Monday, June 01, 2009

A Second Point On Nostalgia

The powerful yearnings we have for things in the past or the future come from a frustration. We have strong imaginings; we can picture something and make it come into being; we can call up a picture (or other sensory experience) of a person or place and then go to it - not always, but often enough to make us believe that the things we imagine are real. This is especially true of the everyday things of our lives: the places we live, the friends we visit, the stores we frequent. Even when they are not present we can think of them and in a few hours or so, we find that they are still as we have imagined.

Anything we imagine with great intensity takes on the clothing of reality. We feel that it must be true somewhere. We play with the idea of going back into our past, we relive events in our mind and come to believe that somewhere, the events still play out, if we could only get to them.

Part of adulthood and acceptance of reality is coming to grips with the knowledge that time does really pass, we cannot return along any known road to our own past, no matter how vivid the memory, no matter how strongly we believe.

Yet a yearly return holds out the hope that the past can be recaptured. Perhaps it is really true after all that we can visit our youth again. Back when mother was still alive...when the children were small...when my husband still loved me. Random objects remain untouched, though minor changes accumulate. As the changes are slow, they are absorbed into the great generality of the old place. The essential lake cabin remains, though 70% of it has changed over your lifetime.

In CS Lewis's The Last Battle, the survivors of Narnia come to Aslan's land itself. It is familiar yet new. Old Narnia is there, the Narnia that mattered, regardless of detail. Further up and further in, the land reveals itself always more fully. There are lake cabins, ski lodges, and summer camps in the foothills of Aslan's land. Unfortunately, they offer gateways to many other gods as well. More likely, they offer only themselves, the minor gods and goddesses of Vacation, or Escape, where you thought you could stay forever and chat with these grand, fascinating creatures. Yet if they are interesting for a few weeks a year, they turn out to be quite tedious after ten years uninterrupted.

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