I was talking with a friend today about nostalgia. He was not attracted to it; I admitted its pull. Here’s a definition: “pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again.”1 The definition seems appropriate. Thinking of a street and a neighborhood, of the trees and the people, of a certain moment in the solar systems long journey around the center of the Milky Way, fills me with joy; thinking of how it all has or will vanish, fills me with sadness.
Do I desire to go back? For a few hours maybe, to see that world from the outside, to see if my memory is accurate, to experience its beauty. But not to be in it, from the inside, as a ten or twenty year old. Who would want to actually be young again, to return permanently? Fools maybe, but no others. The wise love that the past was once home, that it molded them, but they no longer desire to live there. As Tennyson said:
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
Would I live my life over again? Maybe, if the other option was oblivion and I could learn more the second time around. But not to live in Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.
I will continue to reminisce, but I reject traveling back in time even for a moment. If I did I might be disappointed; the past might not be as good as I remember. And then I would have lost something special … good memories, however flawed.