One of the more painful parts of growing up is learning how many tired old clichés that one mocks in their youth become true with each passing year—one of which is: “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
My initial internal reaction was somewhat sarcastic. “Yeah right, you were 7-years-old when we left Norman, what could you possibly remember?” But I doused that thought right quick.
After all, my own earliest lucid memories span back to my toddler years. My recollections of life from ages five to seven years are almost as strong as those which occurred just five to seven years ago. There’s no reason to think my daughter (who takes after me in so many other ways) wouldn’t resemble me in this regard.
“Oh?” I said. “What brought that on?”
She referred to the song playing on the stereo, and said she remembered hearing it often during our “Norman days” (circa 2002–2007). This is true… the song (“The Daily Growl” by Lambchop) was from one of the bands I discovered during my many late night saunters down to the clubs of Campus Corner. The music of Interpol, Iron & Wine, and, of course, the immortal Sufjan Stevens is the soundtrack to those halcyon years.
Nostalgia is among the cruelest of all pains, for it comes with the warm greeting of an old friend but often leaves one feeling all the colder for the longing of something lost forever. The Greek word for “return” is nostos, and algos means “suffering.” Thus, nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.
It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures. I do not lament my life as it now stands, but what I wouldn’t give to slip back—if only for a moment—to those quieter hours. The friendships and the times we had. My nascent adulthood and all the bittersweet lessons bound within. The vast open feeling that anything could happen, that I could go anywhere and do anything. Granted, I do still feel that now somewhat, but it’s not the same as it was.
Of course, remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were. I would say this is among my more glaring faults. I tend to mythologize and romanticize my life, especially when considered through the soft focus and warm sepia tones of memory. If I linger a moment longer in these retrospective reveries, I can recall plenty a frigid day of bitterness and isolation. After all, something prompted us to leave, right? Were it such a perfect place for me, why am I no longer there?
Perhaps the past is better left behind. The life of a man is a coursing river, his moments all too fleeting, and to spend too long looking back ill-prepares one to face what is still to come. A life can be wasted in such ways.
So, with my daughter, I will confess: yes, I too sometimes miss Oklahoma.
I miss the lovely contrasts of Norman: hedonistic and pious, tawdry and fair, white-bread suburban and yet worldly, sweltering in the summer and snowy cold in winter, Bible-Belt values and Midwestern pragmatism, far enough away but not too far. I miss my friends, the families I adopted as my own, as well as everyone who challenged and loved me during those years—especially since I was too often too difficult to love. I miss who I was in those days: unsure and fervent, passionate and reticent, standing astride the folly of youth even as I was becoming the man I was born to be.
My hope is there is someday some way to recapture the things I’ve lost—that someone somewhere is keeping things kept—so on a magic purple evening I can look ahead to the next bend in the trail, and find my journey to the “undiscovered country” brings me strangely home.