We Are Made of Nostalgia, Not of Age

“Ugh, we’re so old now.”

Odds are, you’ve heard this phrase thrown around by a Millennial or two over the past few years. It can be in reference to anything – the fact that two glasses of wine is now more than enough. The pain of paying bills and doing taxes. The idea that a “late night” is 11pm. We don’t say we’re growing up, we say we’re old now. We’re adulting. And, as I’m sure you’ve also heard – “adulting is hard.”

But the truth is, we’re not really getting old. We’re just getting farther away from the carefree life that still seems like it was just yesterday. I don’t think I’m far off in guessing that every generation has had this feeling, but perhaps it’s more poignant to Millennials because so much of our lives have been documented. I don’t just remember high school, I can look at Facebook albums of high school photos. I don’t just remember warm summer nights spent driving around to nowhere, I can read about them on my Xanga (yes, I said Xanga). We are never quite as far away from our collective past as we could’ve been before the days of instantaneous documentation, and sometimes that makes the feelings of nostalgia all that much stronger.

The other night I was driving through my hometown, and an old song came on the radio that just knocked me over with nostalgia. Suddenly I was 17 again – my only responsibility was my summer job at the coffee shop. I stayed out until 1am playing on an old elementary school playground with a guy I haven’t seen since graduation. I sat around on the rooftops of park pavilions looking at the stars and feeling, as The Perks of Being a Wallflower would say, infinite.  All of those memories and all of that feeling burst through the airwaves with one simple song, and then disappeared. I turned off the radio and was once again a twenty-something marketing manager with a 401(k) going to visit my parents.

The good old days are never quite as good a we remember them to be, but there are certain aspects of uninhibited youth that were just as flawlessly beautiful as they seem now. When we said goodbye, it always meant ‘see you later’. It didn’t occur to us that later might never come. When we made decisions, they rarely affected the rest of our lives. Nothing was too serious, because it didn’t have to be. And things are different now. The weight of goodbye sits more heavily on our shoulders. It recently occurred to me that some people who are out of my life now are honestly out forever. There is no “somewhere down the road”. That was it. The road ended, whether accidentally or on purpose. And I find that somewhat frightening, because hand-in-hand with goodbyes comes the reality of the decisions we now make. This isn’t high school or the summer camp of college, this is real life. And you only get the one. Nostalgia doesn’t leave any room to contemplate a finite existence, but the present does. The question is what you do with that knowledge. With the growing understanding that this is “it”.

The answer, hopefully, is that you live fully and wildly and a little bit ridiculously. And maybe, if you can manage, let go of the fear that’s holding you back.

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