I can’t remember the last time I took two weeks vacation. Especially one that conjured up so many memories and sentimentality. Perhaps it was the location? Although I was away from home, I couldn’t have been closer given the familiar territory. Or maybe it was from all the time spent with family combined with the fact that I was dealing with a major life decision (more on that next week). Either way, I found myself thinking and dreaming of a life in the past: of days performing on stage, of the first boy I loved, and of friendships that dissolved decades ago… was the universe trying to tell me something? That by finding those happy memories and holding on to the past, I could make better plans for the future? Did nostalgia have any meaning, really?
At first, I couldn’t help but think it was all overrated. It’s as though nostalgia has become a trend with the proliferation of technology platforms. It’s something that popular culture has taken ownership of and taken advantage of the opportunity to capitalize on. Between old television shows making “comebacks” to celebrating birthdays of past celebrities on social media, identifying yourself by the decade of your birth has become the cool thing to do. But are those the types of memories that matter? Are we commercializing nostalgia when it should be more of an intimate and vulnerable thing?
Nostalgia must be handled with care as it can can lead to either self-actualization or self-deprecation. When looking back and longing for the past, I find my mind going in one of two directions. First, I find reminiscing to be insightful and therapeutic. It can provide you with a well-deserved pat-on-the-back for the successes you have created in your life. But on the other hand, it can lead you down memory lane wondering if you made the right turn at the right time. You start to seek meaning and justification in a wrong turn; part of you wishing you could go back in time and go the opposite direction or perhaps, forge straight ahead. I would be lying if I said I’ve lived a life with no regrets however, the lesson here could be learning how to sit comfortably in these moments of nostalgia and take them for what they are: perfectly crafted memories that have been influenced by experience and improved with time - what actually happened and my recollection have been blurred together for my own benefit.
“Memories, of course, are changeable things, subject to the bias of hindsight - we continually reshape the events of the past to suit the emotions of the present.” - Craille Maguire Gillie
It’s no coincidence that these bouts of nostalgia were coming up during a time where I was spending a lot of time writing, as it often opens old wounds and digs up old demons as I try to find a true connection to what I’m writing. It’s led me to understand that the point isn’t to analyze what my life was, but rather to understand what it is. I have to be careful to stay out of the “what could have been” rabbit hole, and instead allow my past to help make sense of the present - to guide me in understanding myself and my purpose. To keep me connected to family and friends as a way of nurturing and preserving the relationships that are vital to my humanity. All this time I’ve underestimated the power of nostalgia, in fact I think it’s more important than ever that we capture and share our memories. Because these stories are what bring us happiness, joy, and above all, hope.