The Healing Power of Nostalgia

We all know that feeling we get when we hear an old song that takes us back to another time in our lives….Or smell a smell ….or look at old pictures…..Maybe those things take us back to a simpler time. Actually, there are no “maybes” about it……

I remember my parents talking about ‘tough times’ growing up, and talking about them with smiles on their faces and what appeared to be fond memories. How odd…..

My mother, more than once, would say “I feel sorry for your generation; you don’t know what hard times really are, so you don’t know what brings people close.”

I remember at the time thinking “Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass on the ‘hard times’…….

Both of my parents were children of Italian immigrants and being such, were part of large (VERY large) families. To this day, thanks to Facebook, I am still able to acquaint myself with cousins I never knew existed but with whom we had other cousins, aunts, or uncles in common. There’s something very exciting about that…..knowing that nothing ends….even after people who we loved dearly and thought would never pass on, have passed on…and usually when both they, and we, were all too young. But it’s comforting to know that we go on and on and on and everybody has a “remember when?” story to tell….It’s a different kind of ripple effect.

Like us, our parents didn’t grow up with cell phones, or computer laptops, tablets, or even desk tops. They were fortunate if they had a manual typewriter and more often than not, communicated their feelings and the news of the day through hand-written notes (incursive handwriting being of a very high vibration, by the way…..and guess what they no longer teach our children in elementary school……Incursive handwriting! Ok, another tangent…..I really have to stop that; I know it makes these articles much too long).

So anyway, they didn’t even have TV’s and only the wealthiest families owned a car. They got their news strictly from the daily newspaper (which might be why journalism was a more responsible and conscientious field in those days), and of course from each other. My parents would talk about the days that after dinner, they would play in the street while everybody’s parents neighbored on their front porches and spoke of the day’s happenings. And they had block parties! Remember block parties?? I think that’s what she meant by feeling bad for us that we never had the ‘hard times’ that brought people together.

She wasn’t wishing hard times on us; she was wishing companionship, a sense of togetherness, comradeship, friendship, neighborliness (the kind where neighbors actually know each others’ names and their children’s names and ages, and even their dogs). After 90 years here, I often witnessed my mother’s nostalgia having a healing effect on her, through the laughter and the remembered and repeated conversations, and the good times had with the people she shared her life with. No, she was not wishing us hard times; she was wishing us nostalgia.

I wonder why even though we have all this phenomenal technology that goes from saving lives to keeping communication open between people all over the planet, that we are still probably the loneliest generation to date. I have my phone on me most of the time. I’m in business; I have to. And yet, I wait and wait and wait to hear from those I hold dearest. I go to social media to see if perhaps they may have posted a picture or two that I might enjoy…or maybe a few humorous…or even inspiring words that they might have found time to share with the world and lucky me to be part of the world so I can see them.

One of my fondest memories ever, was when my mother created her own cookbook. She laminated old family photographs, and collaged them in such a way that they created the front and back cover. Being an artist, she included some of her paintings in between the recipes….recipes I grew up with, and I remember her—especially at holiday time—expressing her love for family and friends with her home-cooked, home-baked goodies. The feeling that cookbook gives me…to this day….fills me with such nostalgia…..I cry and laugh and remember all of the things that life blessed me with as a child. Those moments, despite the emotion, are very healing for me, even if sometimes it’s a cathartic kind of a healing. They truly do take me back to a simpler time…a time when a mother’s touch or a father’s smile or the smells of home were all I needed to know God’s in his Heaven, and all’s right with the world.

I remember days of stepping out into the morning sun, with dew still on the grass, and making it through an entire neighborhood to see who was outside and ready to play. Everybody was! We either skated, jumped rope, biked, played kickball, played school, house, and even horses! (No…we didn’t have the expensive Bryer collectible horses; we WERE the horses. )

I remember while playing softball, my father would be working in his garden and just drop his hoe and come over and pitch to us. He loved playing ball with us. My brother, somewhat older than I, would join him and what a treat that was for all of us when they would come over and play ball and actually teach us the real rules of the game.

Now when I experience a depressingly cold, dark wintry day, I have memories of summer and walking out onto our sandstone front porch after dinner and just standing there and feeling the sun on my face and seeing the sparkle in the stone. I thought it was so beautiful !! That feeling has healed me through many a dark moment. That’s all it was. I didn’t need medication; I just needed the memory of five minutes with the sun in my face, and perhaps the recalled taste of a just-picked tomato from the garden, still warm from the sun. You don’t find those in the grocery stores. In fact, if you travel through all of the Little Italy’s, you will often see tomatoes out on the patios of various restaurants, gathering the sun’s warm rays because face it—they just taste different! I can taste it now. It is one of the tastes of nostalgia.

I remember when my parents would encourage me to play outside in the sunshine so I wouldn’t get sick over the winter. I know now, as a holistic practitioner, just how wise that was. We don’t get enough sun….and then they convince us that if we do go out in the sun, we should slather ourselves with chemicals so the sun actually does us no good and we are deprived of the Vitamin D3 that we needed to stay healthy all winter. Somewhere along the way we forgot that our skin is the largest organ of our body, and what goes on it also goes into it and therefore affects the rest of our organs, but hey—that’s a subject for another day and has nothing to do with nostalgia.

