Today is my thirty-fourth birthday. I’ve reached a point in a human life where you can start measuring things in decades: ten since I last traveled to…; fifteen years since I wrote….; twenty years since I first read…; twenty-five years ago I first saw… which is the blink of an eye in history-time, but kind of daunting in terms of individual lives.
Except I find that I’m not particularly daunted, looking back over my own lives past. I own them – they don’t feel distant from who I am today in any disorienting sort of way. But they are firmly past.
Earlier this winter I found myself at a function for a friend of mine that took place on the campus where I completed my graduate studies. I rarely return there, these days, and when I do it’s always disorienting — because that landscape belonged to a different chapter of my existence. I find it holds little interest to me know, positive or negative. I am lacking in nostalgia for its contours or content.
I’ve similarly never — never! — returned to our old neighborhood since we left last May. In the weeks leading up to our move I was intensely nostalgic about the place and the experiences we had had there. Since moving, I’ve hardly looked back.
I’ve been mulling over this question of personal nostalgia this season and wondering what place it has in my life. There are many ways I continue to feel deeply connected to the landscapes and experiences of my past; it can sometimes be physically painful, even, to come across reminders of places and people I used to experience daily intimacy with. I will never stop missing, for example, the Michigan landscapes of my childhood. There is a part of me that only awakens when I am on Oregon’s high desert. Cumbria (where I spent the week of my 25th birthday) was a combination of foreign land and familiar that I have never experienced at quite the same pitch in any other locale.
Yet I do find I am at peace with there where and the when I am now: I don’t feel anxious looking back at my own past, nor overly distressed looking forward into the future.
My parents visited us in Boston last week, and we spent several days in a shuttered, off-season Provincetown. On Friday my parents and I walked out along the seashore to Race Point lighthouse, automated since the 1970s, where one may pay to stay for the week in the keeper’s house or the newly renovated whistle shed.
Since I was three years old and first saw Pete’s Dragon I’ve harbored the desire to live in a lighthouse (if you haven’t read Peter Hill’s Stargazing I highly recommend it as a love letter to the near-extinct profession!). In the early months of our relationship, Hanna and I played a fantasy game constructing our future together as lighthouse keeper librarians. Both of us are drawn to the solitude of place which lighthouse locations often provide. Perhaps in our forties, I found myself thinking. Perhaps in our middle age.
Whether or not the lighthouse fantasy per se ever becomes a reality, it seemed a mark of good health to be thinking of all the things that may yet come to be. And also like a mark of good health that, lighthouse or not, I’m interested in what the future will hold. I’m down with what these coming decades will have to offer.