Nostalgia, according to Webster's New World Dictionary1, is “a longing for something far away or long ago”. We all feel it, and it seems to play a larger role in our lives the older we get. Which makes perfect logical sense because the older we get the more we think about the “good old days”. Eventually there comes a point where there are more days in the past than in the future.2
I recently went with my wife and our two children to her high school reunion down in Centreville, Maryland. She graduated from Gunston Day School, class of 1985. I never had an experience like that when I was in high school (or college for that matter). Since Gunston at the time was a boarding school, my wife lived there during the school year and obviously went back home to New Jersey when summer came around. I never left home. I took the bus to high school, and I commuted to college. When we arrived at that reunion, I could feel that nostalgia even though I never went there. I could tell my wife had this sense of such joy from remembering all her best friends from high school. That was accompanied by a feeling that you can never get back to those days, the sadness, the brink of tears.
It's that mix that describes nostalgia for me.
It is interesting, when you happen to look at a picture of yourself or a family member from years ago. You get that feeling there is this almost dreamlike sense that you or he/she were somehow a different person back then.
I can remember reading a few articles about cell replacement of the human body. The rate of cell replacement varies but one thing is certain, cells are constantly dying and being replaced.3
This could explain why we often feel that the picture of you from 10 years ago definitely looks slightly different but often gets us to think, “Wow, I can't believe what I was thinking back then”.
In purely scientific terms, we were a different person back then.
This is especially true when I see pictures of my father. To be honest, I would have to see a picture of him prior to August 27, 1994 which is when he had a terrible accident while working on a roof of a house. My father slipped off of a ladder and fell about twenty feet and landed on his head that day. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, was in a coma for about three weeks, and had to undergo extensive rehabilitation to be able to walk and talk and perform basic functions. He eventually was able to come home, fittingly, just in time for the holidays.
Looking at my father today, an outsider would never imagine anything was wrong or that he is different than the way he was 16 years ago. One thing that has never changed, however, is my father's obsession with classic movies, television shows, and music. Actually, I would argue that he is more obsessed with those things now than he ever was. Could it be because he is getting older or because he remembers a time prior to him getting hurt? Either way, he is searching for the “good old days”.
It makes me think about the movies that I loved growing up and how I can't turn away when they're on the television. Back to the Future comes to mind as one of the all-time greatest movies for me4. Not only does it bring back my childhood memories from the 80s, it also manages to weave in that 1950s era magic.
As I'm writing this it is early December and Christmas is approaching5. Nostalgia will help Coca-Cola to sell more of their beverage products through the use of an old-time Santa caricature on their bottles. Other companies, such as Maxwell House, will also try to sell their products by pushing the allure of the “good old days” and playing on our memories of childhood.6 These companies will no doubt be showcasing their products during commercials played in between and during our favorite christmas movies. Christmas is full of nostalgia. Who can forget being a kid waiting for Santa to show up and bring you your presents? Nostalgia is tradition. I hope that when reading this you get a sense of how important it is to provide good memories for our children, grand children, nieces and nephews. No matter how bad people may have had it growing up, they only seem to remember the good parts. Selective memory seems to be a predominant characteristic of those who live in and love the past.
It's for this reason that for every bad part of life, we need to provide or create a positive one. In time, these positive ones will weigh more.
Speaking of time, and movies, makes me think about Doc Brown's Delorian time machine7. I wish I had one. If I couldn't change the course of our lives, at least I would like to provide my father with some more great memories. At least then he could wax nostalgic with a bigger smile on his face.
Merry Christmas everyone.
1The Fourth Edition, 2003
2I am not taking “life after death” into consideration. I also understand that number of future days is impossible to calculate.
3If the reader is interested, just google: “cell replacement in the human body” or some variation thereof
4I would argue that it is the greatest trilogy ever made. Please no hate mail from Star Wars fans.
5I understand there are other holidays out there. My family and I celebrate Christmas.
6If you really want to watch the “Peter” ad campaign I'm sure you can find it on youtube
7I apologize if you haven't watched Back to the Future and have no idea what I'm talking about. Wait I take that back. Go watch it now.