Is Nostalgia Burning?

January 9, 2016

I never cared much for nostalgia. The idea that some other time is somehow better than right now is one of those assumptions which are prima facie untenable. No moment in time was ever absolutely perfect. Even in Eden, there were no clothes, toasters, or books to read. This point is further illustrated by the moving target date of peak wistfulness. Pick any point between now and prehistory, and someone, somewhere is pining for it. In the 1990s, people dreamed of the relative simplicity of the 1980s. Now, people dream of the relative simplicity in the 1990s. It’s all nonsense.

There is no objective measure by which yesterday is superior to today, or vice versa. We, fortunately, do not live in a world of such perilous absolutes. Something is always better, something is always worse. What varies differs from person to person. Your childhood was an era of relative simplicity because you were relatively simple. To say that 1982 was the best year ever is to give absurdly short shrift to reality in general.

But does nostalgia kill? Does it remove us so much from the now that it’s fatal? Is it a vampire latched on to our vitality? Only if we fail to put it to its proper use.

Nostalgic thoughts are a reminder that ideals are not foolish things. If we look back in fondness upon a past which has been rather filtered in memory, we are nonetheless recalling times of happiness which we actually experienced. If you had a happy childhood, then your childhood was happy. If your eidolons are less typical, they are still warm and still contain truth. We who are nostalgic are fortunate to have a fund of moments to fuel our reveries, even if they are tinted with regret.

I have never cared for nostalgia, and engage with it sparingly. But when I do submerge myself (in imagining battles while playing by myself in Pacific Northwestern forests, in baseball games amid scrub oak in the Utah mountains, in the wallpaper of my upstairs playroom in Omaha), and remember how grand and strange it was to be a child, I don’t stop there. Carrying through, I want my own children to have that wonder and freedom, to build their own bank of future nostalgia. Further still, I want. my today and my tomorrow to be golden as well, for my own future.

This is another facet of trying to waste time, as discussed yesterday. Our lives are what we make of them. We are not gods, we work in contexts and are often at the mercy of others, but our now and our tomorrow can be influenced. We can position ourselves positively, we can fight for the good. We can remember the best of what was and strive to bring that to others, and to win it again for ourselves.

That is how we use nostalgia. To build, not to hold in suspended animation. To keep moving forward. Nostalgia will only kill us if we let it

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