I’ve been thinking about nostalgia a lot lately. Nostalgia, if Don Draper is to be believed, comes from a phrase meaning “the pain from an old wound.” It’s something that marks us, that can vividly transport us back to a moment, a place in time and space where we might have been different people. Sometimes that gets caught up in pop culture. We cherish these things that we’ve loved like holy relics because at one point in time, even just for ourselves, they were. There’s the feeling of understanding, of deep emotion, of a joy that needs to be chased down and (in its worst forms) protected at all costs.
That fanaticism is easily exploited, to the point where the powers that be might parade these things in front of us and expect us to love them in the same way simply because they are there. It is a constant ask to see these things that call back to our memories as if they were products and not stories. It’s an empty thing to see how we are expected to leap because we see something we recognize, not because those things are being used in service of a greater narrative. It’s such a cynical thing to pander to these old wounds without understanding the story of how those scars were etched into our bodies. There comes a time when it’s important to realize that the important thing that we are remembering is what stories those memories allow us to tell rather than the need to keep a flawless idea of the memory itself. The idea of new iterations “ruining our childhood” is continually upsetting. No one is taking those stories from us. They can’t.
The trap of nostalgia beyond empty repetition is that it keeps us focused on the wrong direction. We constantly look back, wanting to recreate those things we love with absolute perfection. We cannot stand the idea of things being different as if that somehow changes the essence of the thing. Instead, we should be looking forward, using what we’ve learned, what we’ve loved, to build a new story. We should look to how we use the familiar to change what we think is possible rather than running through another reboot that might not have the same heart as the first.
I say all of this nice stuff about looking forward rather than back as I get ready to mourn a building this evening. Union, the coffee shop and church that I both attended and worked for while I was in seminary, is closing the doors on its original location on Dyer Street in Dallas. And as much as I just talked about the physical thing being less important than the stories we use it to tell, it still hurts to lose a space that was such an important part of the last five years of my life. It’s a space where I can point to the table around which I met some of my best friends. It is a space in which I can stand on the stage where I learned how to tell better stories. It is a place where I saw an image of what the church could be as it was lovingly painted with each member of the community adding a little piece of themselves to make something new. It is the place where I always knew I could feel like I was at home, even after I had been away for a while.
I’ve joked with some friends over the past year that I feel like the Ghost of Union, someone that floats in and out unexpectedly, that some people know the lore behind and some don’t. Ghosts have anchors to places, and when that home on Dyer Street closes its doors it is hard not to think that I’m losing one of mine. But here’s a thing I’ve learned about Union: Union is made up of our stories. It is beyond a place, if we’ll let it be. So as Union starts a new chapter in a new place I will still mourn Dyer Street. But I know that they take those stories with them and they’ll make new ones that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.
“And we’ll one day tell our story/of how we made something of ourselves”~Lucius “Two of Us On The Run”