A grand gala reading tonight got me thinking back on a warm afternoon's warm conversation nearly four years ago. One way in which I'm blessed in this small place is by having the pleasure of so many different kinds of company, so many women and men of all ages, from the very smallest who bounce on trampolines and shout hallos to me as I walk to school to the very oldest, whom it is something of a community endeavor, gladly undertaken, to get in and out of public events safely. Among those who are at neither end: two men possessed of enormous gifts and even more enormous humility, both quiet, steady, unassuming, and sometimes startlingly, wickedly funny. Tonight, one of those men was reading, and one of them was sitting two seats away from me.
At the end of my first year here, I turned a corner at an end-of-year fête and ran right into a conversation between the two of them. They had been talking about Proust and instantly folded me into their talk. It had been a year of some precariousness for me, and that precariousness was about to end, and they, I think, knew it, and I had my suspicions. Add to that the fact that I had just helped graduate a class of seniors (who were, at the very moment we stood talking Proust, packing up their rooms and vacating the campus), and that both of these men had had the year off (because one is retired and one had been on sabbatical), and that we had all just gotten ourselves fairly full of the party's lovely spread of food, and you can imagine something of the air of quiet, early summer glee that wrapped us round on the porch where we stood.
Read Proust, I remember their telling me. And I promised that I would, and I will keep that promise some day. But I also remember thinking, even as I looked from one to the other as they spoke, that I did not want to forget that moment with those gentle, lovely men, one of whom had helped me grow up from a very young person, the other of whom had been a kind of behind-the-scenes support for a good while by that point. And I remember thinking about generations: how one of these men had taught the other, back in the day, and how both had come to teach me, formally and informally--and how each had let me know that I had, in ways that I sometimes doubted but more often had to take at least semi-seriously, taught him in my turn. The conversation itself lasted only a few more minutes, and read Proust is what I remember most clearly (along with some protest on my part to the effect that I probably wouldn't be able to read Proust until I secured a permanent job). But it also joined an accumulation of moments, varied and frequent, saturated with just that sort of understated but unmistakeably mutual regard and admiration and pride.
Both are among the people, by dint of long years of friendship and long-rooted love, with whom I need exchange not many more words than hello and how are you and I'm fine, thanks in order to feel that I've had an emotionally significant conversation. Both are among the people in the world from whom I've received, and to whom I've offered, among the most forthright statements of regard and value I've known. And both are people so steadily good and worthy, even in all their flaws and struggles, that being regarded as worthy by them simply keeps me upright in the world.