Nostalgia and the ever changing past

Looking at old photos is like grabbing a single piece of cloth from a massive tapestry. You can envision the full tapestry in your mind, but that piece of cloth influences what it looks like. Maybe it’s more dark blue or maybe white and gold. Maybe you feel happy about fun days, or you feel saddened that you cannot relive those days. Nostalgia is a strange mistress, because the way she appears depends not on her but on us.

When you are 15, remembering when you were 5, you might feel a number of things such as embarrassment. You might be embarrassed that your parents kept that photo of you running around in your underwear in the house. Or you could feel a sense of freedom that you can do more things now than you could when you were 5. However, when you are 25, you might long for those simpler days when Mom or Dad were close by and you had no real worries.

In the same manner, nostalgia can be both a positive and negative force. It could inspire someone who has been dragged down by life to remember the carefree days and attempt to emulate those feelings in his or her life, rather than continuing in negative thoughts. It could also be a good collective activity among a group of friends or family. On the negative side, it can lead to one creating, as Neon Genesis Evangelion puts it, a rosary of good memories that one clings to rather than dealing with the present. It can also lead to destructive patterns in a quest to restore the past, such as Gatsby’s obsession with restoring his old romance with Daisy in the Great Gatsby.

Pop culture currently is obsessed with nostalgia. From Star Wars to Power Rangers, they are all attempting to grab a piece of that nostalgic pie. The Force Awakens was a love letter to every little boy and girl in the 80s who grew up with Luke Skywalker. Yet for some, the new movie will never quite capture the original feeling, but it will remind viewers of some part of the tapestry that is Star Wars.

One question that emerges from this post is, “How should we relate to nostalgia?” In my own mind, I believe there are a few general principles. First of all, don’t lose your childlike spirit. By childlike, I am not talking about “childish behavior,” but rather a sense of wonder. We all know people who have completely lost their sense of wonder and became angry, jaded and sometimes extremely unpleasant. By keeping that spirit, we can both engage with nostalgic memories and create new ones, which leads to my final point.

Live your life naturally now so that you will naturally create good memories. This does not mean live in an artificial way to create Kodak moments that can easily be quantified and thrown on social media. It means to live your life naturally, with a childlike spirit, so that good memories will come naturally.

You may call that a cliche, but just remember that cliches were once treasured tropes.

Defining the profound

Once, Stephen Colbert asked scientist David Christian about the meaning of life. Mr. Christian responded by talking about the theory of how human life came about. Colbert pointed out that all Mr. Christian had given him was the “how” not the “why.”  You see, the “how” is interesting and easily definiable, but not profound, like “why.” This key difference can be witnessed by comparing the question “how do you love me” with “why do you love me.”

Your partner will respond to the first question with actions. The partner loves you by giving gifts, physical affection, staying up late at night, etc. But, to respond to the second question, the partner has to go a little deeper. For example, they might say, “I love you because of that twinkle in your eye when you have an idea,” or “I love you because you have a beautiful soul.”  However, many times the why cannot be described with words. It swells up from deep within in a language not defined by linguistics.

For something to be profound, it must be transcendent, above definition. This is why the early Christians embraced the mystery of God. After all, if God is easily defined, God becomes a thing. You might scoff at this, but think about yourself as a person. You are not your politics, gender, orientation or race. Those are a part of you, but you can’t add up these elements and get you. As Rob Bell and others would argue, you are more than than the sum of your parts. There is a mystery to you that defies words, from both others and yourself. And yet, you still know yourself, albeit through a mirror dimly.

Every single word you speak is a metaphor for the profound. The profound is both a mystery and familiar.