Nostalgia is an inescapable part of summer, part of its lure and magic, it’s strange tint of melancholy. Every summer since 1975 has, for me, had this tint. Its joy, bright otherwise, shades darkly at the edges. Its melody, mostly happy throughout, shifts at the bridge to a minor key.
I’m occupationally obliged to be an enemy of nostalgia. It’s not good for church growth. I have to deal with it weekly, sometimes daily: the stalwart charter member who laments the passing of those golden days when “we didn’t have to pay people to do [fill in the blank: custodial work, grounds maintenance, Sunday School supervision, office help].” It’s a long list. I deal with the transfer or defector from another church who remembers, constantly, the way it was done back then and there, and holds up that model of superiority and standard of excellence even if, just a few months ago, they were telling me how bad it was back then and there. I even deal with the fourteen-year-old who bemoans a change in the youth group or complains that “we never do those old songs anymore,” then by way of example cites a song, from my perspective, is still warm from the printer.
So I’ve had to set my face like flint against all that. It’s onward and upward. It’s charting a bold course into the future. It’s taking hill country, leaving the the pastureland to the sissies. And so on.
But I also have to deal with myself, with my own nostalgia, my own tendencies to scavenge among the bones. I lost things I can’t recover: my hair, my elasticity, my knees that I could ski moguls all day and still carry my body upright the next, unimpeded. A dog who romped and bounded, and always found me companionable. And those are the specifics, the things I can name and picture. Mostly, I’ve lost something I can’t name, can’t see, never held in my hand. A mode, a tone, a note. A quality underneath things that was easily missed at the time, and dearly missed ever since.
The summer of ’75 was, at the time, just another summer, more or less. I had, in June, left that awful place I described in my chapter on winter and moved to Vancouver, which was exotic for me as moving to Morocco or Rio de Janeiro, or Narnia. So I was primed for magic. But all the same, I was too young to know that I’d one day be old. I was to happy to know that life has long stretches, unavoidable, of sorrow. Simply, I didn’t know what I had until I didn’t have it. I didn’t even have the dog yet, let alone the deep sadness of losing the dog.
And, what’s more, death in any significant way had not yet come remotely close. My brother had a friend die in middle school- he was large and clumsy and fell down a steep bank and broke his neck- and my brother was asked to be a pallbearer, which seemed to me a dark honor. And my crazy violent grandfather whom I’d never met- whom, indeed, my mother, his own daughter, hadn’t seen, spoken to, or heard from since the forties, when he hightailed it out of her life and left my grandmother to raise four children- was found dead in a rooming house in Victoria, smelly and gaunt and penniless. These things were rumors to me than realities, and more titillating than devastating.
So I had the hubris of youth, the sense of invincibility and immortality. I was Icharus, and believed I could fly near the sun and not melt my wings. I was Achilles, and thought I could fight all wars and never expose my heel. I was Tithonus, and and had forgotten to ask for eternal youth along with eternal life, but at this stage of the game that seemed no great oversight.
Now I’m nearly half a hundred years, and the hubris, for the most part is gone; it’s unsustainable in the face of reality. It’s hard to be proud and paunchy both, to be cocky and cockeyed at the same time, to swagger with a limp. It’s hard to think of life going on and on when the weight of evidence is overwhelmingly otherwise.
And it’s hard to fully enjoy summer when your body bears the scars and sufferings of many winters, its diminishments and accretions. It’s hard, in fact, not to be a tad nostalgic for other summers, perfect summers. It’s hard not to pine for the summer of ’75.
Now, I’ve come a long way to say a simple thing: I think nostalgia is really misplaced anticipation. (pages 117-118)
For my life (and maybe yours too), nostalgia was like going through my physical childhood after my first summer as a Christian faded away just like summer days heading into fall. And the sun erases one minute daily until mid-fall, but we don’t keep track of it until that first cold winter breeze hits reminding us that winter is around the corner. Sure, there were some moments where I wondered what the Lord was going to do with my life.
Summers have set backs to, or at least mine did. The first big set back was when I went to the optometrist and discovered that I needed glasses because I planned on being an U.S. Air Force pilot. That was my dream at that young age; my grandfather, who was fought in WW2 in the navy, and my brother, who had been sent home from boot camp due to a medical condition, decided on pursuing the Navy because they love the sea. Rather than join the Navy, I decided that I wanted fly planes because of the aerial acrobatics I saw they did as many times I went up to Pease Airforce Base to see the Thunderbirds of the U.S. Airforce.
My dream of being an U.S. Airforce pilot were nearly shattered since I was holding out hope that they would come up with a surgery that would correct my vision; and they did; it was called Lasik surgery. By the time health insurance would mostly pay for lasik and it was affordable for my family, I was hit with another devastating illness, type 1 diabetes. Getting diagnosed erased my hope and dream of being an airforce pilot, and I was in a tailspin. Devastated, I cried out to the Lord. Multiple times, I said to the Lord, “All I wanted to do is serve You, and You’ve taken away serving You through the airforce, and now I have a potentially debilitating disease! What were You thinking?” But the Lord knew all along, for He chose me for for what I was to encounter shortly after I turned 18.
I spent a couple of years waiting on the Lord until one day I was in 9th grade, and after school, playing basketball, I received my calling. It was like the Lord saying, “I want you for service.” A few moments passed by for me to grab onto the gravity of what the Lord was calling me to, but once I did, I thought the Lord was calling me into youth ministry, because, in my little mind, I thought that the Lord wouldn’t call me to something that was a hardship. Previously, before I received my calling from the Lord, I was active in youth group so I decided it was the Lord that was calling through various tests, just like Gideon- to be a permanent youth pastor.
I found myself in front of my youth group, next I found myself in front of my whole church. I wanted to make sure that it was all for the glory of God, so whatever glory I received was given back to God. Quickly, I went from my own church to other local and regional churches giving the praise I got and handing it over to the Lord. Then came youth retreats and summer camps. To tell you I was on fire for the Lord would be an understatement because I took first place in a summer camp in 1986 in front of over 300 teens. Again, I did not want praise of men (actually mostly teens) so I redirected the praise I received to the Lord Jesus Christ, using the praise I got as confirmation of my calling to be a youth pastor.
“Now, I’ve come a long way to say a simple thing: I think nostalgia is really misplaced anticipation. … The idea is that nostalgia is expectancy in reverse. It’s our instinct for heaven rummaging in the storage closet, hoping that our heart’s desire is in there somewhere, hidden amid the clutter of keepsakes and accumulated debris” (Pages 118-119)-Mark Buchanan.
As you read this, maybe you have gone or are going through a similar experience? Tell me about it. I want to here, and please stay tuned in as we will look at Tune-In 9: ‘Look Both Ways Before You Cross?’ found in page 122-123, the end of the summer section. But don’t worry, there is more as next time we will go into the section titled: Summer Activities. 😇
~Darren Beattie, The Soul Blogger