"There is a thin line between memory and nostalgia," writes Sister Joan.
"Memory," she explains, "is recollection. Good memories make us laugh on gray days and bring us old warmth on cold nights. They gather around us all the ghosts of yesterday we need to urge us on. They enable us to have faith in the future because they remind us that the past has been so life-giving, so full of hope in all the tomorrows of life...memories do not so much immerse us in the past as they prod us toward the future."
"Nostalgia is something different entirely." More from Sister Joan: "Nostalgia is not simply recollection of the past. Nostalgia is immersion in the past. Nostalgia traps us, one foot in the present, one foot in yesterday. But the melancholy of nostalgia is not the geography of old age. Possibility is."
Memory is a powerful thing. It lives in us and, in many ways, we live by it. HOW the past lives in us is of paramount importance. Remembrance can drain the present of vitality and possibility just as easily as it can enliven us and engage us with what is and is yet to be. What makes the difference?
I don't think it's age...although age presents us with greater temptation to nostalgia as the bank of memory grows and the timeline of the future shortens. But age in itself is not the issue. When I think of the times in my life that I have become pre-occupied with things past (whether good or bad) it was always accompanied with a loss of confidence and an overconfidence. A loss of confidence in my ability to unearth the possibilities resident in the present...and an overconfidence that there were no possibilities worth unearthing.
Faith, hope, trust...these habits of the heart come to mind when I think of antidotes to nostalgia. I love that description of Abraham we read this past Sunday in Worship. "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he as called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8). Resistance to the temptation to nostalgia is not achieved by simply trying to forget. It always requires a deliberate, practical, concrete engagement with the present even when it's not at all clear what lies ahead. Only then do we remember well.
P.S. It's interesting to note that the word 'nostalgia' comes from two Greek words, 'nostos' which means "home" and 'algos' which means 'pain.'. Nostalgia is a longing for the home that was rather than for the home that is yet to be.