Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nostalgia, aka, I Knew You When

PBS had an article about how nostalgia is good for you.  I decided to look online for a definition, and I found it defined as a “sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  I like to think of it as remembering a time when life was easier or at least simpler.  Then I ask myself, was it really easier, or is it just that I seem to filter out the more challenging times?

I’m a bit nostalgic when I think of one man I briefly spent time with in my youth.  He was one of the very few Italian men I have ever dated, that not being my usual style.  Yet I couldn’t help myself as he was just so darn good looking.  The fact that he was a culinary school trained chef was an added bonus.  Our relationship, such as it was, lasted about a minute, but we’ve kept in contact over the years.
What dreams, what egos, we have when we’re young!  We feel we are special.  The very essence of youth is the belief that we’re going to conquer the world and be unique and extraordinary.  Of course, each of us as human beings is special, but not quite in the way imagined.  Few of us grow up to be renowned.  

The book, The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, chronicles the lives of friends, each of whom has his/her own grand ideas.  They meet as teens and solidify their tight knit group during the summer of 1974 while attending at an arts camp in the New England woods.  There they perform and act out dreams of being dancers, actors and artists.  The kids, aka ‘The Interestings’, as they name themselves, remain close during the winter months and over the next couple of years. 

Many choices made when young, even the poor ones, generally allow for some reprieve.  Sometimes, however, there are choices that cause considerable and irreparable damage.  Such is the case with these friends.

We follow the lives of the four who remain close over the next four decades.  There is Jules, the financially challenged girl from the suburbs, who though not very pretty, has a wonderful wry sense of humor and who also very much wants to be accepted as part of the group.  Ash, delicate and pretty, is the one whose parents held high expectations of and who seems to have easier access to life’s opportunities.  Jonah is the beautiful and talented boy with too many secrets.  Then there is Ethan, a child of divorce, who was not blessed with good looks or money but was blessed with a fantastically creative mind.   

Two others were there at the start: Cathy, the energetic and lively dancer, and Goodman, the compelling yet complete screw up, but both are more like ghosts who float in and out of the story…important, yet distant.  It is the other four we get to know and watch how their friendships change over time.

I recognized the patterns of life over those forty years and how each character found, stumbled and then found themselves again.  No one escaped without pain, but all were that mix of ordinary and extraordinary that we all are.  There are the expectations of youth, followed by a change of plans when we recognize we must give up our initial, yet unrealistic dreams.  These are followed by other life changes in our thirties and forties and then again in our fifties, each decade bringing its own challenges and benefits.  I know there will be more transformations in the future but both the book and I only have only come this far.  

Recently, when I was visiting my family back east, I stopped by my friend’s restaurant.  He and his cousin made a terrific meal for me and later on, he and I met for a hot beverage.  We are now in our late fifties and, like others our age, there’s more family stuff to deal with.  Age has crept up to us both.  For me, it is the added weight; for him, it showed in the tiredness around his eyes.  Yet, he’s still handsome and he still has that quick smile.  It was good to see him to catch up and reminisce.   

We are not close friends.  We have lived separate lives over the last forty years but it is the nostalgia of shared history and friends that occasionally draw us together and keeps us in touch.   

We filter out what hasn’t gone well and celebrate what has. 

For we still survive when others have not…