Memories flood back

Peace Arch News' columnist April Lewis reflects on nostalgia and what looking back at the past really means.

The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on:

Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line…

Words written centuries ago in The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam has me reminiscing about the past. Turning back the frayed pages of our life’s story. Getting all sentimental about what was and what could have been.

Thanks to Woody Allen and his latest whimsical movie, Midnight in Paris, the cineast in me was able to reflect on this notion of nostalgia. Back to the moveable feast of Hemingway’s Paris in the 1920s, with Cole Porter’s Let’s Fall in Love as a backdrop. All set against the romantic notion that Paris is even more wonderful in the rain.

I remember being a poor student arriving in Paris with nowhere to live. I answered an ad for an “au pair” and was ushered into the boudoir of Madame whatever-her-name-was, who sat upon her bed all resplendent in her negligee with feather boa trim.

She asked if I could cook. “I can’t even boil an egg,” I replied, standing there forlornly, a drowning rat, dripping wet. Paris in the rain indeed!

This looking backward – which Allen refers to as “golden age thinking” – where we think a different time period is better than the present.

“Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present.” one of his characters muses. Another states: “the past has always had a great charisma for me… the present is dull.” Denial… dull… or is it the other “d” word that is inextricably linked with nostalgia…

Are we afraid of death or simply on an obsessive search for immortality?

Catherine, 60 does not agree at all. She recently posted old family photographs on Facebook and said she was only reminiscing. Nothing deeper. “At 60” she says, “I am probably happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

Oh sure, she would love to have a younger, firmer body but has no desire whatsoever to exchange her life today for another stab at yesterday.

Camilla, 87, has a different spin on the subject: “If one wishes to be nostalgic, it should only be for a short and selective time and associated with pleasant memories only.”

These can assuage the looming spectre of the inevitable, although she insists she is not afraid of death.

Perhaps as we look back, we are simply rationalizing the actions of a past we cannot alter or are wishing we took the path less travelled.

No time like the present.

If your present is dull, do something. You can’t unwrite the past nor should you waste precious time trying.

Life is short. Death is not.

And if you’re planning on going to Paris, buy an umbrella!

April Lewis is the local communications director for CARP, a national group committed to a ‘New Vision of Aging for Canada.’