I’ve always been prone to nostalgia. I had it good as a kid, and I knew it. And while I do find joy in the present and try to cultivate hope for the future, there is an allure to memory that I find irresistibly compelling.
In the past I didn’t know how deep the flaws of humanity flowed. Looking around my world in the eighties and nineties, I was confident that society was only moving forward. Racism and xenophobia seemed endangered and promised to become extinct in my lifetime. I was blissfully ignorant of how both were festering in institutions and the minds of men and women. I did not know how prevelant prejudice still was—and not just in obscure communities cloistered from the main stream of society—that the undercurrent of bias was pervasive.
In the past, phrases like “mass shooting” were not in my vocabulary. People were dying of old age, illness, and accidents—not robbed of life dozens at a time by someone’s trigger happy finger, racist rage, misogynistic hands, or mob mentality. War and terrorism existed “over there,” and “over there” was a great distance away from my doorstep. I could not imagine buildings intentionally razed by planes, concertgoers caught in the crossfire of terrorism, worshippers shot in their pews, or cars being used as weapons. In the past soldiers went to war but the war wasn’t coming to us. And wars had a physical enemy, not an intangible nemesis like terrorism or drugs.
In the past, I was too young to be aware of the worst in the world. What I saw was mostly beautiful. I was not worried about whether police (or anyone else) saw me only after they saw and prejudged my color. I was not suspicious of kindness or worried about being attacked for racist reasons. I did not wonder if I’d be able to keep my head in the face of an explosion or shooting.
In the past, the future was full of potential and possibility. I could learn anything, do anything, and become anything. No choice had yet closed its doors to me. Now I know that each year gained means something lost. Every moment—every choice—good or bad—has a cost. As someone who is nostalgic by nature, it is easy to miss the simplicity of life when I was younger or to miss the infinite options of youth—the dreams not yet challenged by naysayers, the realities not yet disrupted by complicated truths.
In the past my mother was still alive, full of love and wisdom I could run to and rely on. That is and may always be the pasts’ biggest pull on me—memories drawing me back to when most of my family tree was still in tact. For as much as the present and future have to offer, it’s impossible not to look back.