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Nostalgia

So much for well made plans. It was to be a milestone high school reunion this past weekend, a classmate was coming from Denver to stay with me, and we would attend the reunion together. I have known her since seventh grade, and for whatever reasons apparent only to middle school kids, we had nicknamed each other then “Salmon” and “Clambroth.” We giggled about that over our cellphones, temporarily traveling back in time 60 years, as we arranged the logistics for the coming event.

She had been one of the shortest girls in the class and I was one of the taller, so our classmates inevitably referred to us as “Mutt & Jeff” as we walked the halls. Would anyone besides us remember that? More than 50 women out of the original 225 in our all-girls school were coming into New York City or already there, and it promised to be a grand gathering.

My friend was already flying east Thursday morning when I climbed out of the shower and fell on my back in the bathroom. The pain was sharp and immediate. In an instant the much-anticipated weekend evaporated before my eyes. Never mind the weekend. I was going to be lucky if the bones on the left side of my body — my shoulder, elbow, forearm, ribs and hip — weren’t broken. None of the surfaces in the bathroom are forgiving, and I had cracked against the wall of the tub. The vision of walking into reunion was replaced by my coming home from the hospital in a body cast.

I realized I was screaming as I lay on the ceramic floor and had been for a number of seconds to no avail. There was no one else home. I screamed some more, just because I could, then began the miles-long crawl to my bedroom. For some unaccountable reason, I thought I would feel much better if I could get into my bed. Silly me, I couldn’t even stand. Nor could I stop shaking. I was able to pull the phone off the table, however, and I called a dear friend who fortunately was home and had rescued me before. Together we drove to the hospital.

That was only a 10-minute trip, but I felt every pebble and bump in the road. The hospital personnel were wonderful. They wheeled me into the emergency room, and after some inevitable paperwork but not much of a wait, I was helped onto a bed between two curtains and my date of birth corroborated several times with the paper bracelets on my wrist. An empathetic physician’s assistant greeted me and asked what had happened. Then came the X-rays.

Of course they were going to X-ray the places that hurt, and I tried not to scream during the many rearrangements of my body. The process seemed to go on forever although I had no idea of time, and then it was over. I joined my angelic friend between the two curtains and squirmed in bed, searching for a pain-free
position as we waited for the results.

The PA came with good news and bad news. My shoulder, elbow, arm and hip were badly bruised but not broken. In fact they were already turning colors of the rainbow amid the swelling. But my back, the area of greatest pain, had what seemed like a new compression fracture. I had endured that trauma before, and the PA couldn’t be sure it was a new or old injury. And there wasn’t much the PA could do except recommend a painkiller, preferably Tylenol, and send me home.

Imagine the reaction of my Denver friend when she completed the 2,000 mile trip to my house, only to find me laid out in my living room and still shaking. She did go the different events of reunion weekend, and through her descriptions and the texts and emails from those gathered, I was able vicariously to enjoy hearing what they talked about. I think before the next milestone reunion, I won’t shower.

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Waves of nostalgia can hit at any time. They tend to wash ashore more frequently in between graduations with their “look back, look forward” speeches and weddings. During these transition phases, we recall the days gone by, whether we’re suddenly comparing a memory from a few years to a decade or more earlier.

We watch our children stretch out surprisingly long arms to take a diploma and shake the hand of a school official, recalling how those hands used to reach up high to grab ours as we crossed the street.

We listen to their confident voices as they share detailed, measured and elaborate opinions about politics, sports, social issues or music. At the same time, we replay the high voices in our heads when they shared thoughts that weren’t so complex, as in “Jimmy Neutron is the best.”

When my wife and I walk around town, we frequently stop outside T-ball baseball games, where we soak in the figurative nostalgia bathtub. Johnny swings at seven pitches before he finally dribbles a ball foul. The exhausted coach encourages Johnny to “run, run, run!” Once the boy reaches first base, a small smile fills a round face that will get longer and leaner in the days ahead, until he reaches the stage where he rolls his eyes when people around him speak of sports because he and his razor stubble have tuned into the world of guitars and rock bands.

For some high school graduates, home has become a launchpad, where the NASA countdown to lift off for college will thrust them to a new location.

And then there are the brides and grooms, whose parents may recall their own weddings even as they smile at the way their children are planning to have people on stilts passing out hors d’oeuvres. The reason no one else thought of it, we think, is because it seems impractical, even though we don’t say that because we don’t want to rain on our children’s parade.

The parents of the bride and groom may remember the people who surrounded them at their wedding, from family members to important friends. Parents may have spent extra time searching through alumni directories or online listings to find the addresses of some of those important friends they haven’t seen in decades to invite them to another can’t-miss wedding.

Parents may stare at their children and recall the long journey from the cooties and a fear fascination with love and romance, to this moment when their child plans to travel the rest of his or her life with this marital partner.

What good does nostalgia do? It offers an opportunity to reflect on the past, while overlaying memories with current experiences. While we’re dancing to music we heard years ago, maybe at our own weddings or on an early date with a future spouse, we may close our eyes and reconnect with the younger version of ourselves. We remember who we were and who we wanted to be. We may laugh, realizing how far we have to go, or boost our resolve as we observe the changes in ourselves and others around us that encourage us to believe that anything, improbable or difficult though it may seem, is still possible.