My uncle (who makes an appearance on this blog so much, I feel like I should give him a royalty, and would, if I got any money for this; I’ve even stopped asking for permission to use his emails) asked me last month why we reminisce:
“Is it because we are fonder of the past than we are of the present? Is it because we thought those days were happier than today, or tougher than today, or because it gives the reminiscer more credibility?
“Christy asked me once why I took photographs. This was before cell phones. I would buy several roles of slide film at a time, take a whole bunch of shots, take them to the photo shop, then a week later come back and pick them up. I’m not sure why I took all the shots I did but I think I told Christy that it proved I was there at that particular time and place, not just physically but mentally, artistically, and emotionally.
“That still doesn’t explain to me why I like to reminisce and since I started thinking about it last night I decided I would not reminisce until I figured it out. The one thing I do not want to be is a has-been, someone who lives more in the past than the future.”
Here is my response–three weeks later, I’m sorry to say. I’m also sorry it’s not half as eloquent:
“It took me way too long to respond to this.
I am the same way; I worry that my glasses are too rose colored. I tend to pine for the past; not sure why. And it doesn’t even have to be my own past. As a girl, the Civil War was my favorite thing in the world and I was sure I was born in the wrong century [I’ve since recognized the upside to things like washing machines, antibiotics, and toilets]. I know during the present, I will miss it; when the kids do cute things, I know there will be a point in the future when I cry for these times.
It’s getting worse as I get older, so I’m trying hard to have a more positive outlook and live presently. I’m going to blame my parents for all this.”
As usual, when I began writing this post I didn’t know what I was going to say. As I wrote, I came up with a few thoughts, and I think together they start to answer why we reminisce:
I think life already lived is something like childbirth–you forget the immediacy of the painful and you’re left with the pleasant, the interesting, and the wonderful. Reminiscing about those parts is also, therefore, pleasant.
People also generally love tradition–traditions provide comfort and security in the known. Traditions create bonds, shared experiences over and over. Reminiscing is probably a cousin of tradition.
Mostly, though, I think reminiscing is storytelling. It is sharing your story, a story in which you are the main character. It is validating your life, a documentation of sorts, but more than that. And when shared, your story–your life–is passed on. As the tagline above says: “When telling stories we are engaged in a democracy like no other.” We each have a voice. We are each important. We each were here.
Reminiscing is like writing, like photography. It’s not so much about living in the past as it is about telling your story–sharing it with others so they can laugh, cry, and tell you it’s all going to be okay.