Not long ago, I quoted some words from Pope Francis on the value of nostalgia as a way to reencounter our past (see link). I also recall a recent article in the New York Times emphasizing the beneficial psychological effects of nostalgia.
Now, as I find myself on a short trip to Miami and Miami Beach to revisit the past sites of my family vacations, I can say a few more things about the value of nostalgia.
As a Cuban-American, I obviously relish the atmosphere in Miami--the vivacity of loquacious, impatient Cubans, the food of my childhood. To reencounter that dimension is to reaffirm an important part of myself. Many other cultures, of course, have that joy of living (joie de vivre); but it is good to experience it as part of one's own culture. Joy is a response to life that is not self-evident to many. When a culture exhibits that joy as a perennial response to living, I have to be thankful.
Food is part of culture. We relive the food that we enjoyed as children. The nostalgia of those experiences gives food a powerful spiritual dimension. For Christians who recall their founder in a meal, this dimension is not surprising. To eat is to remember. What do we gain from that remembering? We gain, as we grow older, the certainty that we have experienced the goodness of life. We go forward in gratitude.
So, nostalgia gives us joy and gratitude as stances toward life as we grow older. Nostalgia also gives us that slightly sad awareness of the passing of all things. Physical locations and places change or even disappear altogether. A new generation follows. Life keeps renewing itself. There is a slight sadness because we have lost something we had--yet there is comfort that life is always rising up again and keeps on going. In a sense, what we experienced is not really lost--it is just that the dramatis personae, the characters of the drama of life, have changed. Those who were younger now are playing the role of elders.
In nostalgia, there is wisdom: things pass away but also continue in some way. The passing of time is constitutive of our human identity. We are by nature living through time. Nostalgia gives us a deep reverence for the past and amazement that the wheel of life keeps turning as new actors take on the old roles. With nostalgia, we get joy, gratitude, and, finally, wonder.
(Photo by blogger; Cuban-Americans gather for espresso coffee and conversation at Versailles Restaurant's famous "walk-through" coffee-serving window in Miami)