On Nostalgia…

It’s no secret… we have the tendency to live either in the past or the future, seldom in the present. Everyone reminds us constantly that we should enjoy the current moment, or at least be mindful of it. Many of our books and movies point to the same message. We nod and agree, then we go back to re-imagining how good it was and envisioning how good it’s going to be.

We miss old friends, and search for new ones. We reminisce about the days when we were younger, and tell ourselves they were much better days.

As I inch towards the end of my 20s, more and more people are getting back in touch. People I once knew and lost touch with are trying to form a connection back to me, and I tend to welcome them back with open arms and a question: “why now?” Often, they are armed with a question in response: “what happened?”

Life is what happens when you’re busy reflecting on the past and making plans for the future.

Why are we nostalgic, and why does this feeling increase as we age?

Have you ever agreed to go for a coffee with an old friend, and found yourself sitting awkwardly with a complete stranger?

How can we miss people that don’t exist anymore?

One theory is: we don’t. We look on the past and assume our nostalgia is being triggered for love of someone. The girl we spent every waking moment with throughout junior high school. The guy who left funny notes in our locker. The teacher who helped us finally see the light. The kids we split a car with at prom. Perhaps we are completely missing the point. The nostalgia is triggered for love of who we were in those moments. That is what we miss most.

Yes, other people were often a significant part of who we were. After all, show me who your friends are and I’ll show you who you are. But reconnecting with these people most likely won’t fill the void or rekindle the fire of a past moment… only you can do that by re-igniting the energy that stemmed from you at that moment.

How we feel at any moment is extremely subjective. A lot of the feeling is triggered by what’s inside us, irrespective of what’s going on outside. Nostalgia is an admission that something about us has changed significantly, and it’s something we cherished deeply. Perhaps that’s what we should reconnect with.

Nostalgia is like a warning sign that we are falling out of touch with ourselves. This does not mean we should not get back in touch with others, but we certainly should not assume that they can help us rekindle the flame inside us. Only we can do that.

Another theory is that we tend to look favourably on the past with rose-tinted glasses, and no longer remember the entire picture. Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of looking at an old photo and thinking “oh! I was so much better looking then!” only to recall that, on the very same day that photo was taken, you said the same thing about an even older photo? We don’t tend to see the beauty in present moments. Our view is often clouded by worries and anxieties. However, when we look back on the past, we filter out the things that went wrong. We don’t remember that we were heartbroken when we took that photo with a beaming smile. We don’t remember that we had just done badly on an exam. We only remember what we want to remember.

And so… we are nostalgic.

The phenomenon of selective memory is arguably to blame for our conviction that the traffic is so much worse now than five years ago. This is the privilege of retrospect.

Five years from today, given more days by God’s grace, you will look back on today with nostalgia. You wouldn’t believe the number of times an old Facebook post that I wrote gave me a future wake up call and reminded me of what I always knew: that the present will inevitably become the past, and that I will miss it fiercely. If this is the truth… why not miss today… today? Make the most of it.

You only have the moment for a moment.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Circles…

Nothing in life terrifies me as much as circles. It’s a privileged thing to say, given that much of the world lives in close-range danger. It’s funny, too, given that I am the product of two genocides… one would think that a circle is the safest place to be for someone like me.

Throughout my childhood, every year carried the possibility of absolute change. We could pack up our bags and go at any moment. Amidst this lack of stability and consistency, I would look at my friends and wish for the opportunity to find a circle: somewhere that I would belong, where I could trust that things won’t change so fast.

When I was on my own as a young adult, I started establishing traditions in the effort to make this happen. I was one of few friends who were at university without family nearby (the closest were a 13 hour flight away), and I made my home the gathering space for everyone. Year after year, we built a Thanksgiving tradition together. Soon, we were going for our annual apple picking trips and visiting the Sugar Shack in the winter (if you don’t know what a Sugar Shack is… it’s time to visit Canada). I started attending annual fundraisers and community events. I picked up foreign traditions, like St. Patrick’s day and Halloween, and made the trek out to the capital for Genocide Memorial marches.

Circles within circles.

Then, something shifted. I started saying things like “it’s nice to know what’s happening next, but I’m a little bored.” Uh oh. “I thought it would be nice to be friends with people from my mother culture, but I’m a Third Culture Kid, and they don’t get me.” Uh oh. “It’s nice to spend time with his family, but I don’t think this is working… but… what about all the traditions?” Uh… Run girl, RUN!

I ran straight into an impromptu Master’s program.

