This past week while I was in Bloomington, I felt like an emotional archaeologist as I was going through all the old photo albums, books, journals and letters which I have stored at Akiko’s apartment while I am “away in France.”
In my personal history, Akiko’s apartment is on a ley line. Archaeologically (in the United Kingdom), ley lines are lines which link ancient landmarks and places of worship, believed to follow the course of former routes and popularly associated with mystical phenomena. As my life splits off to multiple destinations, this apartment is a vital hub among my routes, bringing together my various selves.
Under the pretense of “arranging things to go into storage,” I tried to sift through layers of “stuff,” accumulations of my past, wondering what would slip into the emotional junkyard and what would safely land in this present life. But really, Akiko and I mainly reminisced over plum wine, excavating old stories and memories of our past years together. While I have the easy tendency to slide into a weepy glorification of the past, Akiko can efficiently reign it all in with the challenging, yet compassionate, question: “What is the point of nostalgia?”
And what is the point of nostalgia, really? Of course, the funnest, and perhaps easiest, way for me to answer these thornier questions is always etymologically. The word nostalgia can be traced through multiple linguistic traditions: it comes from the Greek nostos, meaning the return home; it also comes from the Old English genesan, which means to survive; as well as from the Sanskrit nasate, which means he approaches. While we generally understand it today as the state of being homesick, it seems that these various histories could lend a thickening and deeper resonance to the word. While our general definition usually means a longing for home, its strange juxtaposition of the words home and sick always made me wonder if it could also mean just sick of being home.
All of which perhaps gets me no closer to answering Akiko’s question. But writing this at the closing of this day – August 13 – her question carries a greater weight than it did during last week’s wine-soaked evenings. Tonight is the 3rd anniversary of Micah’s kidnapping in Iraq. It is when I think of Micah in the enclosure in the marshes of Iraq, then I can understand the point of nostalgia. With the passing of August 13th into August 14th, he lived the Sanskrit definition he approaches, because he was one day closer to the Greek definition of returning home. Most courageously, he survives.