“When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’ clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
“do you love him Caddy
do I what
she looked at me then everything emptied out of her eyes
and they looked like the eyes in statues blank and unseeing and serene”
-William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (Quentin’s section)
Why is nostalgia so dangerous? Because it sees time as the enemy, something to be conquered. Quentin kills himself not because he is depressed or worried about the future but because with time Caddy’s deflowering will become less and less meaningful to him. The longer she is gone, the more time makes the painful memories hazy, the less he will care–she will not devastate him as she once did. She will no longer be everything to him. When she journeys away from the space of their shared innocence, she starts this movement toward an apathetic future. With time must come healing and growth. They are mad who bring time to a stop, who try to keep things in their places, the Miss Havisham’s of the world for whom memory is a means of escape.
Nostalgia is dangerous because it is tempting. Even as I write this I feel something being uprooted, and it is uncomfortable and painful to let go. But God is now here– in the present to be sought anew. The saints faced the moment at hand, they did not get stuck on glory days or lost loves (well, perhaps they did, from time to time, but it didn’t define them). Nostalgia makes novels great, but what does it do to the soul? If we do not let God heal our memories, work in our pasts, they can keep us trapped. They can lead us to despair of or doubt his mercy.
Time is no enemy, because it is the path by which we are led home. Christ is our destination and our sweet companion along the way. When we say during Advent, “Come, Lord Jesus!” we do so with great hope. My wounds do not define me, my sin does not define me–my Lord is the Lord “who is coming into the world” (John 11:27), and therefore, I must be here to greet him, I must allow him to orient my whole being, past and present, toward his triumphant arrival. I must allow him to sanctify my past. He will, I know, dispel the darkness from the most painful corners of our minds. Lord Jesus, Savior, come!