Yesterday my husband and I were trying to fix my computer and, in the process, stumbled upon a slideshow of home videos. We were sucked in.
And as always seems to happen with home videos, they roused within me that deep longing feeling, that pervasive, aching bittersweetness.
And as always, I asked myself why? I understand the sweet, but why the bitter? Why do home videos make us kind of sad?
Of course, there are times when home videos bring up something that has been truly and tangibly lost- there is obvious explanation for why this would make one sad. But what about when nothing has really been tangibly lost? No death, separation- and yet the videos still make us sad? Why?
A lot of people would say it’s simple. Time ago was sweet (hence the sweet) but time ago has past (hence the bitter.) Logical explanation. It can also explain why so many say to new parents “enjoy these moments while you can, before you know it they’ll be (fill in the blank.)” We assume that loss of innocence is inevitable and that growing old is painful– we conclude that life loses some of its sweetness as it continues onward. And I suppose that, despite how depressing it is, we just accept that answer.
But I find I just can’t accept that answer. I want to suggest life can be better than that.
I want to suggest that we cry at remembrance of sweet past not necessarily because the future is disappointing (although it certainly can be, most especially if we allow it to be by believing it will be,) but because we are disappointing. Tender home videos don’t necessarily point out to us that we lack tenderness in our lives today. Perhaps, more importantly, they point out that we interiorly lacked it then.
What I mean is that home videos (and to a lesser degree, pictures and other nostalgic mementos) allow us to see our lives as a whole– as the sum of the parts, whereas at the time we may have been immensely concerned with the parts. At the time our daily thoughts may have been consumed with that guy or that girl who broke our heart—we look at the video and see the way we laughed with our friends—we see the simplicity, the stillness of friendship and the beautiful blossoming of adolescence. At the time our daily thoughts may have been consumed with getting the baby to sleep or getting a minute to clean the kitchen. Now the video shows us something bigger, a wider scope—we see our baby smile, we see him need us and look to us for affirmation. We hear the music playing in the background. We see the colors. We hear how our voice sounded to the ones who love us. We hear joy in our voice. We hear our own laughter and the laughter of those we love. We see how little it mattered how tired we were. We see ourselves and our lives in completion. We see the whole. We see the overwhelming goodness that we may have been overlooking by being concerned with the parts. And it surprises us. It overwhelms us. It humbles us. We wonder how in the world we ever missed such goodness, how did it pass us by? And where did it go?
We conclude, falsely, that it is simply because life took it from us. Children grew up. Wrinkles appeared. Loved ones died or hurt us. These are true facts. But they don’t negate goodness. They bring suffering, change, and inconvenience, but they don’t negate goodness. The only thing that negates goodness is our inability to see it and appreciate and participate in it. There is ALWAYS goodness somewhere, running its threads through our fringed lives. But it is so hard not to focus on the inconvenience, suffering and change. We have a prevailing tendency to focus on parts. So we continue to. We continue to do the very thing that we wished we hadn’t ten years ago when that home video was taken. We continue to overlook the goodness. And so we continue to feel the bitter sweetness when we look back. We continue to feel the longing.
In the end, the longing we feel when we watch these videos, though often mistaken for it, isn’t really to return to another time. It is to be of a different mind. It is to be able to see life as a whole. It is to be able to be fully enraptured in goodness- perhaps frozen in it- despite all that may be falling down around us. And perhaps one day, we will be in this state—able to see our lives like God does. We aren’t there now, but I believe we are capable of nearing that vision. Of course, to be practical human beings, we have to focus on parts. But could we not find more time in the day to zoom out a bit? To consider how we might feel about all this if we watched it ten years from now? Is there goodness we are missing, overlooking, taking for granted?
Of course there is. There always is. That’s why we need to hold our children tight. But not because they’ll “only be young once.” We hold them because they are our children—now, tomorrow, ten years from now. We cherish moments not because they will “pass us by” but because we pass by them. Because we continually fail to appreciate life. But the good news is, life continues onward. Home videos and other mementos and nostalgia shouldn’t make us feel empty. They shouldn’t make us feel like goodness was stolen. They should invigorate us. They should inspire us. They should give us hope. They should make us realize not just how sweet life was, but how sweet life is, how sweet life can be and how we very well might be missing that.