a misfit and deep thinker), the more I knew I could learn from him. And once I started his first volume, I knew I was in love with and addicted to this French genius.

“In Search of Lost Time” did indeed take me a year to read, but it was so brilliant and enriching I didn’t want it to end. I cried when I closed the seventh volume Saturday night, cuddling my sweet feline girl, Haydée Grace. Proust’s insights and themes will always live within me, and there were several that resonated due to being a woman in pain.

Proust believed suffering was the only thing that inspired truly meaningful work, shedding insight to the why’s and where fore’s of my own pain. Pain that can feel pointless. He believed that people who survived great suffering were in fact the lucky ones because they were given the “gift” to help others. It gave me comfort to realize that I and women in pain around the world have the foundation to do wondrous things.

I appreciated Proust’s many depictions of cruel, shallow characters. As a woman in pain who has experienced lack of forgiveness and abandonment from most everyone who was once near and dear, his characters were much like many in my former life. Knowing this human cruelty has been on-going through the ages helped me realize it’s not personal and I’m not alone.

One of my favorite quotes from the book reads, “For neither our greatest fears nor our greatest hopes are beyond the limits of our strength – we are able in the end both to dominate the first and to achieve the second.” If you’re like this woman in pain, you’re often tempted to give up, because life is so torturous and what we want often feels out of reach. Proust affirmed that due to our suffering, our strength is limitless.

Proust’s take on death was also a comfort. He reminded me that though life seems very long, it’s just a moment and when we die our suffering dies with us. I’ve often feared my pain would follow me into the afterlife – and it’s my hunch this is a notion shared by many women who grapple with severe chronic pain and depression. I thought I was reading this book to prepare for my mother’s someday passing, but I now see it was for my own.

Finally, Proust trumpeted truth as something divine, something to be cherished. He believed all who suffered had a duty to reflect truth in their art and work. The truth is something I hold sacred as do most women in pain because our life experience opens our eyes to what most can’t or won’t see.
Reading the great ones enriches us while helping us understand what life is about and our place in it. These gems provide comfort and insight, especially when it comes to pain and suffering.

I encourage you to turn off your TV and take a dip into one – Tolstoy, Dickens, Woolf (herself a woman in pain), Dostoevsky, Mann and libraries full of others. Riches at our fingertips…

XO Cynthia