#5: "While we come and go in our native land, we imagine that we are indifferent to these streets, that these windows, roofs, and doors mean nothing to us, that these walls are strangers to us, that these trees are like any other trees, that these houses we never enter are of no use to us, that the pavement where we walk is no more than stone blocks. Later, when we are no longer there, we find that those streets are very dear to us, that we miss the roofs, windows, and doors, that the walls are essential to us, that the trees are beloved, that every day we did enter those houses we never entered, and that we have left something of our affections, our life, and our heart on those paving stones."
Where: Pages 446-447.
What's Happening: Jean Valjean, knowing that he is being pursued by Javert, has taken Cosette and left the secluded garret, and is "threading" through the streets of Paris, so as not to be followed. Hugo, who was away from Paris in exile, takes this opportunity to describe the once familiar streets.
What I Learned: This was another epiphany moment
(and I am extremely grateful to Victor Hugo for providing me with so many of
these). I feel like it is completely
true that in the course of everyday life, we become so familiar and comfortable
with our surroundings that we don't think twice about them...at least not until
we're far away from those places. I know
that one day, when I move out of my family's house to be on my own, I will vividly miss and
remember things that I don't really think twice about now. I'll miss how tiny our little wiener dog
looks when he's waddling through the grass.
I'll affectionately think of the big ole' tree a few feet away that I was
always afraid would fall on the house during a storm. I'll remember how silly I thought the front door was because it was painted red and I'll rejoice on the days when I can walk through that red door once
again. The shapes of the windows, the
placements of the door frames, the impact of listening to fifty Bruce
Springsteen songs in "The Pink Room" (the sitting room that is now green),
where the cereal was kept...Victor Hugo describes his version of these things in
nineteenth century Paris perfectly.
There is nothing quite like nostalgia, especially when nostalgia is
linked to places. And I love, love, love
the idea of “we did enter those houses we never entered.” It makes me think that those places became so
familiar that we entered them in our minds. I believe the bottom line here is that we leave a bit of ourselves everywhere that we go, but we also take a bit of those places with us on our journeys into the future.