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Traveling Taught Me to Love Nostalgia

Prague in November at the K10 Coworking Space

I never thought I could move back to the east coast after falling in love with the west coast, but fall in Prague is making me second guess that. Gosh, I love autumn.

They say smell is the sense most closely tied with memory. I could agree with that. But then again, I don’t have the best sense of smell.

For me, what really jogs the nostalgia is the weather. More than weather, it’s the crispness of the air, the changing temperatures, the smell of fresh cut grass or fallen leaves, the frozen breath you can see when you exhale.

When the conditions add up just right, it always brings me back to a specific time in my life. Sometimes the memory is as vivid as a long summer day by the lake, Christmas in Michigan, or a lacrosse practice on a specific afternoon.

I’m currently writing this outside, in the backyard of the K10 Coworking space in Prague. So far, Prague in November has been incredibly beautiful, and we’ve even had sunshine the past few days. Not going to lie, it’s starting to get a liiittle chilly…but I can’t bring myself to go inside. I want to take every opportunity to feel the fall weather, and all the warm, nostalgic feels from a life that already feels so long ago.

I came across a quote recently:

“In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than a memory alone — a feeling of a place where we ache to go again.” (Unknown)

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with nostalgia. I’m glad there’s a word for it, because no other emotion would do its explanation justice. I’ll be the first to admit I get overly nostalgic about things — old friends, relationships, events past, memories, opportunities had, opportunities missed, and former times in my life. But, despite my propensity for it, I always felt nostalgia manifested as a painful emotion, so I tried to avoid it whenever it would start bubbling up.

It’s weird because, I often get nostalgic for things that if I had the choice to go back and experience again, I probably wouldn’t. I’m happy in this current time, my current self, where I am in life in the world. And I find myself getting nostalgic for things good and bad, both happy and hard times. So I’m not sure I would agree with the old wound definition. Or even the part that describes it as a feeling of a place where we ache to go again.

But I love that quote. It is a twinge in your heart. For me, it’s a gut feeling that rises and fills my heart with overwhelming sentiment, sometimes to the point where it could be described as painful. I wholeheartedly agree nostalgia is far more powerful than a memory alone. But I don’t think it’s actually pain — I think the rush of “feels” just overwhelms our system, and we aren’t capable of processing it all at once.

Ever since letting go of my ties to home to travel, and being the farthest distance for the longest time I’ve ever been away, I’ve gained a new appreciation for nostalgia.

Rather than avoid it — shutting thoughts and memories out that trigger the overwhelming feels — I’ve started to embrace the nostalgia and honor the memories, cherishing the moments and feelings that bring me back to another time and place in my life. I feel fortunate to have moments that push me to think about my past and all its parts — their significance otherwise often overlooked. Positive or not, these times all contributed to the shaping of my character, and they’re the building blocks I’ve been able to use to build the life I lead today.

I now see nostalgia as a good thing — a wonderful tool of life that brings me home, no matter how far away I am, reminding me where I come from and how I got here. It’s important to live in the present, and it’s important to consider the future, but it’s also important to acknowledge your past and let it recalibrate you from time to time. Nostalgia centers me.

Ok it’s cold, I’m going inside.