If you had to choose between happiness and longevity, which would it be?
It’s an impossible, terrible question, but I DO want to live a long life.
I have no guarantee of that of course. Mostly, I’m grateful for the years I already have under my belt and hope for many more.
Sitting here in the dark of early morning thinking about my lifespan, the image stuck in my head is of a ziplock gliding along the top edges of a plastic bag: much like it, my lifetime has zipped by with smooth inevitability. Of course, a ziplock is also designed to move backward along its track in an action that can be repeated and repeated. Alas, there’s no such movement possible for any of us. Not in real time.
In partial answer to the question “Why does time seem to speed up as we get older?”, Muireann Irish and Claire O’Callaghan write that:
“Memory may hold the key to time perception, as the clarity of our memories is believed to mould our experience of time. We mentally reflect on our past and use historic events to achieve a sense of our self existing across time.”
We time-travel along the tracks of our memories, and our sense of time expands and contracts in relation to these; and somewhere within this interplay, a space is created for nostalgia.
I don’t think of myself as nostalgic—at least not in the way so many baby-boomers seem to be.
For instance, Facebook is full of posts with titles like Do you remember? featuring toys from my baby-boomer childhood including Etch-a-sketch, Barrel of Monkeys, Matchbox cars, Dinky Toys and Spirograph; gadgets like classic sixties home hair-dryers and cassette tapes; and photos of carefree children packed like luggage into the backs of station wagons.
They’re fun click bait for loads of people, but they mostly make me uneasy. What some embrace as “vintage” and “classic” reminders of more innocent and carefree times strike me as evidence of my generation’s built-in obsolescence.
And then there’s teenage nostalgia, and what it means to be old enough for a high school reunion to have any significance at all.
[It’s a strange irony that while Facebook makes reunions so much easier to coordinate, it’s also making them unnecessary]
I remember watching Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, and listening to South Park’s Matt Stone, a graduate of Columbine, talk about his high school years there and repeating the oppressive message he received over and over from as early as grade 6, that the path he set in middle school would determine the course of his life and which nearly convinced him that “Whatever I am now, I am forever”, when in fact : “[…] of course it’s completely opposite.”
There hasn’t been a high school reunion for my graduating year, but my husband attended his. I’m not sure what he was hoping to find there, but he was excited to go. I think that it was a mixture of curiosity—Who would turn up? Would that gorgeous girl still be as gorgeous? Who would remember him? Who wouldn’t? Who got fat? Who lost their hair? How had X and Y and Z’s lives turned out?— and the pull of nostalgia: a yearning for a time when he had so little responsibility, when he was young and strong and perfect and a star athlete.
To this day, he’s more likely to listen to music from that period of his life than any other. Those songs are the soundtrack of his memories. What some call Golden Oldies.
They too make me uneasy. They make me feel trapped in a time that I’m relieved to have left behind. They’re a source of tension between us in the car. He’s so much more sentimental than me.
If there were one held this year, I’m not sure I’d attend my Class Reunion, and yet, early in the summer of 2015, I connected with my oldest and most precious high school friend. I sought him out through LinkedIn. I hadn’t seen him or heard from him in more years than I want to reveal. For decades. Since the last day of school.
And so we arranged to meet for lunch at a restaurant near my home in mid-July. Our meeting was quiet and sweet. We smiled a lot. We were even a little bit bashful. I had found him because I wanted to tell him how much his friendship had meant to me during those years. I knew that he had no idea what my life was really like then, and he couldn’t have guessed what a difference having him as a classmate had made. I wanted to thank him. To close a loop that had been left open all these years.
What I hadn’t expected was how nostalgic he is for those years in his life. There I was, wanting to come full circle and there he was, wanting to revisit those years and reconnect with the people he left behind there and bring them back into his present. He has continued to track old classmates down and gather them together.
Nostalgia is described in online dictionaries as a “feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past”, and also as a “bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past”.
The bittersweetness of nostalgia is a good thing. There’s a measure of pleasure and pain in almost everything we value in life. All things must pass. There’s a sadness in that too.
This September marked the anniversary of my son Christian’s graduation from LAMDA and my trip to London to visit him. For several weeks before and throughout the month, I was awash in wistful memories and felt a yearning to return there.
Though Christian’s life has been happy and challenging and eventful since his return, I still feel (and I think he does too) that there’s unfinished business in England, and that there’s more to experience there, more adventures to be lived.
In this way, nostalgia propels me forward.
But beware of nostalgia when it mixes with fear of change and whispers Keep things as they are and We’ve always done things this way…
My family’s plans for the future include pooling our resources and buying a property that will accommodate multigenerational living. Our timeline is three to five years. When that day comes, I’ll be forced to sell my house and move from Pointe-Claire, which has been my home since I was three years old. Leaving my hometown will probably be one of the hardest things I’ll ever do.
But the truth is that the Pointe-Claire of my childhood memories is irretrievable, and soon, my sons will feel the same way.
The fields I used to play in have all but disappeared, transformed into housing developments or replaced by meticulously designed parks. The small A-frame cottages that were built for the soldiers returning from WWII on beautiful large lots along Saint-Louis avenue have mostly been torn down to accommodate giant generic homes with no connection to that past. New neighbours arrive on my street year after year, starting a new cycle of childrearing. One local grocery store morphed into a sports equipment retailer, while another, the place where we shopped when we were newlyweds, was just demolished. There’s only flattened earth there now.
Time marches on.
Living a happy and long life often means learning to let the past disappear.