I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas, where my husband and I drove five hours just to meet a few of my childhood friends for dinner. We have been reconnecting through facebook, rekindling the bonds of our girlhood. We were in grammar school and girl scouts together back then, but actually, we weren’t that close. We didn’t have sleepovers or vacations together, yet somehow it just makes my day to see them pop up on facebook now, and I miss them when they’re not there.
The irony is that I spent the majority of my adult years tamping down memories from my childhood. I never ever revisited the old neighborhood. Never wanted to set eyes on the house I grew up in. Those are not happy memories. But here I am in my forties, cherishing old ties, and rehashing silly stories from that time.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few days. What is nostalgia, and what is this hold it has on us as we grow older? Why did our parents idealize the 1950s, when we know it was a time of Cold war, racism, segregation, Mc Carthyism, and backyard bomb shelters? Why do our grandparents spin yarns nonstop about the good old days on the farm, when the reality is it was grueling, back-breaking work from sun up till sunset?
When I was a child living in my mother’s house, I used to watch the next-door neighbor through my bedroom window. He was a quiet, sort of grumpy man. At the time, he seemed old to me, but he was probably only about 40. He had a ruddy complexion and the lines in his face told a story. I didn’t know what the story was, but it seemed like a sad one.
Every weekend he would work on his yard while listening to the oldies station. Fifties doo-wop would waft in through my open window. It made me depressed and heavy
though at the time I wasn’t sure why.
Once in a while a certain song would come on, and he would stop what he was doing. It seemed to me like he would get lost in a world of his own memories, a world that didn’t exist anymore except inside those songs. Only when he went into this little world did I catch a glimpse of a smile dart across his face. Weekend after weekend he’d be out there, waxing his car, raking the leaves, painting the trim on the house, only half alive. Living only for those memories inside the songs as if today were inconsequential. As if right now did not exist. To this day, fifties music depresses me.
I made a promise to my young self to never be like that. You can’t live for something that has already gone. It can live in you, but you can’t live for it. Even still, I find myself reliving the old days and it surprises me. My childhood was not happy. Far from it. Yet there was something about that time. No matter how bad things were, there was a hope that lived in us when we were young. There was this belief that the world was ours to conquer, that we could have any dream we set our mind on. Everything was shiny and new and possible.
Now that we are older, it seems those feelings have been replaced by hard realities. Somehow we forget to believe in possibility even though life is still full of unexpected surprises. When I was depressed about turning forty, I had no idea that at forty-one I would have an unexpected pregnancy and would be shopping for preschools at mid life. There is still so much in the second half of our lives to be discovered and lived, but we don’t approach it with the same wide-eyed wonder. Why not? Has life jaded us so much that we forget all that we have overcome and accomplished, and what we are capable of? We are so busy reflecting back on the old days, when we should be excited about what’s yet to come. There are so many beautiful memories that are yet to be made, things we can’t even imagine now.
Nostalgia does have its place. I am thrilled to be reconnected with my childhood friends. I cherish these bonds and shared memories. But what I am most excited about is building new friendships with them based on the women we are today. We have all weathered some storms, suffered disappointments, and witnessed miracles. We are mothers, grandmothers, burnt out career women, survivors. We come to the table with so much more to share.
Driving home from Vegas in bumper to bumper traffic, I had six hours to ruminate on the experience. The sun was setting magnificently in the sky as we crossed the Nevada state line. I spied other passengers in cars passing us on the highway. Everyone looked dog-tired and downtrodden, driving home hung over and busted-flat broke, no doubt. Vegas will do that to you. But I felt I came home richer.
In my musings, what I came to realize was pretty much the same thing I always come to realize. As with all things, balance is what’s important. I can hold onto my fondness for the past, and keep hope for the future, but I must stay rooted in the present and enjoy every moment of it for the gift that it is.
Because my friends, These are the days….