The Pang – and Danger – of Nostalgia

nostalgia-wallpapers_37124_2560x1920Although I have rarely been dissatisfied by the world at any age, I get this kind of pang a lot and perhaps more intensely because of it. In fact I tend to glorify the world of times gone by. Different things can trigger it: sometimes it’s an item I haven’t seen in a long time, or an old photo. It can be from my own childhood, or even from when my kids were little.

It can be triggered by something as simple and silly as seeing Christmas decorations or pictures well after the holiday is done and all the accoutrements are packed away (confession: this just happened to me again today – for like the 10th time since Christmas – when I saw a friend’s old posting on FB from Christmas-time).

For me, who has a tendency to relish the past, I have to exercise balance when and how I can.

For many years, I could indulge my love of the past in a purely historical sense, writing my heavily-researched but still highly-fictionalized medieval romances.

Then, when I started writing Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven, I got to spend some significant time in MY past – a practice that was actually both painful but ultimately cathartic after my father died (I’d only written about 70 pages of the 420 page manuscript when he died).

Here’s a snippet from an actual letter Pa wrote to me years ago, that I ended up using in the later part of Moose Tracks. I like his philosophy and try to remember it as often as I can:

“What was it that Scarlett O’Hara said? Tomorrow is another day!? Here are some thoughts about that: You can re-live the past but you cannot re-live the future. We dumb humans (there is no other kind) get ourselves all screwed up with more than one time base. We are forced to live in the present with minutes and hours and days and years. Everything is pretty linear, and if we stayed in the present our lives would pass linearly.

When you are young, you have a little past, the present, and a lot of future. When you are middle-aged, you have a lot of past, the present, and a lot of future. When you get old, you have a real lot of past, the present, and a little future. Notice that the only thing that doesn’t change is the present.

When you are young, you waste time looking forward to the future. When you are middle-aged, you waste time looking both to the past and to the future. When you get old, you waste time looking to the past. The problem is you can look back more than once. There are some moments in my life from many years ago that I probably have spent hours re-living. But those hours were lost to my present, never to be given back to me. It’s up to me that any re-living of my past is worth the price of time in the present..

I’ve come to realize that you can only live now. Don’t get hung up on the past or wait for the future.

Living is only for now!

The more that can be true, then the longer you live. Think about it awhile.”

So when that pang of nostalgia hits, I try to follow this idea: to allow the pang its moment, and then remember that this moment, too, will someday be part of the past. I try to live it now and to its fullest and  not be too sad in missing what’s gone before.

How about you – do you struggle with nostalgia, or are you someone who loves to throw out the old to make way for the new?

2 thoughts on “The Pang – and Danger – of Nostalgia

  1. Sandi Christman says:

    Mary, your father was a very wise man and I am glad that you have these written remembrances demonstrating his wisdom. Sometimes I tend to get so drawn to the past that I tend to forget the joys of the present. I have copied his whole note and will read it once again when I find myself in that “place”. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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