And winter! Who of us didn’t spend it ice skating and sledding till our toes were numb, and our parents still had to urge us to come indoors and warm up a bit, before returning outside. And yes….younger ones who think we’re full of nonsense….we did indeed walk over a mile to school no matter the weather (they didn’t close school because it was cold). We had plenty of activity to keep us warm, with chasing each other with snowballs all the way to school and then back home again in the afternoon. We had homework too, and we did it and then were right back outside, skating under the streetlights.

There was that one winter when school was closed for a whole week though…..We couldn’t open our front door for three days because the snow piled up against it would fall into the house. That was fun, and so cozy….It would freak me out today.

Summer, winter, fall, spring…there was always something to do! What a delight to go berry-picking in the spring. We can’t find berry bushes of any kind anymore….let alone those that contain fewer chemical sprays than sugar. And don’t even let me start on jumping into leaf piles and being from Northeast Ohio, the taste of the first bunch of concord grapes right off the vine.

Wow…and speaking of the things we could pick and eat. We could pick and eat our whole lawns!! Dandelions, chickweed, purslane, wild violets. Surely, the millenials don’t have a clue what these things even look like—let alone, taste like– since they have killed them with Round-up, along with killing their immune systems by both depriving them of these healing herbs grown centuries ago by the Natives of the area….and then spraying them with glyphosate, the world’s presently most dangerous ‘household’ toxin.

I think we probably all enjoy the most nostalgia around holiday time….generally a time for healing, but for many—not so healing. Loved ones having moved on either in this world or the next one can make for lonely times and sadness even when in the midst of laughter and frivolity. The feeling that gives? Well, one of nostalgia of course. Nostalgia for those things of the past that we perhaps did not appreciate as much as we might have.

As a child, I lived for Christmas—even as a young adult, believing it to be the excuse for the rest of the year. I don’t experience that so much anymore. I love the season….just not the day. Too many memories crowding each other out. I try to allow nostalgia to overpower the rest, but when I look around me and see nothing of the things I grew up with, it is difficult to hold on to the nostalgia—the healing aspect of the holidays…the sense of renewal of our relationship with Divinity. This is why it is so important to cling to the spiritual aspect of the holiday—because that is the consistent truth of the day….and all too often we skip a spiritual ritual, even if it is simply attending Midnight Mass (What could be more nostalgic than that?) because we have too many other things to do, be, or think about that we are too exhausted to even make the attempt. A Christmas Eve service—miss that, and we and miss all the nostalgia of the holiday.

One of the greatest treats for me was when my parents would speak of their childhoods and some of their experiences, especially having come from such large families. They spoke with such wisdom and passion and ….yes…..nostalgia. It makes me want to hear their voices again, speaking all those really important things and I would hang on to every word—so successfully in fact, that I can hear them now.

I’m not sure that our children feel the same way about us. I think the previous elders were far more respected and honored and loved. The generation we raised has no time for us. It’s not their faults…with all the things they think they need and have to work hard to pay for and the complex lives they lead because that’s what society has dictated they are supposed to do. I think they view our simplicity as stupidity or just plain crazy. And you know, that’s just fine. Everybody gets a turn. Surely despite all I’m saying here about my parents, I had those moments as well, of thinking they were just plain nuts. But…it never lasted for long. They were still the first ones I went to in search of words of wisdom.

I don’t get the feeling that our children have much nostalgia about much of anything. I think it’s sad that memories of growing and expanding and becoming a person in the world ended with us. It was important to us to remember the stories….to remember the feelings….to remember the joy we grew up with that is more healing than we ever thought it would be.

My mother was right. As each generation grows and develops in some areas, they are sorely lacking in others. They will never know what it is to have “hard times that bring people close.”

I didn’t get it then. I get it now. Because….despite the technology….Despite the instant communication….Despite the conveniences, life is becoming more and more individualized and less and less shared….and face it…sharing is where the nostalgia is…and nostalgia is where the healing often comes from. Memories….whether they be of times past when laughter so easily bubbled up (without the need for alcohol or drugs) and no one would say a nasty word to someone to their face if their life depended on it….or times even earlier than that…when customs, traditions, rituals, treatments, medicines were handed down from generation to generation to keep everyone healthy, wealthy, wise……..

I still practice my grandmother’s medicine. Much of it I learned from my father…..different things from my mother….and some from the most profound teachers anywhere. Who knew what they taught was the same that I grew up with? A surprise yes….one which gave my roots great credibility. The nostalgia is as healing as the actual rituals. I fear the next generation won’t have that, and even more sadly, that their children not only won’t have it, but they will not honor it. They will mock it and laugh at it and call their ancestors silly and superstitious rather than recognizing the wisdom of the ages passed down through nostalgic stories.

Sadly, they flounder through their lives trying to figure out who they are and how to get out of the financial mess they erroneously refer to as ‘healthcare’. I don’t blame them. After all, they are ours and we love them… I just wish I knew how to create a sense of nostalgia in them that will heal them when all else fails and help them to remember—

even in the most challenging times—

that all is well.