The Pangs of Nostalgia

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

by Cassis Lindsay

Nowadays, humans are mostly sedentary people. We have houses and workplaces, staying in one region for months or years at a time, as opposed to the old ways of following nature’s patterns in search of food and resources. In North America, one of the only notable human migrations is that of the university student. Every year, after high school is finished, thousands of recently graduated teenagers leave their homes and travel across the country to start a new portion of their lives. This is a fairly normal part of life, and so are the intense emotions that accompany this change. The separation from the everyday routine you have gotten used to creates a new perspective. Soon, the realization dawns upon these teens that there will be no going back. It is this moment that begins the transition into adulthood, where they can never revert to a more carefree time.

As I border upon this stage in my life, I am constantly filled with nostalgia at every turn. This feeling takes over my body completely, making me a vessel of deep longing for a time I know will soon be gone. It seems sometimes, that the older we get, the more intense some emotions become. As a child, we experience absolute joy over the simplest things. But as we age, happiness dulls, and melancholy and grief get stronger. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to verbally express the way we feel.

So, in my case, instead of attempting to explain my perspective on leaving my childhood city behind, I will merely give an account of the memories I have here along with philosophical mutterings. Perhaps these pigments will paint memories in your own minds, causing you to think back.

Remembering the youth that you left behind can restore an appreciation for the naïve, innocent actions of a child, and at the same time, make you ponder the curious existence of humans. Being carefree is something that is grossly underestimated amongst the adult population. After all, though we must grow up, not all of us should forget to grow wisely.

Imagine a cabin on the borders of the city. Balmy Yukon summers would visit us there, bringing the sun and the musky smell of wildflowers. My Mum would take us for treasure hunts in the backtrails of our property. Clear marbles and glass hearts would be hidden at the bases of plants. Each step was an adventure for four-year old me. The feeling of excitement is almost incomparable to anything I have ever experienced to date. The danger of the dark woods slipped right past my oblivious search for treasures. Snatches of memories are all I remember from those summers.

For as long as I can remember, we have driven out to Lake Laberge, the ancestral home of my Grandma Virginia Slim. The drive out there, on the highway, seems timeless. The sun barely shifts over the sloping mountains, leaving shadows and shapes. The gentle movement of our truck does not hinder my gazing eyes from staring out the window. My breath clouds the window. I follow the scenery and I have seen it so many times before, I know exactly where we are. It is calming to relax and gaze out at the wilderness that has remained so permanent over the years.

Once, my Dad took us up to Cousins airstrip. It was mid-November and absolutely freezing cold. But the stars were out, and the sky was a canvas of beauty. We laid on our backs and stared up. For the longest time, no one said a word. My mind wandered, in awe at the spectacle above me. I had never seen the stars this clearly before. Without the lights of the city polluting the sky, I realized just how many stars there were. Laying under the constellations made me feel so small, but not in a bad way. In fact, it made me feel slightly sad. My brain had kind of understood that in this big universe, nothing we do will ever really matter on the large scale. So instead, we must treat life like a free chance.

This is where most people would inject quotes like “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) or “Live your life to the fullest”. But honestly, those quotes tend to push people towards things they’d rather not do. In general, most people have an image of what the ideal version of ‘living your life to the fullest’ means. Usually, this includes island skipping while eating exotic foods and skydiving over South America. But what they don’t understand is that conforming to this persona of skydiving and extreme sports does nothing for you, if you truly wish for something else. So, I will repeat a message that has been told for years and years: Don’t be afraid to be different. If your heart longs for quiet hideaways on secluded beaches or even just being with the people you love, don’t change your life to be someone else. You have a free try at life. Don’t waste it by not feeling the love and powerful emotions you should.

I remember the first time I truly understood that the universe has no end. It honestly blew my mind to think about something so limitless. In our world, there are boundaries to everything we do. The only things I can think of that are not finite, are emotions and time. Of course, for our human bodies, time does have a finite definition for us because eventually time runs out. However, the fact that our emotions are unquantifiable, just like the universe, only makes me surer that the feelings of nostalgia I get, cannot be compared to anything material. For example, the joy I get when eating my favorite food or playing in the ocean, is nothing compared to the amazing feeling I get when I look around my dinner table, surrounded by my family. The moments I will miss the most while I am away at school are the ones with my family.

In the end, although we make attachments to moments and objects and people, they will all be lost as we pass. And truthfully, that is one of humankind’s biggest fears: We seek to be remembered forever, but in the ravages of time, there is no way for us to survive. As I sit in my kitchen and look around me, the sun shining bright, I see memories of past events. I find such joy in some of those moments that I write them down, so that I may remember them in the future. But, in the purpose of spreading the joy of my most treasured events, I wish that those memories would be available to my own children and their children as well, so I type them in a document and put it on a USB stick. This gives me the semblance of security; it is certain that this data will eventually be lost. There is not a single object made by man that will last forever. And therefore, given a century or two, my legacy and my memories, will also be forgotten. Eventually, all the remnants of our civilization will be nothing at all.

If you think carefully, you will understand that the feelings you get when you, for example, leave your childhood home for the first time are merely the reactions of yourself, longing for the permanence of the beginnings of your life. Because when you are a child, your home seems to be forever, and it is usually not until the very last year of high school that you begin to see how temporary the things around you are. Although it may seem bleak, the uncertainty of our lives only cements this one thought: We must treasure our emotions and memories as long as we live. We have nothing more than ourselves and there is nothing more we can do. For me, nostalgic thoughts bring me back to a precious time. Those memories I have will never be told as stories or represented in movies because nothing can ever express the true depth of my own imagination. Trying to explain the depth of my emotions when I think to the past is like trying to imagine the expanse of the universe: impossible.

There are some things that cannot be explained, and maybe it is better that way. For if we could quantify our emotions, I fear that we would lose connection to the people around us. Our time on the earth can be short or long, but our tiny speck of existence can bleed rivers of influence. No matter how small we are compared to the universe, we can still shine the brightest, like a single flame in the dark, for there is no comparison to the power and intricacy of the human emotion.

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