Remember that 1950s show, THIS is your Life? The unsuspecting guest would come face to face with family and friends who had affected his life — a 2nd grade teacher, a long lost relative, a friend from summer camp, an army buddy.
I am in the process of decluttering our basement – where thousands of photographs overflow from shoeboxes. These are the pictures that didn’t make the cut for an album, but would never have been tossed.
The problem is that there are at least 50 photos of one single moment in time- Kacie as a puppy stuck in the grass that’s higher than her head, Jared as a toddler in diapers playing with a plastic T-ball set in our bedroom, Alex as a preteen holding her first tennis trophy from a round robin with her grandfather.
As I pull each shoebox off a shelf, I hear the voice of decluttering expert, Marie Kondo, Keep what gives you joy.
OK, Marie, I will pare down 50 photos of puppy Kacie to 5.
What Marie didn’t warn me about though, was that a wave of nostalgia would soon wash over me.
Oh to go back to those summer afternoons – with the turquoise plastic pool filled with water, our first dog, Jessie, rolling in the dirt, Alex giggling, Jared on the swing set. Making sandcastles. Playing tag. Running the bases.
Graduations, birthdays, vacations, sports teams.
Halloweens, Christmas trees, visits to Florida to see grandparents. That August afternoon on Lake Michigan when Brett and I got married.
Each shoebox triggers deepening nostalgia.
For there are no children giggling upstairs, no driving in the car listening to Barney songs, and definitely no wedding songs to ponder.
Kids have graduated and left. Dogs haven’t lived long enough. And trophies are not given out anymore.
So with apologies to Marie Kondo, I return each shoebox back to its shelf – lest this nostalgia slip into depression.
Time for a walk with Codie.
Because all I have is NOW. And those Marcell Christmas cards that boast of endless joy, are liars; life has always had its struggles, not suitable for Nikon’s close-up lens. Shoeboxes, unchecked, can lead our hearts toward sentimentality and romanticism.
Historian Stephanie Coontz wrote a NY Times op-ed called Beware of Social Nostalgia. She says that “homesickness”, as nostalgia used to be called, at best, is a harmless self-deception that can lead us to reignite relationships that have ceased being close.
But nostalgia is also dangerous. It amplifies the good and minimizes the bad; it paints an idyllic vision of days gone by that robs us of optimism for the future – a future which cannot compete with such a one-dimensional view of the past.
“Memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need to cross-examine them, recognizing and accepting the inconsistencies and gaps in those that make us proud and happy as well as those that cause us pain.”
Nostalgia can distort our understanding of the world in dangerous ways, making us needlessly negative about our current situation.”
So I have a new plan with regard to the basement storehouse of idyllic memories. Let the next generation deal with them.
For THIS is my life. Present tense. Present moment.
And the present is a gift. Which no shoebox can take away.
Today’s Takeaway –
-When you feel nostalgia trigger sadness, cross-examine it. And then tell your distorted memory to take a hike and your present self to take a walk- preferably with a dog,
-Be more dog-like. Life for dogs is always in the NOW. And joy awaits with each meal, each time a leash is reached for, each new person to greet.
Enjoy the ride! Present tense!
Barclay and Joy