July, 2013

Not Nostalgia

Last night Susan and I were up in Orono — home of the University of Maine and of our first academic post. Susan went to visit an old friend; I went to give a talk about “Building a Better University of Maine System”. It’s an hour and a half drive to Orono from the Point. Weather here has been unseasonably warm, 90 degrees, almost 100 in Orono. It was nice to get away for an evening’s drive.

Susan’s friend, Polly, used to be a neighbor — about 10 years older than we, full of wisdom and helpfulness for a young couple with their first child. Her husband, Paul, (a physicist) and I used to sit by the fire on winter Sunday afternoons talking university. Polly is recently widowed, and doing great. She and Susan have reignited the friendship they shared thirty-five years ago. I was speaking at Dirigo Pines, a retirement community in Orono; it was a pleasure to see some old friends and their no-longer-familiar faces in the audience.

It was a little after 8:30 when I picked up Susan from Polly’s condo.

“Okay if I put the top down?”

“Please. It’s so hot!”

“How about we stop in Brewer [on the way home] for an ice

cream cone?”

“Perfect.”

There are few pleasures more seductive than a convertible on a sultry evening.

We drove to Brewer (about 20 min.), Susan rehearsing her evening with Polly, I telling her who was at the talk, questions that were asked, inventing brilliant post-facto responses etc..

Nothing fancy. We stopped at the McDonald’s drive-by window for our cones: Susan’s dipped in chocolate, mine not. A couple minutes in line and we were off, furiously licking our ice cream cones to keep them from melting in the warm air. The lights of the big city fell away as did our conversation as we entered the Maine woods. We each attended to our cones, enjoying the quiet, the fresh air in our hair, the evening we had had.

We passed through Ellsworth, now more than halfway home, cones long since gone. Nothing on the radio so I turned on the CD player. As it happened, the disc was “Momma Mia”. I am, of course, not smart enough to have planned it, but that was just the right music for two creatures of the 60’s driving through the night. The music was loud, a function of having the top-down and (perhaps) of our fading hearing. As we turned into our lane it was nearing 10:30; I felt the need to lower the volume as we snuck past our neighbors’ open windows.

Top up. Down the stairs. Home.

As we were getting ready for bed, I said to Susan:

“I was thinking of our drives home from Lake Erie,” [after a summer day at the beach; top-down; ice cream cone in hand, or snacking on a tub of bing cherries on a hot, pre-air-conditioning night fifty years ago].

She answered, “So was I.”

Nothing could have pleased me more.

It is a rich and creamy, chocolate-covered thing to have shared life together — recalling shared experiences, moments of joy and happiness.

Our dating was no different from anyone else’s — except perhaps for my clumsiness. We shared special songs (“Moon River”), special places (the Lake Erie shore, Cranbrook, a parking spot by the Portage River), special moments (waiting for a long Midwestern train to pass as I was rushing Susan back to campus for her evening’s date -–not with me, an evening alone on the shore of Lake Superior, our trip to Stratford Ontario for the Shakespeare Festival).

There was a point, perhaps on those drives back to Bowling Green from Lake Erie that we recognized how comfortable we were with one another, how easily we could share a laugh. Somewhere along the way we recognized that we could spend our lives together. Sometime later, after she had dumped me for a football player (another story for another morning) and I had “screwed my courage to the sticking post”, we decided that we would spend our lives together. Of course, that is a presumptuous, youthful decision full of unwarranted confidence in love and in benign fates. In fact, however, that youthful presumption has been fulfilled: love has lasted; fortuna has been kind. Susan I have been together (except for the football player episode) since the summer of 1962. Now we find ourselves sharing memories more than expectations, enjoying recalled moments more than seeking new ones.

The feeling I was experiencing last night and again this morning is

certainly not “nostalgia”, at least not in the etymological sense of “homesickness”. We are perfectly “at home”, perhaps more so then at any time in our lives. For it to be nostalgia one has to be longing for past moments. This is, instead, finding oneself satisfyingly at home in the present — a present enriched with an overlay of moments past. Not so much a “sickness” as an enhancement. Not a daydream, but a dream fulfilled, refreshing in itself. What we need here is a new phrase. I nominate “momentus augmentus” from (patched together) Latin for “heightened moment”.

May your moments be rich and creamy and chocolate-covered. And may they occasionally be enhanced by the whiff of a treasured past.

— slw

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I am a retired academic, educated as a philosopher, who now lives at the end of a dirt road in Maine.

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Stephen Weber

Stephen Weber

I am a retired academic, educated as a philosopher, who now lives at the end of a dirt road in Maine.

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