Sunday, February 25, 2018


I joined Facebook about seven months ago.  I'm not sure what took me so long, but I'm very glad that I finally did.  Reconnecting with old friends is a priceless joy, and of course along with that re-connection come the memories of happy, younger days. I notice that many people post mementos of days gone by and I've been wondering about the role of nostalgia in our lives.  Is it unhealthy to reminisce?  Can reliving happy memories make the present seem dull in comparison?  I actually think that the opposite is true.

Nostalgia is defined as sentimentality for the past, for a place or time with happy personal associations.  The word is derived from the Greek "nostos", which means "return home", most likely influenced by the travels of Odysseus and the memories of home that sustained him through his travels.  In this sense, visiting the past brings comfort, warm feelings, and hope.  Happy memories validate that we are loved, connected to others, and that our lives have meaning.  Nostalgia can alleviate feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and boredom. Happy memories are forever; they cannot be taken away from us.  As Humphrey Bogart said in "Casablanca", "We'll always have Paris."  We will always have the precious moments that live in our memories. No one can touch them.

Nostalgia can be painful if we use our memories to compare the past and the present.  Think of Stephen Still's line in "Suite:  Judy Blue Eyes", "Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now".  It's unproductive and untrue to think that things were so much better in "the good old days"; to regret our choices and think, "If only...".   Instead, we should derive strength from our memories, understanding that our personal history is what makes us who we are now.  We can make better choices today when we recognize and stay true to the sense of self that continues to live in our memories.

I am particularly fascinated with the role of music in our memories.  I recently read that the music we love from the ages of twelve to twenty-two gets permanently wired into our brains and becomes "the soundtrack of our lives".   It is at this stage of life that our self-identity emerges.  Our hormones heighten our emotions dramatically, and the music we enjoy infuses the most momentous years of our lives. Our favorite music is tightly connected with our memories, and its relevance to us does not weaken as we age.  No matter how many years have gone by, certain songs can make us  relive the feelings we had when we first heard them.  The opening licks of Eric Clapton's "Layla" still pull at my heart, and bring me back to my days in the college pub (my favorite hangout).  I know that my thirty-something daughter's heart still beats a little faster when she hears Hanson's "Um Bop".

A few days ago, I was feeling sad about the horrors in Florida, as well as missing my sister, who would have celebrated her birthday last week.  I posted Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted", which I have been singing to myself relentlessly for days.  It seemed very cool to me that the people who responded to the post were friends of mine from junior high school, when that song came out.  We all loved Motown (and still do) and I remember us singing together.  I know that these friends could absolutely relate to my feelings through this song, even though I didn't verbalize them.  We will always share that musical / nostalgic connection.

I read somewhere else that children as young as seven can feel nostalgic, particularly as they recall holidays and other celebrations.  We cannot tell which particular events will make their way into our children's memories.  All we can do is to make each day as positive and wonderful as we can. And listening to their memories as they grow may give us a better view into the personal history they are creating for themselves. 

So as important as it is to live in the present, an occasional trip down memory lane has definite benefits. Joni Mitchell sings, "We can't return we can only look behind from where we came".  Happy memories, a strong sense of self to make good choices now; a full life.

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