My youngest daughter has discovered a trove of photos at her grandmother’s house, and she has been going through them, scanning them onto a disk and putting them up on our family web site. Most of the ones she likes are photos of me, and so far most of those are of me as a child of five or less.
I have loved looking at these photos again and talking about them with my children and grandchildren. I have felt closer to them by doing so. However, seeing those pictures reminds me of times I had forgotten. And sometimes seeing them makes me sad, within range of crying. “Nostalgic” might be the right word for me except we speak of nostalgia as the desire for a previous time, an idealized time that never existed, and I don’t think that is what I’m feeling.
Part of what makes me sad is seeing the faces of all these people whom I knew and loved and who are no longer part of my world, most because they have passed on, some because they have moved on. Part of what makes me sad is the disconnect between the little boy I see and the adult that I am. He was the child of poor parents in a Border State, descendants of long lines of sharecroppers and dirt farmers. I am a bourgeois professor of philosophy. At least I am passing as one.
I don’t want to return to the days of bathing in a wash tub or pumping water from a well, but I need there to be more unity between me and that boy. I feel the need for my life to be a whole, but I cannot find one. Though the boy I see in the pictures is not alien to me, I am alien to him.
For me the sadness of nostalgia isn’t longing for something lost, but need for something that has never been