Some aphorisms on nostalgia.
A critique of chronological snobbery.
“Humanity does not pass through phases as a train passes through stations: being alive, it has the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. Whatever we have been, in some sort we are still” (C.S. Lewis’ Allegory of Love 1).
This statement rings as true for collective humanity as it does for the individual person. There are perhaps no memories that I cherish more than my childhood memories. And, when I contemplate selfhood and ask myself who I am, I find that reflecting on 2009 is not nearly as self-revealing as reflecting on 1999.
Have I changed since I was a child? Well, yes, I have. I have had many years of education, and so I have learned to reason and to understand the history of my race and culture. I have been exposed to many books, and songs, and places, and these have left indelible marks on my person. I have backslidden into wickedness, and I have experienced the light and correction of spiritual transformation. But, I think that I can trace all of these things back to the dynamic, living threads that take root in my childhood.
Would I even want to have changed from my childhood? As Thomas Traherne once wrote: why would I want to have wisdom, if it only makes me wise to lose my soul? I was happy in childhood, and I am not happy now: whatever happiness I have is a shadow (and is overshadowed) by the true happiness of my childhood days. I was sincere by nature then, and now the most natural thing for me is to be insincere. I was full of wonder back then, but now that I hear much of the word wonderful, there is perhaps no word more inane to me.
Is there any greater insanity than to look down on others because they are young, or even our own younger self? C.S. Lewis calls it chronological snobbery whenever we call the people of the past backwards or naive. There is nothing more juvenile than disdaining others’ juvenility.
Becoming an adult probably has its charms, but they are lost to me. Even if I make a tremendous lunge of the will and I heap all of the ammunition of my intellect on the prospects of adulthood, it falls as a pin before the smallest intimation of childhood memory.
Many people comment on the fact that I love metal music; when they discover that I only got into the metal scene when I was 16, they think that it was motivated by the spurious spur of a sudden decision. The reality is that the metal music I currently listen to has incredibly marked affinities with the choral, soundtrack, and instrumental music I listened to as a child. When I first encountered symphonic metal and power metal, I intuitively and suddenly apprehended that this was the kind of music that was made by brothers and sisters of a similar spirit to mine, which I already shared with them in childhood.
Whenever I enter into a conversation in which a person is paying attentive respect to their childhood years, I am filled with delight and often experience an intensely human connection with the speaker. I suffer an ineffable, silent pain whenever speaks of “what they were back then,” casuistically dismissing their juvenility.
At the end of The Brothers Karamazov, subsequent to the funeral of the young child, Ilyuschenka, Alyosha speaks these words to a gathering of friends.
“You must know that there is nothing higher, or stronger, or sounder, or more useful afterwards in life, than some good memory, especially a memory from childhood, from the parental home. You hear a lot said about your education, yet some such beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man stores up many such memories to take into life, then he is saved for his whole life. . . . just this memory alone will keep him from great evil, and he think better of it” (774-75).
Indeed, Dostoevsky is right. A small invasion of the worldview of childhood can do nothing but good for the dying adult. The proper lens of childhood is full of readiness to see God’s Spirit, to make acts of faith, to take in pleasure, to treat others with authentic, not-contrived, humane dignity.