(The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien)
Well, that says it all really. Just as well as I haven't written much about this yet. In fact I think I'll just quote Tolkien again.
'And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell, Sam began to sing...He murmered old childish tunes out of the Shire, and snatches of Mr Bilbo's rhymes that came into his mind like fleeting glimpses of the country of his home'.
And now something by someone else
'The first is itself a memory of a memory. As I stood beside a
flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me
without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries,
the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother
had brought his toy garden into the nursery...It was a sensation, of
course, of desire: but desire for what? not, certainly, for a
biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though this came into it) for
my own past...and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was
gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again,
or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased...'
(Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis)
What is nostalgia? When I think of walks taken with my family as a child in winter in the Cotswolds I feel a deep sense of longing, and of loss. But what am I really longing for? Of course, on one level I am presumably looking wistfully at a time when I felt more secure and when a thousand possible lives stretched ahead of me. But there is, I think, more to it than that. In reality I was not that secure as a child: I don't think any child really is. To a large extent I suspect that that image is an illusion. Part of any content I felt at the time was, I am sure, also based on illusory fantasies of my own future. At both points I am, therefore, gazing at the rainbow's end.
I wonder if what is actually happening is something else. I think that I am actually yearning for something beyond the past, something that has in reality grown neither further nor closer with the passage of time. I think that there is a sort of 'hyperperspective', by which looking elsewhere or elsewhen something else comes into view: I think that something is a memory, a trace, of our Real Home.
All language is metaphor: but I believe that in some strange way the whole of the normal world and our normal experiences are metaphors for a real world underneath, or around, or throughout us. (The Sufi poet Rumi thought all language was based on a longing for home.)
As I hinted above, this is not just about our own past, or even the past (or the future) generally. It is about the other, and, if you like, how the other that connects with us in a definable way also connects us to, or reminds us of, the Other that cannot be reached except by metaphor and by story. I have similar feeling about Spain, especially Andalucia. I long to be sitting at a table in the street, drinking beer with someone close, with white walls, baking blue sky, and the sound of crickets, steeped in the history of the lost Islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus. But this is all a mirage. None of these things really exist, or, if they do, they are not what I am really looking for. If I had been born there it would just be normality: what would an Andalucian Giles long for? (Having said that, it appears that to at least one local there still existed nonetheless a strong sense of the otherness of Andalucia. The poet Lorca perceived, in Granada, 'a sense of absence, of something lost for ever', if indeed it ever existed. 'My Granada is not of today' he wrote...'but that which could and ought to exist, although I don't know if it ever will' (Lorca, quoted in 'Frederico Garcia Lorca' by Ian Gibson))
All this suggests that we have a longing not for our past, or the security of childhood, or our true love, or a place where we could be happy, but, through these longings, for something else. For Home.
'¿Como es possible que sienta nostalgia por un mundo que no
(Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, arriving at Machu Picchu, quoted in the Motorcycle Diaries)
('how is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?')