These are the days of thinning veils and shortening days, the light that leaves us bit by bit until we’re more dark than anything else. These are the days that as kids meant starting over, just barely, the smell of smoke from first bonfires to mark homecoming of another year in school, fewer, then fewer, until we didn’t return again. I don’t return anymore, haven’t for over two decades now, but there’s a swelling in my throat that steals the timbre of my voice each year around this time, when the leaves trade green for golden, then fall, then pick up with each Autumn wind that rattles down the quieter streets.
Nostalgia is grief, I decided one evening after a day of headache pain and a night without sleep, it’s a mourning, in the end. I called this out of the shower water, beyond the curtain into the darkness I hoped Sarah was still sitting in, said it like it was nothing, a throwaway thought like so many I toss her way. This one though, was not nothing, this one was everything, and served as the highlighter to my own soul, the underline of the passages written somewhere deep inside myself that I’ve been reading, then re-reading, ever since I grew too big for the bedroom I grew up in, too old to haunt the same hallways I once walked down, slowly, as time was an infinite thing then, I knew nothing of running out. The tightening of this throat, the wetness in the corner of these eyes, they come not from the Winter that enters without knocking, but for the loss of what once was, the understanding that it will never be again.
Nostalgia is grief, I sputtered out through the half haze and delirium that only pain can bring, and I think somehow in speaking this, I finally understood. I’ve long been a nostalgic fool, I’ve long said I carry a melancholy and a darkness in the folds of my soul. Not always do they show, but always I feel them, always they pull like some quiet gravity from the center of me, lowering my chin to chest, my eyes to the feet I trust to carry me on. I’ve wondered about the root of this, questioned its continued existence, asked it aloud ten thousand times. Why then, I ask, with all that is well, do I ache for how it was then, and who else feels this way too? Often enough to call it always, I wonder this, why the pull back, when around me is the joy I’ve earned? It is this shower statement that holds the answer, and I know this now.
Nostalgia is grief, it is a mourning, and the death that it laments is that of bigness.
Some truths are unexplainable ones, but I owe it to myself to at least try on this, as some truths are important enough to reach beyond our grasp. This is me reaching:
When we are young, fresh and naively beautiful enough to feel the omnipresent spectre of hope, so much of this innocent belief is rooted in this vague idea of bigness. All things are big, all things a quarter-shade shy of epic, and we feel this. Each kiss is a revolution to our lips, each breakup a catastrophe threatening earthquake to the foundations we trust. Each song first listened to in the darkness of a best friend’s basement feels like THE SONG, universe penned that explains the machinations of something so much stranger and more important than we ever before dared to grasp. As the seasons turn and the boundaries between them begins to blur and fade, we feel awe, we feel wonder, for what will come with the new winds, the clouds that roll over the western hills and hint at snowfall, or rain. This bigness comes as we’ve not the libraries of experience within us to draw comparisons from, we’ve not the examples to hold up to the magnifying glass and scrutinize. All is big because it’s all we know, we’re not yet stained with the ink of three hundred attempts, three hundred failures. The immensity of this life pales at the hands of comparison, as it is the thief of much more than just joy.
Its experience, in the end, that delivers the killing blow to the back of this bigness, the knife between the ribs, the twisting of the blade. The more we do, the more we have to compare what we’ve done to, the more we compare, the less things feel big, the less epic, the less monumental and world-shifting. What is the weight of these youthful worries, we ask, now that we’ve the “real world” to juxtapose them? What of this breakup, when we’ve the weight of war we now understand? What impact is lost from the music we hear, when we’ve the experience of information of those that made it, the uncouth political proclivities they hold, the MAGA hats they may or may not wear in public? Each set of lips is just another set of lips in a long line of lips to compare them to, until of course, we find the lips that will erase all others, then and perhaps only then, does that bigness return.
This is not a negative story, not a pessimistic view that as we age all things become boring, all things lose the luster they once held, no. It’s just truthful to me, and perhaps only to me, but it’s honest in what it illuminates. To me, nostalgia feels like grieving feels, it feels like looking back with a bit of wonder, a bit of aching, at the understanding that though we can go to the same places, even do the same things, they will not feel that way again, not to us, not this time around. The death of bigness comes as things stop being firsts, and things stop being firsts naturally as we grow. Perhaps the key to keeping this melancholy at bay, this nostalgia at arm’s length, is to have more firsts, to carve out more time for adventure, forge new paths that we still do not know. I know this to be true from the adventures I find myself on, there, somewhere 5,000 miles from home, I feel it again. The bigness.
I know not the word for the opposite of nostalgia, but perhaps it’s here, that we can reanimate the corpse of bigness like Frankenstein’s monster, and get it walking again. Perhaps it’s a glance forward into possibility, into the unknown, that is the lightning strike to the bolts in that monster’s neck. Maybe it’s here that the grief settles into the background, like white noise on a television set left on in the other room. Perhaps, but I know one thing above all others: When Summer begins to wane and the winds hold chill from the West and the leaves start their curling on the ends of each branch, when the smell of wood stoves first hits the air, when the streets are dark and wet and smell like the sweetness of rot, I’ll feel it again, this grief that I know now will never leave.
We cannot be them again, and so we mourn, after all, nostalgia is grief.
The death of bigness
comes with the comparisons.
Nostalgia is grief.