I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I’ll get wistful about a sandwich I had two hours ago. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly lost, or frustrated, or troubled, I’ll mentally walk the corridors of my past. Revisiting the places that now feel safe and cosy because I’m no longer having to live in them every day. I recall Adrian Plass writing about wanting to go downstairs and play Scrabble in the middle of the night, to do something cosy because he was feeling scared of death. It’s a bit like that with me and those old corridors of life.
But it struck me early this morning, as I was hanging around somewhere in the sea between the islands of waking and sleeping, that I can no longer revisit my old schools. They’ve all changed. Most of them rehashed or rebuilt. One of them was a Well Woman Centre the last time I looked. The place I most enjoyed attending was a grammar school in Cornwall. I spent my first two years of secondary school life there. What they now incomprehensibly (to me anyway) call years 7 and 8. By the time we hit year 9 (my third year) the place had ‘gone comprehensive’ and we all crossed the football field to a school twice the size, with less than half the appeal. (To me anyway.)
The junior school I attended before that and the comprehensive I went to afterwards have both been rebuilt. I can’t go back. I can’t walk those ancient corridors and reminisce. C.S. Lewis, in his book Out of The Silent Planet, made the comment that remembering is the last chapter. I really like that. Because often, at the time, it’s hard to appreciate the good things about an experience. You’re too tired, or anxious, or busy, or distracted. It’s only later, when you’re no longer living the experience, that you can look back and value the things that were good and helpful about it. Someone else once described life as being like driving. The rear view mirror is vitally important, and you need to keep checking it to stay on course, but you’d soon crash if you didn’t stay focussed on the road ahead.
It’s not easy to appreciate the now. I put it down to the law of diminishing returns. The LODR (not to be confused with LOTR – that’s a hefty epic with big wizards and little people) states that your first cup of tea will be perfect, your second less so and by the third you’re wondering why you boiled the kettle. That sort of thing anyway. The more you have of something the less you can appreciate it. I guess life can be like that, so we need to look back on earlier times to value it, because we’ve become very used to some of the precious things that happen. Jesus encouraged us to focus mostly on the now. Tomorrow’s got plenty of troubles of its own, he said, most of them uncontrollable from where we stand today. And if we keep looking back too much it makes it hard to follow him, so he told one would-be disciple.
There is probably something deeply symbolic about the fact that I can no longer revisit my old schools as they once were. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. I guess I will inevitably continue to roam those corridors in my mind, I’m too nostalgic not to, and my memory has been kind to them. They are now warm, safe, cosy places, bereft of bullies, peer pressure, acne and homework. But the present moves on. And as difficult as it sometimes is, I guess must do my best to appreciate the now while I’ve got it – now.