As the summer wound to it’s inevitable end, and I prepared to return to work, I took some time to de-clutter, clean and re-organize before the onslaught of the new school year kicked in. As luck would have it, during this process, I stumbled upon an old piece written in a journal from July 4, 2015 entitled, Nostalgia.
So, the theme continues… and in case you’re wondering, the area I describe wandering through is South Richmond… right next to the south arm of the Fraser River.
My Dad is fond of the saying, “Don’t look back, we’re not going that way.”
It’s good advice, generally speaking, and comes in especially useful when recovering from past trauma or a particularly difficult phase of life. So, when I occasionally indulge in a visit through my past, as I do, from time to time, it is with a certain amount of abashed privacy – solitude. Memory Lane can be a lonely place.
Yet, I am drawn, again today, to a place that is relatively close in proximity to my present, though whenever I visit, it feels like traveling a far distance, – a foreign country, separated as it is from my current life, by about 30 years.
Today I walked in the footsteps of my 15 year old self, wondering why I felt compelled to do so, and with my father’s admonishment in my head. “We’re not going that way.” But I find the reflections it brings with it to be invaluable.
Despite the march of progress with its new buildings, renovations and the relentless question in my mind, “What was THERE back then?” (The answer is probably, “Nothing but fields,” when you’re as old as I am and grew up in the suburbs), it comes with the sensation of actually going back in time.
With this time travel is allowed the ability to connect the dots between past and present in a way that may begin in a general sense of perspective about society and the passage of time, but with enough time and curiosity becomes personally quite relevant.
As I wandered the malls, streets and community centres of my youth, allowing a series of memories to soak through my skin like the heat of the summer sun, I saw myself – the girl I’d been. Better yet, I remembered her. I felt again her innocence and love for the world. I felt the exuberance of middle school dances. I felt the titillation (or was it shame?) of french kissing on the bleachers in the schoolyard after dark, and the fear of getting caught smoking my first joint. These feelings are what is known as sweet nostalgia. But the further you follow that trail into the past, beyond the innocent memories of youth, comes the hard part, the reason many of us don’t indulge – the reason for the saying, “Don’t look back.” The danger I suppose is two-fold. On the one hand, the warning may be about getting caught in the heyday of youth – our so-called Glory Days for some – are easy to relive ad-nauseum. Memories of winning provincial gymnastics competitions or playing the lead in the high school play, are seductive in their numbing allure to allow us a journey down the road not taken or our ability to celebrate the successes of our past. That journey is certainly well-documented. Or perhaps it is the flip-side that admonishes us to keep moving forward, instead of looking back. Perhaps it is the fear of mourning the girl stolen that keeps us from going back. It is, for many of us, frightening to confront the girl we were and see the journey she took between there and here, even if – or especially if – we are happy with the woman we’ve become. To remember the angst of your 16 year old self can be eviscerating, and the fear of becoming stuck there is real and valid. For context: when I look at the picture above of me and my Dad, I not only remember one of the best summers of my life, but also the worst night of my young life. That Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I’m wearing in the picture is the same one I’d be wearing a year later when I was raped for the first time.
But the purpose is to honour our younger self, remember her and feel the value she has to inform our life today. To live in the memories of one’s past, is to connect with yourself and take ownership of the whole life lived, in recognition that it is not compartmentalized into different times or places but is whole and unique even over the course of 30 years between girlhood and middle age. This can be hard to do, yet invaluable as a touchstone in understanding where it began and its connection to who we are today.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters.”