I have a serious problem with nostalgia. And from the people I’ve talked to and the people I’ve observed, I know I’m not the only one.
I’ve said for many years that nostalgia is a dirty mistress. She creeps in all naked and beautiful, begging to be noticed, acting in every seductive way to burn the scar of her existence into your brain and onto your body, so you can’t forget her. No matter how far away you move from her, no matter how fiercely you commit to someone else, she’s still there, quietly sitting in the corner of your heart, threatening to brand it with her initials at a moment’s notice, just to get you to reflect on her, to miss her, and to ultimately come back to her.
And we are always at her mercy. Many of us in our deepest, darkest moments look to nostalgia for comfort even though it provides just the opposite. It creates a longing and desperate need for something or someone that is no longer available to us. We revisit feelings that betrayed us and wonder why we suddenly find ourselves miserable when just yesterday, or the day before, everything was fine.
I’m a victim to it more than I would like to admit and according to an article by Francesca Mari in The Paris Review that focused on the idea of homesickness, the feeling of nostalgia is universal to the point where historically it was considered a medical condition and a cause of death,
“The word homesickness didn’t come into use until the 1750s. Before that, the feeling was known as “nostalgia,” a medical condition. It was first identified in 1688 by Johannes Hofer, a Swiss scholar, who warned that the condition had not been sufficiently observed or described and could have dire consequences. By Hofer’s description, the nostalgic individual so exhausted himself thinking of home that he couldn’t attend to other ideas or bodily needs. While nostalgia was embraced as a Victorian virtue, a testament to civility and the domestic order, extreme onsets could kill a person. And so they did during the Civil War. By two years in, two thousand soldiers had been diagnosed with nostalgia, and in the year 1865, twenty-four white Union soldiers and sixteen black ones died from it. Meantime one hundred thousand Confederates deserted, presumably motivated by memories of mom’s hushpuppies. The war just about ended what little romanticization of homesickness had survived in the wilds of early America.”
Death by nostalgia.
I’d never considered it before but, in truth, it makes absolute sense. And somehow that makes me feel better. It shouldn’t. Instead it should snap me out of the irresponsible nostalgic behavior that could lead to such a horrible and sad destiny. But ultimately I know it won’t. It’s just the fact that it was once considered to be a medical condition that could consume you to that degree…I find it strangely comforting.
Because, it means I’m not actually a basket case. At least, no more than anyone else. And isn’t that what we all want? To know we’re not alone? To know that our heart breaks with the same intensity as everyone else’s? To know that other people feel pain to the degree we feel it, despite different circumstances and different choices?
Food for thought.
Either way, I’m staying away from Leonard Cohen music for awhile. At this point in modern day society death by nostalgia could easily be referred to as death by Leonard Cohen lyrics. Because, let’s be honest, his lyrics are where all the dirty mistresses live. I know all mine live there.