You can take the girl out of the adventure, but it seems you can’t take the adventure out of the girl.

Confronted with this realization, I had to decide what was more valuable to me. To stay, or to go? At the time, I had no good reason to stay, but God works in mysterious ways. As I was planning to finish school and leave, I found one. And nothing frustrates him as much as… circles 😏. Life is funny that way.

It’s definitely a luxury to be able to say that stability and consistency are boring. Routine is, after all, the foundation of modern society. Very little of our world would exist if it weren’t for millions of us running through routine days. But what does this mean to us on an individual level?

In my family, we deal with this by taking on new challenges. We don’t often choose the easy way because, if we do, the routine will suck the soul out of us. My husband and I like living a little more on the edge, taking on big projects and some risks in the hopes of advancing in life without losing the entertainment. We haven’t thrown ourselves into the wild yet, but it’s bound to happen sooner than later. We also try to maintain a balance between cherishing our circles, and persistently imposing change on each cycle.

We are still learning how to do this. It’s easy for years to blend into each other if we don’t make the effort to attribute a new character to each one. We are also a lot more picky about which circles we allow to persist… life is too short to waste on meaningless routine.

What about you? Do you prefer stability or fluidity in your life? What do you do to keep changing and growing?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Selective Memory…

Have you ever gotten back in touch with someone who, like a blast from the past, triggers a chain reaction of emotions? I think we can probably all relate to that.

Have you ever been unable to specifically put your finger on what actually happened? How did you meet this person? Where did you go? What did you talk about? How did you part ways? You recall the feeling, but not the occurrences.

The world always goes around full circle for me. Having lived a relatively international life, I would expect the opposite: that what (and who) goes around is unlikely to come back around. Contrary to my expectation, the world really is a very small place. While this is oftentimes an amazing realization, what really stumps me is the fact that my memory fails me so often.

In grade 11, as my parents loaded the car to go to the airport once again, I hugged my friends goodbye one at a time and told them that I loved them and would keep in touch. My parents, witnessing my distress, reminded me that it was the same drama last time… I would cry for a few days in the new and foreign place, and then I would get over it. My best friend’s dad at the time raised his finger in the air and, chuckling, noted: “Don’t worry, child. You will have a lot of trouble remembering all that has come to pass in your life. You might develop some issues (ya think???) but this is how our minds protect us.”

I’d like to say he was wrong because I remember what he said that day… but he was quite right.

I’ve come to the realization that memory really is inherently selective. Strings of emotion may survive the tide of time, but the details are blurred. How can we even say that what we believe happened, really happened?

This is not a fun topic for most people to explore. All of us want to be able to trust our memories. All of us want to believe that we at least know the full truth of our own lives, even if we have insufficient knowledge of the truths of the world. But, do we?

Human beings like being able to put things into a context; we like telling stories. We like categorizing segments of our lives… some choose time based categories (“when I was 5”), others choose phase based categories (“when I was into punk rock”), and others choose place based categories (“when I was in New York”). Whatever categorization strategy you use, you are indulging in an inherent human appreciation for storytelling. I suppose the root of this is that we recognize that memory holds the meaning of our lives… or, does it?

Have you ever told a story of something that happened when you were younger, only to be told by your mom that it wasn’t how it happened at all? Are you convinced you wore a pink dress to prom, but your mom insists it was white? Behold… the wonder of not one, but two, selective memories.

How do we know what really happened? Did anything really happen, or is the collective human memory nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle of fabrications desperate to fit into the pattern?

Perhaps the answers to my questions will never truly be known. If memory is indeed so selective that years blur into one consistent emotion, then how can anyone claim to be objective? We can’t. However, I do believe it’s important for us to be aware of our historic biases and selections when we are trying to map out a truth. This opens up so many doors to the possibility that everything we know, and everything we are, can be challenged. If we accept this, we embark on the path to enlightenment – I think! I’ll let you know when, and if, I ever figure it out.

In the meantime, join me in an experiment, and write a story to an old friend or family member about a meaningful time, at least 5 years ago, when they were present. Ask them to write the same story for you, including as much detail as possible. Compare.

Do the stories match?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Wasting Time…

Tick Tock.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing” – Annie Dillard.

It seems to me that we spend much, perhaps even most, of our lives waiting… and wasting time. I wish I could say that I’ve uncovered a groundbreaking plan to resolve this. Truthfully, I believe that the majority of people who claim to have such a plan are full of themselves. I think that all we can really do is try really (really!) hard to make the most of it.

I don’t have the answers for this one.

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