Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thoughts on Memory and Nostalgia

So, I recently had a little flashback of sorts. I don’t know how or where I came across it, but somewhere I heard this little piano riff of seven simple notes. All it took was those notes, not even a full chord, and I saw her: Alice Gonzalez—the most beautiful girl in the world. I stopped. I couldn’t believe that even now, 20 years later, I could recall her face just by hearing a song.

It’s strange the things that cause us to stop and remember things long past. It’s also strange the people and places that we remember. Alice Gonzalez is not an important person in my life. She never has been. She was a passing crush between my freshman and sophomore years of high school; she lived in a city over 3 hours away. I danced with her once or twice at FFA Leadership Camp and saw her elected as the State of Texas FFA First Vice President. Yet, even with so few interactions, Alice will always be that beautiful girl every time I hear…and this is embarrassing…Mariah Carey’s “Hero.”

A quick side note, where did I hear this song? Why is anyone still playing “Hero” in their rotation? Was it 90s day? Was the person listening to greatest hits of pop divas? I really have no idea, but it gave me pause. I remember the silliest details about certain things, but there are important, formative moments I can’t recall. There are moments that were pivotal in my understanding, faith, family and learning to love that are gone, but a fleeting crush can still come back after twenty years.

I know, I’m not a parent, but this makes me think of having kids. Saturday night I got into the Bama-LSU game for free. I sat between the parents of Terrence Magee and Vadal Alexander. Yes, Bama fans, my free tickets were in the LSU section, but they were free and I was on the row 16 for most of the game and row 13 for the rest. Before I invited Magee’s dad to sit next to me, because his row was crowded and there was literally three open seats next to me, I was sitting next to this young couple and their, I would guess, three year old. And the little guy did great in the hour before the game, but when it came time for kickoff two things happened. One, everyone in the stadium knows…it started raining. The second was little guy wanted daddy to hold him.
Maybe if Les had some grass to eat, the second half would have went better.
We smiled and instead of saying, “You should cherish this. The age is soon coming where he won’t want this,” I smiled and said a typical man thing: “That’s how it always happens, isn’t it?” I doubt dad nor son will ever remember that moment where they held onto one another for the opening quarter-and-a-half, but there may be some innocuous moment that one of them does like when the band played Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and that crazy LSU frat daddy pulled out his hidden Jack Daniels, faced the parents and drained it. It’s just one of those things we don’t dictate.

So, we’re about halfway through today's post and I find myself wondering, “Where does this turn; what direction is this going?” And I think this is where we’re headed today folks: memory and nostalgia are good places to visit, but terrible places to live.

Let’s start with the first part of that thought: memory and nostalgia are good places to visit. I actually believe that. If you come around the Love household on any given holiday there are going to be stories about Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles and even relatives we have never met. For instance, I never knew Aunt Molly, but I can tell you how she used to eat onion and mustard sandwiches, which made her belch really loudly. I myself tell stories like the time I took my friend Joel to meet my Uncle Dick in the hospital and warned him, “You can only believe about ten percent of what he says,” to which Joel responded, “How do I know what ten percent,” and I quipped back, “I’ll tell you after.” These stories are good. We need to be rooted in the past. We need to come from somewhere…it normalizes us, it stabilizes us, and in certain cases it keeps us together. Growing up in Florence, Texas, there were not a lot of people like me. I’m just quite different than most of my peers, but our common stories keep me rooted. Because of the things we went through there is this deep well that allows us simply to be with one another and feel okay.

Look how young Portman was in Beautiful Girls!
But the second part is this : Memory and nostalgia are terrible places to live. There are numerous film examples of this: Lauren Holly and Matt Dillon in Beautiful Girls, the mom from Requiem for a Dream; William H Macy in Magnolia. Living in memories, basing your emotional satisfaction on nostalgia leaves you a shell of a person. Memory and nostalgia are perfected thoughts on imperfect events. For instance when Alice was elected First Vice President she was running against Glen Rosenbusch, my FFA teacher’s nephew. It was really kind of awkward supporting Alice while my peers and teachers looked at me like I had betrayed them. Yet, what I remember is Alice giving the best speech in the world while looking impeccable. In other words my memory did not reflect reality…it reflected a projected perfect image that didn’t exist…and that is why memory can be good in the healing process, but a hindrance when reflecting on how perfect your life was then, yet how terrible it is now.

I end with this: Alice Gonzalez was, and probably still is, a beautiful woman. But the truth of the matter is, in my reality she is fiction. Sure, she really exists, she is out there now living life, probably a mom, maybe a lawyer or a teacher…she is very much real. But, in my reality, she is fiction. She is a story that my mind created based on events that didn’t happen the way I remember them. And that’s okay when kept in the proper perspective. We need those moments; we need to be able to walk down memory lane, but the truth is, after that stroll we need to heed Mason Jennings, and “Be here now…no other place to be.” These moments, some of which seem dreadful, will be those future memories if we allow ourselves to fully live into them and not grasp for our fictional pasts.

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