Wednesday, 9 September 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I take a walk down memory lane.

My mind has been wandering lately, sorting through memories of simpler times.

As the news keeps telling us, “we’ve never been through anything like this before.” It’s a perfect storm of pandemic fears, political squawking, racial unrest, and climate-change emergencies... enough, enough, we cry, our hands held out as a shield.

We want to go back to simpler times.

And so, in our imaginations, we go back. We ask each other, “Remember when...?” and we are off and running down the road called nostalgia, which means, literally, nostos (from the Gk. return home) and algos (pain) – a painful longing to return home – to better times.

Some of it is nostalgia for things we took for granted just 6 months ago: Remember when you could go grocery shopping without a mask? Remember when the libraries were wide open? Remember when you could take a holiday trip that was limited only by the time and money you had? Remember when you could hug a friend?

And some of it may be nostalgia for a time when we were children and could view the world as a great place to explore instead of a source of anxiety. Remember when you hopped on your bike and rode through the neighbourhood alone without worrying about stranger-danger? 


Remember swinging back and forth over the water on an old tire at the town swimming hole? 

Or our nostalgia may lead us back to times when our children were younger.


or our parents were still alive


or we lived in a different home or town. Ah, yes, nostalgia. And how does that make you feel, as you lean back into those memories? Good or bad?

Nostalgia used to be considered a mental disease – it was a topic of serious medical study. People were placed in asylums, and even died of it. In retrospect, academics now believe nostalgia was misdiagnosed: it was a form of PTSD, which affected mostly people forcibly displaced from their homes – soldiers, housemaids, refugees, for instance. The cure was simple: send the sufferers home again. But often that was not possible, just as it is not possible for us to go back to the way it used to be.

These days, nostalgia is again the subject of serious study. “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety,” reports the New York Times. “It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories.”

This is because when we travel back in imagination to simpler times, or memorable events shared with others, we end up with a stronger feeling of belonging. We remember cherished experiences, and that reminds us our lives have continuity and meaning. 

In this photo, for instance, I am sitting in the middle of a gathering of four of mom's siblings and spouses at the occasion of their 50th anniversary. We belonged to each other. We still do, even if five of them are no longer with us. I am so grateful for this memory.

The research shows that even if subjects were depressed and sad before they indulged in nostalgia, they felt more connected, happier, and optimistic after they’d spent some time sorting through memories. We begin to have a different perspective on the troubles we are going through. We remember that life has not always been like this, and it won’t always be like this. We have hope that we can return to better times. To quote Charlie Chaplin – the “Little Tramp” – who was perpetually down on his luck: “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles.”

Nostalgia: a prescription for sadness, loneliness and anxiety in these tough days. Take a dose several times a week, say the experts, and you will feel better! You can even play it forward by creating good memories today that will provide raw materials for nostalgia in the future. Building “nostalgia-to-be memories”, it’s called.

In this time of pandemic, I’ve noticed more of that going on. I see parents taking evening walks with their children, and families sitting at the beach together. Teenagers are having a great time jumping off rocks at the local swimming hole or tubing down the river. They are building memories. I see a local senior’s group spaced out in the shade of a tree at a local park, sipping from their thermoses while sharing news, gossip, and yes, probably memories of better times. Early this morning, out on my walk, I saw grandparents playing at the playground with a whole passel of grandchildren, including one toddler still in his sleeper, wearing rubber boots. There's always one in the crowd who doesn't want to get dressed. It called up some nostalgic memories for me, and yes, it felt good!

We  love this photo, which was recreated several times over the years, only with more clothes on the young fellow in the green chair. And since then, two more grandies take part in the traditional photo.

 How about you? Do you have some nostalgic memories that could make your day?

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