Britta Gustafson: It’s only now
As we pass through the longest night of the year, it’s time to hold fast to the present
As we pass through the longest night of the year, advancing to the other side of the final full moon phase of 2021, our circannual (biologically-seasonal) rhythms are ready to reset. But in this midnight hour, I feel an overwhelming desire to hold fast this moment.
Outside, the hushed effect of a fresh snowfall is pleasantly isolating. Snowy drifts absorb the routine sounds of humanity and soften the edges of our man-made structures. The vibrant orange ‘Cold Moon’ puts on its spectacular annual display in concert with the lustrous rolling valley meadows freshly frosted white and now glittering gold in the amber moonlight. What a decadent display adorning this quaint mountain town.
The world feels, even if for just this moment, timeless and innocent. The soft white sheets robe the village as she is meant to be adorned, while the moonlight perfectly illustrates Clement Clarke Moore’s “lustre of midday to objects below.” With unplowed streets, it’s hard to see where the pavement ends and the forest begins. Even the ever-growing architectural monuments to overindulgence, those luxury-lifestyle “statement homes,“ are underwhelmed, smothered in the presence of nature. Our human imprint is softened.
Inside, my house is still, with the calming effect of those around me deep in sleep. My kids, who still seem to dream those sugarplum dreams despite approaching the thresholds of maturity, are nestled all snug in their beds. Peaceful in the way that only sleeping children can be. The final chaotic scramble leading up to this holiday break now begins to shed its additional weight with each winter’s breath.
I want to hold onto this moment forever, to preserve this treasured place in time.
Tomorrow will come soon enough, bursting with life. But for now, this now is my favorite now. Soon enough the days will grow longer as life continues to accelerate with ever increasing momentum. Oh to press pause.
Perhaps that is the purpose of traditions, our human way of reliving a cherished moment. That feeling of nostalgia for an idealized version of something the way it had felt in a simple moment, or the way we want it to have been, is very powerful. We often seek, and often fail, to recreate these precious unplanned moments. And so many simple moments go unnoticed.
However, because of nostalgia’s pleasant qualities of distortion, we sometimes wrap ourselves up in the fantasy of certain acute memories For this reason, perhaps we find ourselves working desperately hard to recreate holiday traditions, even wrapping up as many gifts as we think it takes to reveal and relive a fleeting moment from our past.
Clay Routledge, who focuses his work at North Dakota State University on our need for meaning in life, did a deep dive into how we preserve our memories, pointing out how “nostalgia serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.”
Perhaps we are capable of meeting any moment with a future memory in mind. But holidays and traditions almost force us to “make” those memories.
Looking into the science of nostalgia, I learned that when people speak fondly and lovingly of the past, they also tend to become more hopeful for the future. Recalling cherished memories helps us to look forward to what’s to come.
Time is our most valuable commodity, it is truly the only thing that you can not buy, sell, stop or reverse. Its fleeting nature is the reason life is so precious and emphasizes why our memories are such a blessing.
I take one more glance at the glistening moonlit snow, embraced by mountains who stand the test of time. A snowy acoustic veil further muffles the active thoughts of busy days to come, softening the clutter of my mind. The only sound is the soft breathing of my sleeping children, and this is a perfect moment. Morning, please don’t come.
Another deep breath, as the moon sets, and light rekindled by a spark of dawn. A new year is on our horizon, and it’s nearly goodbye to 2021.
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.