I tend to avoid it. Yes, I said tend because this is still the case. I consider myself a “feeler” in the first place: someone who feels everything, and I mean everything, with their entire being. So, nostalgia scares me. I smell something ever so briefly and some part of me goes somewhere else, to a distant memory, and I long to be there again. So desperately so that it upsets me that I’m not, sometimes more than the memory makes me happy. I pass the old house on 5th street and see the gray paneled walls and time doesn’t move but something inside of me does and I wish so much that I could be back in that house again when my sisters and I were little and the only complaint that we had was the door in the mudroom sticking in the summer when the wood expanded and we had to ask dad for help to get outside. The memories are pleasant, and they’re good memories, but inside of me I feel a distance from what was. I feel a detachment from that happiness because that happiness isn’t mine anymore. It doesn’t belong to me in that moment as it belonged to me before. Something about this feeling doesn’t feel right a lot of the time. So I tend to avoid it. I get the slightest sense of that feeling of detachment and I turn my attention elsewhere, to something unmistakably present.
This reaction is fairly negative. How depressing, honestly, to feel this way about childhood memories, or something beautiful, that I’m able to look back on. I’ve come to decide that most people probably feel these same emotions when nostalgia imposes itself into their lives, but that it manifests itself differently. More recently, this has become interesting to me. It occurred to me that the detachment isn’t what I had been thinking it was. Each time that I’m stumbling through my daily life and I cross paths with nostalgia, I feel the feelings that I do because my body is doing some variation of time travel. I’m exploring a sense that was once present in my body, but isn’t any longer, and my body is reaching backwards into the dusty old boxes in the back of my mind to remind me of the time that it was. It takes some stretching and some straining. A little bit of squirming and reaching. But I reach all the way back and rediscover a sense that reminds me of an exact moment. That’s something special. I’m not sure how I could have ever expected my mind and my senses to go on such an endeavor perfectly comfortably. To relive almost exactly a precise moment from the past shouldn’t come easily.
So recently, I’ve been trying to indulge in my nostalgia. Smell those smells all the way into my lungs. Hear those sounds all the way through my body. Exercise my time traveling muscles a little bit more. I even close my eyes sometimes, and try to see the pictures that belong with the senses. The more that I open my mind and stretch these muscles, the more I’ve been able to appreciate these moments, and not feel so uncomfortable. It’s incredible, really. That I’m able to have such beautiful feelings associated with just a little something that triggers such an immense feeling inside of me. I’m lucky to be able to have bits of the past stored in dusty boxes somewhere inside of me that made me so happy once that reopening them and realizing they’re only a little less mine than they used to be hurts just a little.
Nostalgia is when the tangible becomes intangible. To indulge in the intangible isn’t natural, so it can be less comfortable. But it takes you somewhere. When you let yourself go, let yourself sink into what once was, take yourself away from your current reality and into your past one, you’re doing something that scientist and inventors have been trying to figure out for years. You’re traveling through time. Rexperiencing something so vividly that it’s almost frightening. You can access smells, sounds, pictures, and feelings that aren’t from right now. It’s the closest we can get to returning somewhere we miss. Whether it’s a moment, a memory, or a person. The most valuable nostalgia we have is when we’re just minding our lives, living a normal day, and we’re interrupted. You pass a flower shop that smells like six years ago. Or you pass a restaurant playing a song from that one time you and your dad were dancing on the patio outside of your first home when the sun was setting on the first night of summer. These are the moments to indulge in. Let yourself return to that precise moment. Feel what you felt when were there.
If you’re like me, it might hurt a little. But I promise, every single second of that trip you take backwards will be worth it. It’s a sign you’re remembering. Holding onto the small things that are more important than most of the big things.
It’s a good thing. Nostalgia is a good thing.