I am neck-deep in a project that is necessary but not even a little bit enjoyable. I am combing through pages of data on my website, recategorizing items, and correcting small mistakes that have larger implications for the site as a whole. If I were a toddler at dinner, this project would be the “eat your vegetables before you get dessert" part of the meal. The work is tedious to say the least, and it requires me to pour over every word I have ever written since 2015.
While reading all of my musings from the past, oh, seven-ish years, I have been unexpectedly bathed in a waterfall of nostalgia. Each post brings to my mind a context, feeling, or past reality that had disappeared like a vapor from my consciousness only to be reconstituted while I worked. My boring project has turned into a trip down memory lane, and nostalgia is my companion.
Nostalgia is that feeling of walking back into a moment thick with memory, and discovering the wash of emotions that emerge as we recall and remember days gone by. Don Draper said it best. “Nostalgia is delicate, but potent…It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone…it takes us to a place we ache to go again.”
In my experience nostalgia brings with it a surge of grief for what is gone, but also, for me, a tremendous sense of gratitude for what was given. The gratitude is a welcome perk, but I have discovered that the gifts of nostalgia can only be received if I am willing to look back and do the difficult work of remembering.
Nostalgia asks me to choose to feel the grief in order to enjoy the gratitude.
I accept this arrangement as I pour over my daughters' baby books and see their chubby cheeks and tiny hands, realizing we can now share clothes and shoes. Or when I look at photographs of Jake as a little boy, shyly curious and cute, now preparing to graduate from high school, equally cute but with a confidence to his curiosity that makes him a man among boys. Or when I scroll back on my phone and see images taken during an extremely difficult season in our family, and then realize how much growth and change and new life a single year has born.
Yes, there is a grief, a longing to kiss a baby cheek or hold a tiny hand or hear one more childish question or swoop in and rescue before the heartache hits. But right beyond the sorrow, there is gratitude for what we were given. Grief may hang heavy as we acknowledge the fleeting nature of all that lived right in front of us, but gratitude highlights how rich and alive those days were.
Nostalgia. It's delicate, but potent.
Nostalgia teaches me to realize years from today I will look back on my present surroundings and wish for a chance to taste all of this one more time. One day I will ache to tussle my high schooler's hair or compliment my awkward middle schooler's eye makeup or laugh at my teenager's favorite meme or hear about the drama of dorm life from my college student.
Nostalgia teaches me to embrace the now. The challenges of family life, the difficult seasons of parenting, and yes, even the tedious mind-numbing tasks at work. Nostalgia renews an appreciation for my current reality while the present is still present, knowing one day I will look back with longing to be exactly where I sit today.
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