And the places I long for the most
Are the places where I’ve been
They are calling out to me
Like a long lost friend
It’s the start of a new year, and somehow, in all my contemplation about what this new year will bring, I find myself caught in a whirlwind of nostalgia taking me back to the year I leave behind. For me, nostalgia is addictive, causing a typically stable heart to feel weak, to feel indescribably sensitive. So I pore over old pictures and listen to the songs that narrated my day to day during those times. And I begin to feel more and more deeply. This feeling can be good; it can be healing to look back on hurts and acknowledge each purpose to which I am now privy. It can squeeze the gratefulness out of me in tiny tears that softly coat my cheeks as I’m reminded of the people and places that have made me. However, it becomes dangerous when I allow this feeling to take a place in my future, for it belongs snugly tucked between each piece of my past, holding them all safely in my memory.
When we exchange hope of the future with longing for the past, we give way to hopelessness. After all, to hope to experience any moment in time more than once is a fool’s wish as it is entirely impossible in this world. Just ask Jay Gatsby. And the next best thing? Recreating moments past only to find that they are not much the same at all, and this all at the cost of new experiences yet to be created. For this reason, I am constantly at odds with my nostalgia-addicted heart during the start of the year.
Why is it that I so desire to go back to the places I have been? Is it because they are better? Has life peaked and now begun to go downhill? Our heads and hearts (I’m not sure which) trick us into believing that this must be true when we look back upon tender times. I seek to remember the smell by the Guadalquivir as the sun was setting or the taste of blackberries on the bank of the lake at the family farm or the sound of the crackling fire and the laughter of my closest friends under the October stars. Everything that is preserved in memory is sugar-coated before entering the vault. Each memory shaved of it’s reality until it’s preserved in, to some extent, perfection. What future could possibly compete with so perfect a past? It would take an intentional effort to dig up the parts of those moments for which our heads and hearts did not care. I have to really think to recall the way the river stank of sewage and the bats overhead seemed to fly viciously at us. I have to really think to recall how my skin stung with scratches from thorny branches picking berries at the farm or the way my legs were speckled with mosquito bites for weeks after. I have to really think to recall how helplessly lonely I was even though I was surrounded by my best friends at that bonfire in the fall. But no, I don’t want to think of the unpleasant things, so I dismiss them when they accidentally accompany the pleasant things in the procession of moments that flash through my mind. I’d much rather paint pictures of Egypt and leave out all it lacked.
I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard
And I want to go back
The other thing about the past is that it was perfectly fitted to accommodate the person that I was at the time. The person I am today can recall fondly so many instances before. However, not one could ever be the same even if every aspect were constant because I am not constant. We are changed by each moment in life, which, being the greatest conglomerate of moments known to each man, ought to be known as a process of continuous change. Often, we think of “who we were” and usually “at that time” when the truth is that we were not one particular person at a period in time any more than we are one particular person consistently today, tomorrow, and next week. I, for one, will be different five minutes from now, subtle as it may be. Granted, we can categorize ourselves, attempt to define who we were in periods by commonalities we carried day-to-day in a given range of days. “I was such a partier in Spain,” I may think, ignoring the nuances of each day that I changed the nature of what kind of “partier” I chose to be and all the rumination that caused such change. Drawing it all back in, if we are ever-evolving, there may be no disappointment in who we have “become” as compared to “who we were.” This is because “who we were” and “who we have become” are one in the same in that they are both distinct points in time at which we were and are undergoing the process of becoming, something we will spend each moment of our lives doing and at no point will it be complete upon this earth. Just ask the Velveteen Rabbit. I look back at the more obvious ways I have grown and changed throughout 2016 and I realize how each moment served its purpose. I was just tempted to say “its purpose in making me into who I am today” as if I have reached a point of stagnant identity, when who I am today is just as much a growing, moving, fluid entity. The purpose of which I speak is to mean each moment’s specific actualization of comprehensible change. 2016 presented me with challenges that offered opportunities to grow up in more obvious ways than any year before it, and for that, I am thankful. Because of these changes, it really is impossible to go back. I won’t fit into those moments anymore. Simply by experiencing their existence, I have outgrown them.
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned
Despite such deep acknowledgment of the fact that the past ought to remain in the past, I still drift into this lackadaisical state of longing. I have inserted lyrics from on of my favorite songs by Sara Groves throughout this entry because she pokes and prods at just this sort of nostalgic yearning. If you haven’t listened to, “Painting Pictures of Egypt,” I would highly recommend doing so. Sara highlights the comfort we find in the familiarity of the past. Especially at times when our surroundings are about to change, be it going to college, moving to a new city, getting married, or any of the other major phases changes we undergo, dwelling on the past protects us temporarily from our fear of the future. Although, this American life, more often than not, has me striving to reach that next phase, to pass go and collect $200, I am ordinarily terrified when the time comes to do so. Because, somehow, as a continually changing creature, I am innately resistant to change, both perceived good and perceived bad. I think some people can relate to this more than others, but change has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. It’s scary. It challenges our ability to maintain control because it is a substantial period of our lives during which not even we know what variables may come into play. Yet, as I hide in my old photos, traipse through albums, and stop to smell the rhododendrons, it is possible for the addictive comfort of the past to be replaced by the unwavering promise of the future.
The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the Promise
And the things I know
Mark Twain once said, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” So with that strain of human reasoning that guides so much of our intellect, if I look back to find that my life has been unimaginably and beautifully cared for by my Creator in every year past, the only conclusion I find plausible is that it will be so in every year henceforth. And that, yes, that creates a hope that remains constant amidst life’s ephemeral troubles (though I cannot speak on true trouble nor trial, for I am yet to know these things as most know them). It is with this rationale that remembering the past begins to play an integral role in the future. Still, apart from logic, the evidence of my Creator’s love and care for me in 2016 incites trust in his ability and willingness to do so in this next year. As 2017 kicks off, it’s time to replace hesitation with excitement and fear with courage. In the famous words of Corrie Ten Boom, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Photo Credit: Caroline Clark
Lyrics: Sara Groves https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yC9cKaELnG8