The funny thing about chasing the past is that most people wouldn’t know what to do with it if they caught it. —Atticus, poet
I am a sucker for nostalgia. “Remember when…” and “how we used to….” followed by “back in the day….” Yes, ALL good stuff! In my heart, I carry around a zillion memories, stories and images, of days gone by. I can’t help myself. I remember our old house (the one by the church,) my Pepto-Bismol pink basement bedroom that had a closet with a secret door. I remember awful lunch ladies who wouldn’t let me go out to recess if I didn’t try EVERYTHING on my plate. I especially remember the one NICE lunch lady who healed my wasp sting with a special baking soda balm (in my recollection she wears a superhero cape!) Filed away in my mind are all the important “firsts,” childhood friends, and a hidden compartment labeled NEVER, EVER DO THAT AGAIN! Nostalgia. Something as simple as a song or a smell can take me back. Next thing you know, I’m lost in thought…off on my own adventure…sort of like stepping through the secret door in that old closet. Suddenly, I’m in a completely different place…and I like it there.
Yes, nostalgia is a tricky thing. For a control freak like myself, it’s absolutely bewitching. I know all the plot lines, the dialogue, the setting and most importantly, the outcome. These are my stories. These are my people. These are my glory days. I think the Twilight Zone touched on this theme…the idea of “going back” —as if all our best days were behind us! If you’re a fan of the show, you know nothing good can come from chasing the past. And I mean nothing. Yet…it’s tempting. We all have that desire to relive a special moment, right a wrong, fix a relationship or situation, say words that we left unsaid…the list could go on and on. And while the concept of nostalgia seems so benign, when one crosses the threshold of midlife, nostalgia can cause things to get ugly…fast.
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” There’s so much wisdom in that statement. As we reach our supposed “midpoint,” it’s natural to take inventory and evaluate our lives. Am I in a good place? Am I happy with the choices I’ve made? Should I have chosen differently? Before long, we start making plans for the future. What will my second act look like? What still needs to be done? What should be done? We start examining our lives internally AND externally. Graying hair, wrinkles, shifting weight and suddenly we’re regretting every yummy dessert and cursing those not-so-funny laugh lines. Making these assessments often lends itself to comparison. Look at what she’s doing. Look at how far he’s come. Look at what they’ve got. Combine these comparisons with nostalgic reflections, mix with hormones and suddenly you’re gulping down the poison of one volatile cocktail!
Sure, nostalgia is a B—, if we blame others for the choices we made in the past, if we use it as a means of justifying today’s regrets and if we let it fuel our present dissatisfaction. But before we write nostalgia off as just another bad word, let’s do a little re-labeling. Shift our perspective, if you will. Nostalgia is a B—but what if that B stands for BLESSING? Hear me out. In a healthy context, one where we recount the past for the good that it set into motion…we can truly see the blessing. In good ol’ George Bailey fashion, we can come to value the past…both the mountain top moments AND our days in the valley. Clarence, the angel, reminds us, “One man’s life touches so many others, when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.” I don’t want to compare my life to anyone else’s. I don’t want to wallow in regrets or seeth with envy. I don’t want the past to keep me from moving forward. My past (and yours) is precious. It has set into play the person that I am today (flaws and all.) And if I don’t like that person, I can change. My story isn’t over (and neither is yours!)
This midlife stuff is hard. None of us have it all figured out. It’s important to offer yourself grace and remember, this is all normal. And while I’m not sure that I can say that I wouldn’t change a single thing, what I can say is that I don’t regret a single moment. The good, bad, (the uncertain) and especially the ugly. Nostalgia is a B—, but its definition is up to me. Plus, it will always be one of my favorite places to visit…because I know all the plot lines, the dialogue, and the settings. These are my stories. These are my people. These are my glory days…and I have a few more to make in the process.
Remember the days of old; consider the years long past. Deuteronomy 32:7
UP NEXT: Cowboy Take Me Away (My Silent Midlife Crisis, Part V)