Nostalgia for a Different Past

I don’t know if you have spiritual practices that others don’t view as spiritual practices, but I do.

One I have is looking at my Facebook Memories. It is like a perpetual journal, where I can see what was on my mind on this day for each year for the 14 years I have been on that platform. And sometimes I cringe at what I said, and sometimes the urgency of my post is lost, and now it just seems inane, but always I end up with things to reflect on in my quest to find healing for myself.

And recently I have been reflecting on the lost relationships I have, most especially with the people I grew up with. I saw where a person with whom I had went to High School had commented on something of mine from 10 years ago, but they are no longer my Facebook friend. And then I noticed they were Facebook friends with other people from my childhood that I didn’t know they knew (from a different circle of friends) and that made me reflect on A) How small the world of my childhood was and B) How shut out of that world I am now.

As a child, I had the curse of being the kid who read, and while that helped me substantially with trivia contests and ACT scores, it also made me dissatisfied with the small world in which I lived. It gave me a desire to see more of the world than the 33 acres on which we lived after inheriting it from my grandmother, and the small church with my grandfather’s name on the cornerstone as the chair of the building committee, and the sure thing job I could have had as a lineman for the Power company my cousin was the head of.

So, I left. In fact, I once overheard my mother describe me that way to a friend – Hugh was the one who left. I didn’t really have a plan, and it showed. I was a Marine for a while, and did all sorts of jobs from lineman to firefighter while I was a wandering scholar for a while, and I was a husband for a while until I wasn’t, and I sold securities and a hunk of my soul at a chance at the brass ring, only to find it was bitter in my mouth and required copious amounts of alcohol to make it palatable to me.

But all of that happened because I was the one who left.

I could have stayed. I would have had a good paying job. I had a ready-made social circle, and a name that in that community meant a level of privilege I have never felt elsewhere. My world would have been smaller but more comfortable, and definitely easier.  I would most likely have married someone I had known for years and years, have bought a house not far from mom and dad, most likely have ended up on the best end of the Republican party (but maybe not, as my home county went for Obama, Clinton, and Biden in the last three Presidential elections), and been an active member of the Methodist church of my childhood.

But none of that happened, because I was the one who left. I met, and knew, and loved people who were different than any of the people we knew growing up. I read books that wouldn’t have been permitted in the small library of my home town. I saw parts of the world that are a mystery to some of the people I grew up with, and I knew both plenty and want, and learned from both experiences. And because of all of that, I came to care about things that were not concerns of the world in which I was raised.

I am the product of Scots-Irish honor culture, and we tend to feel strongly about things. For some of us it is the rights of the unborn, and for others the rights of LGBT folk to marry those they love, and for yet others it is SEC football, but we all feel strongly all the same. And because I was the one who left, I learned to feel strongly about things they did not.

And because we all feel strongly, it often leads to feuds at worst and passive aggression at best, and it meant that I wasn’t a member of those circles any more. I will never again spend a crisp morning in a deer stand with people I have known my whole life, or have a job in the community that nurtured my family for almost 200 years, or be welcome – fully welcome – in the church of my childhood.

I like being me. I love my life. But sometimes I wonder what it would have been like had I not left. Had I been content with where I was from, and decided to lean into being a member of that community.. If I had 5 acres with a horse in the back lot and a workshop and a pick-up truck, if the only wine I had ever drank was Boone’s Farm, if going to Memphis was as far as I would travel most years, if I was just an active member of a church where my kin were buried in the cemetery next door.

A friend, who also left, says that I am romanticizing what it would have meant to stay. But I just think I am having nostalgia for a different past.

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