When you’ve lived enough years you become susceptible to nostalgia. Nostalgia is why there are whole cable channels dedicated to reruns of canceled TV shows. Nostalgia is why there are people with Ebay stores making good money selling old toys to 50/60-year-old men. It’s why there are old car shows, throw back uniform NFL games and oldies radio stations. Nostalgia is the practice of looking back in time and remembering things that never really were.
I succumb to nostalgia myself all the time. But the fond childhood memories I’m trying to recapture never happened. The good old days were not really all that good. I’ve felt the draw to look back through the haze of selected memory. I’m reaching back for a connection with something; days that were full of peace and bliss. Except that when I was a kid there were bullies, homework, the peer group pecking order in which I was usually in the lower half. There were cousins and neighbor boys dying in Vietnam. There were people dying from drug overdoses. This is neither peace nor bliss. So why does nostalgia have such a strong pull? What is it we’re seeking to reclaim?
My best guess is that we’re looking for the comfort and safety of home. Ideally, home is that place where you belong. You have your place, your room, your bed, your seat at the dinner table. There are powerful guardians looking out for your safety and providing for your every need. They value and love you. They cherish you and dote on you. This is all true, until about age 5 or 6 when you have to leave home and go out into the world. There comes that time when you must … start school!
At school you’re one of a bazillion kids. Teachers may or may not know your name. There are bigger kids who might want to look over your lunch to see if there’s something there they want. If you remember, it’s not completely unlike prison. The authorities tell you to line up and go where they want you to go, to be quiet, to sit down, stand up. The cafeteria is the aquarium where bigger fish eat the smaller ones. This all seems melodramatic as an adult. But if you remember, as a child, it felt real. And that was the other problem, trying to get adults to take your fears and concerns seriously.
But even with all of that, there were those moments that were good: summer break, family vacations, back yard baseball games, summer nights catching fireflies under the stars. But here is the problem with nostalgia. We think that what we’re looking for, those wonderful experiences of home, are back there in time somewhere. But the truth is that those things we are trying to remember are not home itself. Because, even all of those good things that did happen, they were simply a foretaste and a foreshadowing of a reality to come. They were fleeting moments to whet the appetite and set our expectations for the real thing waiting out there somewhere.
The truth is that home is not behind us in our past but is waiting for us in our future. The old gospel song speaks truth in a simple and quaint way, “This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through.” The apostle Paul tells us, “Our citizenship is in heaven,” in Philippians 3:20. Jesus himself said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3
Paul goes on to say, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
This is the secret to the mystery: the ache in our hearts, the longing in our souls is to be home. No amount of looking back will satisfy this hunger. Only going forward will get us there. This longing is not meant to be met here. This is a hunger that stays with us to constantly propel us forward. I’m headed for my home, where I’ve never been, but will recognize immediately because I have ached for it my entire life.
Photo (Flickr CC) by s58y