At least once a week, something triggers a memory from my past. Yesterday, a friend’s photos of her trip to Norway immediately transported me back to Malmo, Sweden, where my husband and I spent a month 40+ years ago. I can still feel the biting wind coming off the North Sea and picture the gloomy skies. (You’d think from living in Western Washington I’d have trouble distinguishing one country’s gloomy sky from another’s, but somehow the two glooms are different.)
Are these continually emerging memories a sign that I’ll soon start living exclusively in the past? No. “The aging brain is energized by reconnecting with our most powerful memories.” This quote came from an article called “The Power of Nostalgia” from the blog, Sixty and Me. It was attributed to neuroscientist Dr. John Medina, who I met once at a meeting with my school district superintendent/boss and other local researchers and tech entrepreneurs. (My boss brought the group together to brainstorm the curriculum and classroom of the future and ways in which brain research might connect to these.)
The definition of nostalgia involves a longing for the past. I don’t believe my recent flood of memories produce such a longing, though most are pleasurable What’s exciting about them is that they come accompanied by sensual details that place me in the past emotionally. The smell of dried seaweed and kelp and saltwater take me back to childhood. Eating outdoors on a warm day accompanied by soft breezes reminds me of the many Junes when 10 or 12 of us — principals and school district administrators — would fill several tables on a patio of a restaurant near Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The tensions of the school year would melt away with the lemon drop cocktails, the outrageous stories, the tempura asparagus appetizers, and the feeling of joy that always accompanied wrapping up a year.
I find great pleasure in remembering these details from the past. While I was working, life always consisted of now or this week. Now that my history is coming back to me, I feel more complete, like I’ve enjoyed a more complex, interesting and full existence. Here’s hoping the memories keep coming. This aging brain is energized by them.