Nostalgia led me to live in the moment

As the full moon illuminated the little patch of cemented jungle she calls home, I stood there with my shoulder on the fridge; Kanye West talking about family business in the background.

Right in front of me were photographs of a past that I still miss dearly. To my right was a picture of us on our first date, a tour of a historical estate overlooking Biscayne Bay. To my left was a filmstrip of us goofing around at the baseball stadium, posing with Viking hats and a blow-up tiger and kissing each other as if it were the last time we’d ever get the chance.

On a normal day, I would’ve given these images a cursory glance and then resumed consumption of inane Internet videos and memes. But a different fate awaited me tonight – a run-in with a bittersweet longing for bygone years called nostalgia.

I caressed the images and even kissed one of them, nearly sensing the smelly A/C that cooled the stadium that night, and the suffocating heat that nearly choked us as we walked through the estate gardens. I began to tear up as I placed myself in that bygone reality for a minute, simultaneously basking in the memory and realizing that that’s all it is now.

Although I consider myself a forward-thinking individual, I engage in retrograde motion more often than I should. I play fond memories over and over in my head like a record player gone mad, and I fool myself into thinking that I’ve got to pay my dues to those good times by laboring over them this way.

I recognize it’s madness, but aren’t we all mad in some way? No person is completely sane, no matter how civil they may be.

Luckily, I’m not alone.

In 2013, Science Friday spoke to Clay Routledge, a social psychologist at North Dakota State University, who said journeying to the past has a beneficial effect in some cases.

“If you’re feeling lonely, if you’re feeling like a failure, if you feel like you don’t know if your life has any purpose [or] if what you’re doing has any value, you can reach into this reservoir of nostalgic memories and comfort yourself,” Routledge said, adding that the past may be considered a psychological resource.

I agree with this analysis. Though my idea of needing to pay tribute to my memories may be flawed, I recognize that analyzing and appreciating them is going to help me better appreciate the present.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, some say. Nostalgia plays on that, but it ultimately warms your heart instead of freezing it.

Therefore, by running into the past on that Sunday afternoon, I happened upon a much stronger way to look at the present. I realized that in a future, I may reflect upon a set of photographs of newer memories in much the same way. I could let this create a vicious cycle, or I could use it as a way to appreciate the present and live fully in the moment.

The more I live for today, the greater the memories will be in the future.

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