Events, ages, places or people disappear from our lives all the time. More often than not, these pass without a second thought. There are exceptions, however, for which we exercise a lingering nostalgia, an murmuring desire for their return.
More accurately, we hit our mental replay button and find ourselves back in those places, with those people, and living that age. Often, this nostalgia is very closely followed by a sense of loss. This is often at its most acute in that slide from the memory to the present, as we find ourselves thinking that in little snippet tucked away in our memory banks, life was bliss. Such a sense of happiness gone past is captured splendidly in the credits for the 1980s children’s series The Wind in the Willows, where that aching nostalgia is explicitly invoked as a unifying theme, with the accompanying sense of exile when sundered from these memories.
This fondness of a blissful time gone past is an inescapable part of our human condition, since the past is the only part of our lives that are fecund with materials to which our minds and our body can engage. In the present, we are only faced with an openness, while the future bears nothing real to which the mind and body can grasp.
For that very reason, one can wonder how much of the happiness from our memories comes from the fact that we are able to control them. Think of the way that we accentuate some parts of the memory more than others, or manicure it to suit our moods and desires, and the satisfaction that within the confines of that memory, there are no disruptions save for life itself. And very often, what we sought satisfaction in is very often not as the memory presented itself before it became a piece of data to recall. What we find very often that, even in something as innocent as a bit of nostalgia, there lurks behind it the libido dominandi
, that lust to dominate and control that Augustine identified as the fruit of sin. Part of our discipleship, therefore, consists in that removal of the distortions of that memory, and the relinquishing of our desire for control thereof.
As we approach the Lenten season, there is an interesting overlap to be found in that relinquishing of control over our memories, as we take a step into that exile evoked from The Wind in the Willows. It is an exile, not to be hopelessly lost in a desert, but merely that transition from the false home of our contorted memory subject to our controlling gaze to the true home of our being subject to the gaze of God.