So I was watching episodes of Avatar: the Last Airbender last night while I was bored and I got hit by a sharp punch to my stomach. Now, my assailant wasn’t someone breaking in, or a person being playful with me, but instead it was nostalgia. Which is weird. I could go on a rant about how Avatar is one of the best shows ever for several reasons, and even if that is true, the only reason I would do it is because the show means so much to me.
Nostalgia is one of those things that make us reminisce about the past, typically in a good way. Sometimes it’s bittersweet, because things have changed so much since then. That’s effectively what this experience was, which was really hard. And it got me thinking: why does a simple television show cause such an emotional response to the thought of it? Or why does any item do this? For example, a lot of people identify various items with ideas—one my family enjoys is the symbol of the hummingbird, which we associate with my grandfather. Or the urn necklace that I own. Each of these things make us think of a very specific and vivid time in our lives that were high drama. Maybe nostalgia is just a trigger, like trauma is for many veterans. Except instead of being painful, it is something positive.
So if nostalgia makes us emotional, how does it impact our lives? I mean, I certainly don’t think that I have been as impacted by a television show I liked as a kid in comparison to someone like my late grandfather. But maybe I have. Avatar is a show I watched between the ages of 10 and 15. Which was about 6 years ago now. For a lot of people, that’s not a very long time, but speaking that 6 years is over a quarter of my life time, it certainly feels like a long time ago. And I can still remember this show vividly. I can almost recite parts of it line by line because of how attentive to it I was.
So something that I am curious about is how nostalgia works for ideas in comparison to real experiences. In a few weeks I’ll be going on vacation to Montana, and seeing the location my grandmother is buried at. I never met my grandmother—she died well before I was born. I have only seen a couple pictures of her and heard a few stories. But I know that she meant a lot to my father and that her death was extremely emotional for him. I also can remember stories he told me about her. In remembering those stories I don’t feel the same emotional impact as I did for this show. But I wonder if seeing her grave will make me feel something similar—or if I’ll experience anything at all. What if all I feel is indifference?
It’s a bit odd to be aware of the possibility of emotion but not being aware of how it will actually occur inside you. Perhaps I am over thinking this though. Maybe instead of theorizing what could be, I should just experience it as it will be and appreciate whatever I get. At least that prevents the possibility of anxiety over something so liberating in my life. I mean, it’ll be vacation! Why worry! Let me know about moments where you have felt nostalgic in your life!