I’m thinking about the kind of nostalgia that is typified by an irresistible yen to inhabit the irrecoverable Before, and how this feeling intensifies as we age. While it doesn’t hamper living in the Now, there is something thrilling about those tugs to return to the past with our stockpiled wisdom packed in alongside us.
It is so with myself and my friends. We meet at a braai to celebrate a birthday, and our conversations tilt toward us as younger; the people we were involved with, the little stories and connections we titter about, “Do you remember when you left that voicemail accidentally?” Did your dad ever find that cigarette burn on the carpet in your car?” All the jokes are for us, the ones on the inside. I’m certain this is to the utter annoyance of our spouses, but the exclusion isn’t intentional, we are simply narrating; building on our shared mythology of growing up together in a small town.
In our retellings, those events feel closer in time. Just a few breaths away. Not that long ago, just the other day in fact, when our skins were poreless, our outlooks on life not yet complicated by lived experience.
And I find it happening more frequently as we near or pass Forty. Oh, that loaded number; an age holding a supreme kind of mystical significance (it’s when Muslims believe the Prophet PBUH received his first divine revelation). The fourth decade. The hump-day of your life.
Is it that we are apprehensive about getting older? Do these visitations to the past ground us there and pin us to our youth? I am not quite convinced of that. There are many good reasons to want to forget. But there is value in mining the past for what it can offer you now. And perhaps that is what we’re reaching for. Answers. To all the big questions; “Who are we and where are we going?” To flip the perspective, I also believe there is a certain smugness that comes with age; we’ve seen it all and we know it all, and we only wish we could go back and club our younger selves over the head with the knowledge.
Just recently I told a friend that we are selective about the memories we retain. We assign our own bias to the encounters. Who we were in that second will decide what aspects of that moment we will assign importance to. You put two people in the same room, and they will each walk out with a different retelling of what happened therein. Both recollections will be valid. This becomes significant when I think about memoir as a writing practice; there will always be that delicate interplay between my truth and what is held to be true by the people that feature in it.