Noun: A wistful desire to return in thought or fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.
They say hindsight is 20/20. That may be true right after the fact, but as time goes on, one can often view the past through rose colored glasses. This is particularly true for me, but I think it is true for most people. As the days and months, and years pass, the details of an experience can fade and only the good or the bad things, the highlights, remain. Many of the events that I talk about are out of the ordinary events, leaving your comfort zone whether it be through travel, overcoming hardship, etc.
“Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller says – it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, ‘perfect,’ and, if you’re anything like me, it’s often better in retrospect” (Bourdain 272).
Airports and airplanes have always been a source of excitement for me. Whenever I am going to an airport and getting on an airplane it means I am at the beginning or end of an adventure. This sense of anticipation associated with them makes me love to fly, even with the cons of flying, like airport security lines, cramped seating, bad food, delays, etc.
One year ago today I was getting on a plane to fly to Asia. I was filled with excitement, anticipation, anxiety, and a tinge of fear. In all this time I think that my view of that trip has changed drastically. This post is about that feeling of nostalgia.
I had a tough time while in Cambodia. A bit of culture shock, combined with the food (or lack thereof) and the god awful heat/humidity really took its toll on my psyche. That being said, looking back on the experience now, I would not trade it for anything. The harshness and pain of my time there has faded and the rewards and highlights of the good have remained. This is a basic human evolutionary trait about the fear of the unknown. Nostalgia as a sense of the longing for a former time or place is a testament to the human idea of the comfort of the familiar. While you are in the present, anything can happen, but in the past, things have already happened and there is no uncertainty, no doubt about whether or not you can succeed or thrive.
In my case, the Cambodia trial was something that was hard, but I was able to overcome, therefore I look back on it as a conquerable event, and not something that I am unsure about whether I can get through the ordeal, a source of pride in my accomplishment. This is true with most things in life. I can laugh off the time I almost stepped on a scorpion, my severe dehydration, random crime in the capital, and getting lost in the wilderness of the Cambodian farmland/jungle and worrying about landmines. It’s a funny thing how my brain has trivialized these encounters in the past year.
A large contributing factor to the feelings that I have for my time in Cambodia is the way I left. By the last week of my time there, I had gotten used to much of the shenanigans associated with Cambodia, so it did not affect me too much. However, I did not stay so long as to become miserable again. It was the sweet spot of just getting comfortable (as much as someone like me can in a place like Cambodia) with my surroundings and situation. While leaving was a welcome relief to the sweltering heat, it was a bittersweet departure. I still believe that to this day. Cambodia is a magically different place in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more similar. This experience will stick with me for the rest of my life and make me a much more rounded person. I will not jump at a chance to go back any time soon, but someday I might, if just to revisit the places I have been to chase that feeling of nostalgia again.
To be continued…
I will end on a quote from Anthony Bourdain, one of my favorite public figures:
“I was wondering how a miserable, manic-depressive, overage, undeserving hustler like myself – a utility chef from New York City with no particular distinction to be found in his long and egregiously checkered career – on the strength of one inexplicably large score, could find himself here, seeing this, living the dream.
I am the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, I thought, contentedly staring out at all that silence and stillness, feeling, for the first time in a while, able to relax, to draw a breath unencumbered by scheming and calculating and worrying. I was happy just sitting there enjoying all that harsh and beautiful space. I felt comfortable in my own skin, reassured that the world was indeed a big and marvelous place.” (Bourdain 123-124).
Bourdain, Anthony. A Cook’s Tour. HarperCollins Publishers; 2001.