Dear Pope Francis,
I was in Southern Ontario for my convocation over the weekend. Although celebrating was the goal, I did all the things I did when I was living there: eat sushi, ride the subway, get coffee with friends, and go to lectures. And I loved every minute of it.
There was a sense of returning. It wasn’t like going home (that will always be the East Coast), but there was a sense returning somewhere familiar. As I rode the subway and spent time catching up with friends, I didn’t necessarily have any sense of nostalgia, fondly remembering the adventures of the last three years and wishing I could go back to that time. Maybe it’s because I’ve only been gone for two months, but I think it’s because I know it’s time to move on.
Moving on doesn’t mean I forget, or that I don’t miss people or things (I have yet to find good sushi in Western Canada, and making new friends takes time no matter where you live). But moving on without the sense of longing for the past helps me to know that leaving is the right decision. It also helps me to know that the past has been integrated; many of the changes I underwent and experiences I had while living there are now part of who I am.
A Tree and its Fruit
More than just being part of who I am, the lack of nostalgia helps me to see that these experiences inform who I am, the same way that a good tree is know by good fruit (Lk 6:44; Mt 12:33). But good fruit generally can only come when there is good soil, clean water, and fresh air.
Metaphorically, I am rooted in soil – it is composed of all the experiences that I’ve had. The way plants will absorb nutrients from the soil, I absorb things from the experiences of my life. The quality of the things I absorb shape how I view myself and the world around me. Absorbing positive experiences shapes a positive outlook, and absorbing negative experiences can lead to a negative outlook.
But not all experiences are absorbed right away. Sometimes, they happen and I don’t really pay attention to them. Thankfully those events are generally neutral. They are things like holding the door open for someone else, they happen, but they don’t really register as something important. But there are other things, like some of the personal things I learned while I studied that I can’t ignore.
When I can’t ignore an event, the temptation is to wish that I could go back and relive it over and over again – this is nostalgia. It is wishful, and never going to happen. More importantly, it can get out of hand and be unhealthy because I never get passed it. I am so focused on wishing that I can go back in time, that I’m not open to what is going on right now.
Over the weekend, I felt at peace with all the memories of my time at school. I learned a lot, but they are the lessons that influence my life now. I don’t want to go back and re-live my time in study group, or getting coffee with friends, or eating sushi. It’s not because I don’t miss it, but because I learned important things – like valuing deep conversations, and diversity in my friendships – and I can find these things in new places and ways, with new people. This opens up new possibilities, and that is exciting. The excitement outweighs any nostalgia, and almost balances out the loneliness that inevitably comes with moving somewhere new.
The challenge in the days, months and years ahead is to remember the lessons, and allow them to continue nourishing my life. Let the lessons reveal themselves anew as the seasons of my life change, and I continue to grow and develop as a person. It won’t always be easy, and no doubt the temptation for nostalgia will continue to be present, but focusing on the present helps.
Enjoying the memories,