There’s no denying it, nostalgia is a powerful thing. One song, one smell, one taste can activate powerful feelings and memories that take you right back to a moment in time. Nostalgia is labeled as an emotion, and is often triggered by a sensory stimuli, but can also be accessed through conversation or even through self-directed memory recollection. Women giving birth are often instructed to procure scents and playlists that evoke nostalgia to relieve stress during the birth experience. Nostalgic experiences can actually stimulate many different regions of the brain, leaving people feeling comforted, happy, and euphoric. Activating nostalgia can be a very useful strategy; it feels good and is even linked to resilience and processing. However, some people struggle with nostalgia addiction, escaping real emotions and experiences by substituting them with the good feelings of the past.
For over hundreds of years the United States has towed the dangerous line of being both implicitly and explicitly obsessed with the perceived nostalgia of the past, losing opportunities for mobility at rapid rates. In various ways, we’ve been stuck in a holding pattern that leads us down shallow, broken, and unfinished paths, perpetuating centuries of broken systems. This obsession with the past isn’t totally overt, but shows up in small ways, from saying a television series ended too soon and begging writers and producers to bring it back with an emptier, lesser version of the first series to refusing to move out of a house or on from a relationship because it holds so many memories. Other ideas are more overt. “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great” adorn hats and t-shirts and bumper stickers, demanding a return to the past without any consideration for "who" or “what" America was previously great for. When we sustain ideas like these, we glorify times in our history that were absolutely not great, which require much more attention and growth and progress. In upholding the value of nostalgia, we are prone to minimizing our responsibility in injustice and not living our fullest lives. Nostalgia can easily inhibit us from moving forward and embracing change and the full range of emotions and understanding that come with change.
As human beings, we’re not called to a life of nostalgia, but to a life of remembrance. A life of remembrance includes not just one person’s truth and experience, but all people’s truths and experiences. A life of remembrance honors the past, present, and future, our ancestors and future generations. A life of remembrance doesn’t just bring feelings of comfort or euphoria, but insight into discomfort and pain. A life of remembrance acknowledges, honors, and celebrates humanity individually and collectively and is a much more accurate telling of our history. A life of remembrance moves toward healing, wholeness, and restoration.
This past week was an “all the feels” kind of week; one where I found myself getting stuck in the easiness of comfort and nostalgia. It felt like every feeling possible flooded my entire body as I said goodbyes to my apartment in Wisconsin, a student who passed away unexpectedly, a job and staff that I love, students I’ll no longer see every day, and my childhood home. Trying to soak all of the good memories of the past in, I neglected my real and present emotion. It was far less comfortable to be in the present this week; to see the new owner’s car in the driveway, to see my mom looking so vulnerable and alone in her new home, and to see all of my itty bitty fourth graders all grown up and looking completely devastated and heart-broken as we memorialized Gary.
Yes, nostalgia was the easiest place to be. But it was the least humane and the least mobile place to be. We cannot perceive the new things God has for us, when we’re only sitting in the presence of the old things. The less I was responding to my own emotion, the less I was responding to others. If I can’t connect with myself, I can’t connect with others. In denying myself expression of feelings and attention to the present, I was both inwardly and outwardly inauthentic. Anyone who spent time with me last week knows that there was something missing. I would hear, but I wasn’t listening. I would talk, but I wasn’t actually saying anything. Living in the past can create a vacancy and emptiness in your relationships that’s difficult to articulate. When we turn pieces of our body off, we impact the entire body, each and every part.
Thankfully someone reminded me that our bodies are living, breathing vessels that carry remembrance; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our bodies manifest our most precious experiences in the most unique way, a fingerprint of sorts, so powerful and pure. On His last night on Earth, Jesus instructed us to remember. And He didn't just instruct to remember Him as a symbol, but to remember that He is in us, His body, His life, His light undisguised in our bodies, our lives, our light. There is deep, hidden AND palpable beauty in remembrance.
The brown marks on my face aren’t just symbols of the summers spent working in the mighty Guatemalan mountains ...they’re physical proof of something real and true and pure. The scars on my sister’s back are not just a symbol of the struggle, the setbacks, the healing, the growth in her life, they are tangible affirmation of a God with complete control, knowledge, and constancy. These marks don’t just represent moments in time, but years and years of learning and gifts, people and places, provision and purpose.
Every curve on my body is a testament to the generations of women before me; my body taking the shape of my ancestors, a literal living history. Every wrinkle, every scar, even every bit of cellulite on my body is a mark, an irremovable dot on a timeline that tells a story and paints a picture of remembrance.
How ironic that twenty-something me who had fewer wrinkles, sun spots, and cellulite wanted desperately to remove these markings. Removing them then meant looking more attractive in the world’s eyes. Removing them now means removing all signs of life, creating a false memory, living in the past. And who would want to do that? Who wants to remove the evidence, the tangible proof that you have been and are still living the very fullest life you were uniquely and specifically made for? Twenty-something me paid far too much on face creams and spent too many hours at the gym in the name of nostalgia, the nostalgia of the body I had before, the skin I had before. It seems pretty counterproductive to invest time and money into obliterating the authentication of decades of smiles, laughs, tears, meals, joys, pains, and struggles shared with the most precious lights in my life. Ironically, older, wrinklier, grayer 30-something me doesn’t just embrace and accept these physical marks, but celebrates and loves them.
As you share your stories and document the amazing work you’re doing in your neighborhoods and communities, I want to encourage you to share every “sign of life” in your story, including the wrinkles, the scars, the stretch marks, the failures and struggles and pain. It will paint a far more beautiful and true account of where you’ve been and where you’re going than covering up the less attractive pieces of your history. Merely including the happy memories will only contribute to the hollow fluff of nostalgia. You are forging ahead, navigating new, uncharted territories in honor and memory of the people who created you, rooted in your beautiful history. As you boldly lead your communities, never neglect to remember, and to be confident that you, your entire being-mind, body, and soul, are personally, joyfully remembered.
Healing Scriptures for your body, mind, and soul:
“Always remember these things after I am gone.” 2 Peter 1:15
“Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations of the past.” Deuteronomy 32:7
“Remember the wonders He has performed.” 1 Chronicles 16:12
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast and change.” Revelation 3:3
“Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me.”
Make me whole again. I will recall the cup poured out in sacrifice for your new covenant. I live my life in remembrance. Your promises I will not forget. I'll walk salvation's road, Your ways born as my own, as Christ is formed in me. If I should ever lose my way, remind me of who You are and who I am. You've been so, so good to me. Oh, to think of where I'd be if not for You. As far as the heights reached from the depths, as far as the east is from the west, so far Your grace has carried me. Remind me You're not finished yet. I live my life in remembrance. Amen.
Begin to focus on one of the 12 disciplines that Dr. Daniel Amen recommends for memory :
3.) Meditation/or prayer
5.) Meaningful work
6.) Bonding with others
8.) Absolution (forgiveness that brings healing)
9.) New learning
Lay on the floor with palms facing up by your side. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing - breathing in your nose and out of your mouth. Think of an object that has special meaning to you. What color is it? What shape? What size? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? What feeling is connected to the object? Why is the the object meaningful to you? What does the object represent?
Did you know there were 12 Tribes of Israel? After the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, God gave this command to Joshua, "Take twelve stones and lay them down in the place were you lodge tonight. When your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?' then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord...so these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever." Joshua 4. These twelve stones were God's way of creating a visual reminder of His covenant - a physical symbol of His physical presence in their lives for generations to come, a way to be sure that his protection and provision was never forgotten.