Yesterday morning I ran gleefully through the heavy layer of snow, fought with snowballs, admired the many fine snowmen smiling from lawns.Last night I went to a birthday party in which we drew with crayons, cut colorful construction paper with snub-nosed scissors and pasted the blobby shapes together with glue sticks. We wacked away at a piñata and played, I kid you not, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. There was pizza. There was cake.
The root of the word “nostalgia” is “-algia,” and it means sickness. It is a sickness of sorts to long for the past, to want to return there because you imagine it was a better time. This is a malady I almost never suffer. All those recent events I just described were not in any way attempts to relive the past. I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was fairly well into adulthood; I grew up in Hawaii where even snow-cones weren’t called snow-cones but shave ice. And as I’ve said before, I always hated my birthday, a week into winter, suck between two greater holidays, usually either forgotten or forgettable.That said, there ought to be a term—perhaps there is—for the reverse of nostalgia, signifying an unwarranted disdain for the past, an assumption that childhood equals misery and anyone who insists otherwise is deep in denial. Probably the first thing I think of when I think of childhood is play. We played a lot. It doesn’t take an expert in child development to tell you that play is essential to the development of the human mind and body. Even animals play; pets need toys not just for amusement or because it’s cute but because they need stimulation or they’ll fail to thrive.
The way we played as children is, I think, a part of the past worth reviving. This is not nostalgia; it is not a return to the past so much as seeing the past as a resource for the present. In all the things I described at the start of this post, I was not acting like a child; I was acting like myself, at my present age, doing things people associate with childhood. There’s a big difference. Part of the fun of the birthday party craft session was the fact that we approached our collages with the analytical sensibilities of adults, pondering the symbolic possibilities in purple triangles and yellow squares and then laughing at ourselves for our pretentions. Most of the fun of running through the snow was the fact that it was nearly 8 miles up and down steep hills, a grueling activity I could never have done in my past life before I became a runner. And as for the bf—well, I won’t bother to go into the benefits of experience in that regard.Perhaps the past serves us best not as something to be mimicked, disdained, or ignored but as something to recall and reuse in new and better ways. No, you can’t go back—the journey only goes one way—but take a look at what you’ve brought with you. Someday, preferably a snowy one in almost-winter, you might find use for it.