On Nostalgia

I recently read a passage from a book that was quite intriguing, and most applicable.  I will share some of it with you now, and then share some of my personal thoughts on the matter.  The author, R. A. Salvatore, wrote the following in 2000. From The Icewind Dale Trilogy:

…He wants to go home, and there are many good reasons why he should. There remains one good reason why he should not, and if that reason, nostalgia, is the source of his desire, then I fear he will be bitterly disappointed. Nostalgia is possibly the greatest of the lies that we all tell ourselves. It is the glossing of the past to fit the sensibilities of the present. For some, it brings a measure of comfort, a sense of self and of source, but others, I fear, take these altered memories too far, and because of that, paralyze themselves to the realities about them.

How many people long for that “past, simpler, and better world,” I wonder, without ever recognizing the truth that perhaps it was they who were simpler and better, and not the world about them? As a drow elf, I expect to live several centuries, but those first few decades of life for a drow, and for a surface elf, are not so different in terms of emotional development from those of a human, or a halfling or a dwarf. I, too, remember that idealism and energy of my more youthful days, when the world seemed an uncomplicated place, when right and wrong were plainly written on the path before my every stride.

…Nostalgia is a necessary thing, I believe, and a way for all of us to find peace in that which we have accomplished, or even failed to accomplish. At the same time, if nostalgia precipitates actions to return to that fabled, rosy-painted time, particularly in one who believes his life to be a failure, then it is an empty thing, doomed to produce nothing but frustration and an even greater sense of failure. Even worse, if nostalgia throws barriers in the path toward evolution, then it is a limiting thing indeed.”

Oh nostalgia…  How often do I indulge thee?  Let me count the ways… But really, though.  I basically agree with everything Salvatore writes.  Nostalgia has often drug me into somewhat of a despairing mentality.  “Oh if only life were simple and I was the carefree child I once was! Running around barefoot through wood and field, long into the summer nights…  Such simplicity and beauty…”

See?!  Perhaps you do not.  I am doing it again in simply writing you an example of my nostalgic thoughts!  I am pining. Longing for that time. But, the funny thing about nostalgia is that it is often only a piece of the truth of our past.  As so many of us know, alongside those frivolous runs for fireflies, there lay various issues, both sad and hard, which accompanied that carefree child.  Sure, life was simpler back then; in a way. But it is also simpler now.

Back then, I didn’t really understand God or my relationship with Him…  My role in His plans. (Though let’s be honest, that’s still pretty unclear.)  I knew of Him, but did not know Him, which I now understand is a process, just like any living relationship.  Should I not dwell more on the fact that my knowledge of Him who loves me the most and the best has grown?  That I, in turn, can better love Him now that I have been actively participating in this relationship? Sure I should!  But as we are so want to do, I prefer to dwell on the good things I had in the past, unwilling to rest in the surety of hope that the future can be, and will be, better than that which once was mine.

How often do we hear our grandparents, or just the general older populus talking about the “good ol’ days” and how “things have gotten so much worse” since their time?  And yet, how can we possibly say that? Things have gotten worse since slavery was declared illegal??  That doesn’t seem right… Things have gotten worse since women were given a legal voice?  Things have gotten worse since the improvement of medicine, technology, energy, etc. etc.?  You see the point.

Yes, some things truly have grown worse.  Maybe people aren’t reading or building real life personal relationships so much as they once were (these are just a few examples),  but other things have grown better. Sin is still a part of the world, no matter how much we improve. It was in the past and it will be in the present and future until Jesus comes back and banishes the darkness.

The difficult part is seeing sin and its effects in our own pasts.  The other, and for some perhaps more difficult part (raises hand while sliding down in chair), is seeing the hope of Christ, which is our ultimate future.  And that is my prayer. That I could see, understand, and take great joy in Christ and His bright and glorious future.

Doug Serven