We all make New Year's Resolutions, yes? We do. Ellen hangs them on her reading lamp and checks them off one by one. Last year she completed every single thing she set out to do, typical things actually, like exercising more, cleaning out that nasty coat closet, completing a writing project. We're thinking about adding a new twist for 2014: reminiscing nostalgically about days gone by.
Researchers in England studying nostalgia have found that it has some very beneficial effects. It can counteract boredom, anxiety, and loneliness, make people more generous to strangers, and actually make people feel warmer on cold days. Although it is a bittersweet emotion, nostalgia can lead people to be more optimistic about the future.
Jane calls nostalgia "bittersweet, but delicious." She describes a recent trip she took with her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary, travelling from Dallas to New York City to visit her old neighborhood, the place where she and Ellen first met as 14-year-old high school freshmen.
I walked up Broadway to my old "hood." There, shining in the sunlight, was "Big Red" the tall stately corner apartment house that was my family's home. It sported new windows, a coop organized lobby with a bank of standard issue metal mailboxes, serious security cameras by the front doors with a watchman/doorman behind a counter, and self-service elevators. Gone were the upholstered leather settees, the fresh flowers and marble grandeur of the lobby. No more personal mail delivery to your apartment doormat. Long gone was Tony, the congenial elevator man who taught me the few Russian words I still know, as he expertly wielded the brass control arm of our conveyance to the eighth floor. Still, the ethos felt familiar. I could almost hear the voices of my parents and sister, echoing beneath the still majestic green awning.
A stroll up West End Avenue, where the Sycamores had grown so much taller, to my old P.S. 9, a corner fortress built by the Dutch in the early 1900's. Surprise to see it displaying a soft pink glow having had its soot-encrusted bricks cleaned in recent years. Now a school for kids with special needs, it has a guard at the front door, and gratings on all the windows. No more blocked off side-street for lunch-time play, where we used to gather to flip baseball cards, play Chinese handball against the sidewalls of apartment houses, and challenge each other to mumbley- peg after our lunch-hour walk home and back.
I fondly remember Benny's candy store around the corner from P.S. 9. Narrow, stocked to the ceiling, crowded with kids at lunchtime; we'd stop in to buy colored Dots on a strip of paper, little wax bottles that released colored sugar water into our mouths when we bit off the top, packets of flat, square pink Topps gum that held our prized baseball cards (whatever did my mother do with that collection with my favorite Jackie Robinson card?), bright, round jaw breakers for a penny, and Double Bubble gum.
Were the sidewalks always this crowed? I don't remember them so. So many people walking with purpose...headed...where? Long lines everywhere...It requires patience to live here now.
I notice how many are seniors...What is life like for them in the City? It seems a fine place to be if you're mobile and well. Many who can afford it are returning to urban dwelling to take advantage of all the City offers. But others I see, who probably never left, appear weathered, maybe lonely...some appear to be fading, as they trudge along sidewalks, or sit idly on benches.
The City brings back many poignant and pleasant memories of my early days...people, places and events. And back home, vintage music I hear on my car radio, archival photos that peer at me from my bookshelves, wonderful old movies, reunions with life-long friends...all elicit nostalgia that feels ...rather nice.
Nostalgia is found around the world, in all age groups, even in children as young as seven. Universal themes include songs, holidays, family, friends, weddings, lakes, and sunsets. Last year six of Ellen's family members spent a glorious week in Barcelona. Now when they get together they remind each other -- wistfully and joyfully -- about every detail. It never gets stale.
Since it's widely known that we can build our reservoir of moments we want to savor later by being more mindful in the present, nostalgia can even enhance the "now." "Building memories" is what some call it. So there we have it: Consider making your first New Year's Resolution for 2014 a commitment to walking down memory lane.