The Mystifying Feeling of Pre-Nostalgia

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Photo by Barbara Gonzalez on Unsplash

It is the golden hour. The sun is low in the sky and casts oblong shadows that dance as the wind rustles the fiery leaves still clutching to the trees. You are on a front porch, wrapped in a blanket, watching the sun make its dramatic descent. You revel in this moment, delighting in its calm and its beauty, wanting it to last forever. And you feel a stitch of sadness knowing that it will soon be gone and that you will someday look back at that time with longing.

You are experiencing pre-nostalgia, that ethereal feeling of missing something before it’s gone; missing a moment or a time in your life as you are living it. It is a nebulous state of consciousness that can leave you bewildered, but one by which I am spellbound.

My fascination with pre-nostalgia may stem from the fact that I have a healthy fear of, perhaps an obsession with, the passing of time. Memories pop up on my phone from a year ago, two years ago, and never once have I seen them and thought, wow, that feels like so long ago. Not once! Instead, I mourn how quickly this beautiful time in my life has sped past me. I wonder, am I still youthful? How many more opportunities will I have to be gobsmacked by the realization that 365 days have come and gone since a moment in time was memorialized with a photo?

If I think about it too much, which I often do (hello, anxiety), I will sometimes feel paralyzed, not wanting to move a muscle, lest the moment leaves me without my noticing, lest I open my eyes and I am ninety-five years old and my novel isn’t written, my children are grown, my body doesn’t work.

The way I try to combat this fear is by paying acute attention to the moments I know I will miss. Those golden hour front porch moments, those middle of the night moments rocking my son, his head resting on my chest. Of course, as a mother of young children, those moments I know I will one day feel nostalgic about are infinite.

The way I try to combat this fear is by paying acute attention to the moments I know I will miss. Those golden hour front porch moments, those middle of the night moments rocking my son, his head resting on my chest.

Our family took an after-dinner walk the other night. I felt homesick because I knew that soon it will be dark before dinner. Soon the warm autumnal glow of the landscape will be cool blue, gray, white. The paths we walk along now will swiftly be covered in snow, and after-dinner walks will be in the elusive times of the past. It may just have been my subconscious yearning for sameness, exhibiting its aversion to change. But as autumn is the first to reveal, change is a wonderful thing. It just happens to be rather difficult for some of us.

I came across a passage from an email I subscribe to called Daily Dad, which spoke of a similar sentiment.

“At some point, you will look back at this moment in your kids’ lives with the misty wistfulness of nostalgia. It doesn’t matter what the future holds for them, or which paths they take, you will look back at this time with a sense of longing.”

That feeling is why I miss my daughter being four. She is four, but I already miss it because I am aware that it won’t last forever. It won’t even last long, and that terrifies me.

Melancholic it may be. But in a way, feeling pre-nostalgia can help you appreciate the present moment, the only moment you actually have.

You don’t have to be fearful of passing time like me to know that nostalgia is imminent, specifically regarding time with our loved ones. It’s only natural to long for the way things once were. We’d be inhuman if we didn’t.

I had a conversation with a family member about pre-nostalgia recently. She had never heard of it, and when I explained it, she said that it was familiar to her but it came to her in the shape of regret. When she watches her children and grandchildren grow, she experiences pangs of regret that these moments will soon just be memories. While the semantics are different, the dynamics of her rueful feelings and my feelings of pre-nostalgia are similar: a vast joy in the moment, the realization that it won’t last forever, and sadness for its impending conclusion.

There is an untranslatable Portuguese word that encompasses something close to this feeling: Saudade. I first learned about this word in a novel, The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. The main character “had tasted the saudade of life, a soft, warm feeling of sorrow – for everything, for nothing,” the book reads. It goes on to define the lovely word: “A yearning for one’s childhood, when the days would merge into one another and the passing of time was of no consequence. It is the sense of being loved in a way that will never come again. It is a unique experience of abandon. It is everything that words cannot capture.”

It’s beautiful, bewitching. But there is also something a bit nefarious about pre-nostalgia. It presumes that you want things to be the same in the future, and that can’t be the case. In the winter, I will miss autumn, yes. But what if autumn didn’t change? What if it stayed autumn forever? The implications of that desire are such that, for it to be true, a whole lot of other things would have to be wrong. That is to say, if winter never came this year, we’d have much bigger problems on our hands than, to use the flawless phrase from Daily Dad, the misty wistfulness of nostalgia.

Perhaps what’s so rapturous about pre-nostalgia is the great fortune to feel so alive. How lucky we are to have moments we wish we could hold onto forever!

The grip of pre-nostalgia can indeed be strong. It can pull you out of the moment you are experiencing, the very moment you are longing for, and taint it with your dread of its escape. Ruining the moment you love so much is tragic, as it leaves you with nothing—not the memory of it, not even the moment.

Pre-nostalgia isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it just is. So what do we do with it? We notice it. We accept it for what it is—a future yearning for something in the present—and then we move on and continue enjoying the moment or phase we are in.

Perhaps what’s so rapturous about pre-nostalgia is the great fortune to feel so alive. How lucky we are to have moments we wish we could hold onto forever! How incredible to experience a consciousness that feels so content, so delightful, we wish it would last!

And in a way, it does last. When the nostalgia we’re already feeling connected to does eventually visit us, we get to relive that wistful moment preserved in time, the current moment visiting our future selves. Disorienting? Sure. But how fortunate we are to have this kind of awareness; how rich our lives can be once we acknowledge it.

BY Kolina Cicero - November 16, 2021

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November 16, 2021 1:55 pm

Golden hour of the day…

Britney D.
November 16, 2021 2:36 pm

I have this and I suspect I always will. Thank you for putting into words so beautifully what pre-nostalgia is –I too am often in moments knowing…I will think about this exact moment again and again. A lot of time for me it happens with traveling. And being younger and what life looked like then. And although sometimes reliving these memories in my mind and feeling far removed from them can make me sad…1. I know that more pre-nostalgia moments are coming and 2. What an absolute gift to have memories so strong and lasting.

Jessie
November 20, 2021 9:21 am

Oh this article hit home. Beautifully said and a good reminder to be grateful for the fact that we are even having these experiences so lovely and beautiful that we want to hold onto them forever. Thank you for the meaningful article.

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