Do you remember when going out to dinner meant spreading a red and white checked tablecloth over a picnic table in the backyard? Remember when playing some music meant gathering the whole family on the front porch with mismatched instruments, everyone singing gleefully about “Power in the Blood?” Remember when the idea of grabbing your phone and putting it in your pocket was absurdly unfathomable—even for someone with pockets like Captain Kangaroo? Remember those summertime Saturday mornings when you and a gaggle of friends would hop on bikes, heading out for an entire day with nothing more to sustain you than some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a few hunks of cheese, and a fistful of Saltines? Remember when finding something for lunch meant stepping out onto the back stoop, screen door slapping behind you, to check on the cantaloupes in the garden, thumping them and deciding that they’re not quite ripe, instead grabbing three beefsteak tomatoes almost too big to carry, and after a quick rinse in the kitchen sink, eating thick slices with just a sprinkle of salt, thinking there’s nothing better in all creation—except maybe summer sweet corn or fresh picked blackberries fatter than your thumb? Remember? Remember when little boys used to whistle? Whatever happened to the lost art of whistling? Or whittling? Or spinning tops on the front sidewalk? Or playing baseball with every kid in the neighborhood at the empty lot around the corner?
Musing in this fashion is what we call nostalgia—a wistful longing for the days of yore. First coined in 1668 by Johannes Hofer in a dissertation at the University of Basel, nostalgia connoted “homesickness.” From the Greek nostos, meaning, “homecoming,” and algos, meaning “longing or yearning,” army field physicians quickly adopted the term to describe a debilitating malady, which often afflicted troops far from home hindering them in battle.
The truth is that a longing for home is woven into the fabric of the life of every man, woman, and child. It is profoundly affected by our inescapable connection to place, persons, and principles—the incremental components of community. While the nomad spirit of Modernity has dashed the integrity of community, it has done nothing to alter our need for it.
Covenantal attachment has always been a vital aspect of the healthy psyche—and it always will be. Uprootedness has always been a kind of psychosis—likewise, it always will be. Hearth and home are the cornerstones of help, hope, and happiness. Humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom—instead its great promise may only be found in those rare places where people have established identity, defined vocation, envisioned destiny, and shared inheritance across generations. This is precisely what makes home so infinitely priceless.
So, in that sense, nostalgia really is not a malady, or mere wistful yearning, or heart-sick musing, or a dreamy-eyed fantasy—indeed, it may actually be the first step toward the recovery of our sanity. Remembering may be the starting point for Reform.