Looking back at moments from our childhood, our adolescence, or even just a few short years ago, it’s hard not to feel a painful twinge of nostalgia. The vague ache that leaves us wanting to send an email or have a phone call about something that you want to confirm someone else remembers is overwhelming, and even though we don’t often know what to say to these old friends about these old memories, we feel we have to say something. And yet, we often trick ourselves into forgetting that, not terribly long from now, we will feel that same ache about the things we’re living today. The mundane moments we’re slogging through, the underpaid jobs, the cramped apartments and the irresponsible but loving friends — these are things that will one day seem joyous, even ideal.
In being so quick to complain and compare what we do and do not have with those around us, we fail to take pleasure in the freedom to make mistakes. Today, a mistake has few repercussions. Our definition of broke is not the same as a family of four who has just lost their main source of income, or a senior living on fixed income. The problems we moan over are problems that, when held up to the scale of life in general, are rather manageable. This time of deciding to stay up late on a Wednesday to drink with a friend who is in town, or dating someone you know is wrong for you but thrills you in a way that is the emotional equivalent of empty calories, is a luxury we will not again be afforded. This is the time, more than perhaps any other, for nostalgia — and we can’t see it.
One day, we will miss every moment of difficulty that taught us something tangible and immediately applicable to the rest of our lives. Often the lessons we’re learning now are those that have to at least once be felt, but leave you with a maturity that will later define you as an adult. Wading through a marsh of mixed messages and friends at every stage of their lives can be, when in the moment, tedious and exhausting — but it is a time to figure out who we are and what we actually want against a backdrop of limitless options. We’re picking a constellation from a near-endless expanse of stars, defining the trajectory of a life that, at least for now, is just waiting to be lived. We should take our time, but appreciate what it means to do so.
Yes, even the occasional feeling of being unappreciated. Yes, even the flakier friends. Yes, even the weeks of eating ramen and whatever else you can dig out of your cabinet. Just as we miss the moments of our childhood that, at the time, may have seemed fraught with self-consciousness and uncertainty, we will miss them. We will miss them the way we miss the people we lost touch with through our own ingratitude or the simple passage of time, the way we miss sitting in someone’s arms and feeling loved, even if we don’t love them anymore. We will miss it all because, as with almost everything, it is so much easier to feel nostalgia than regret. We will see the good parts, no matter how unable we are to focus on them in the moment.
Why is it so impossible to understand how incredible a time it is to be alive, and to be young? Why is easier to complain about the downsides of realizing our dreams and growing into ourselves than to sing the praises of being healthy and loved enough to have it? I don’t want the nostalgia and, possibly, the regret of not living in the moment, to hit me all at once like a ton of bricks when I’m past the point of recreating it. I want to feel the full joy of decorating my first real apartment, of making new friends while out having drinks, of saying “I want to move” and being able to pick up and do it. The aching to return to these days of relative ease and adventure is sure to wave over us at some point, and though forgetting that is too easy, it wouldn’t hurt to appreciate what we have while we have it.