I have nostalgia for lives I’ve never lived.

I was just driving through a tiny foothills Spanish colonial landgrant.  There are a few small adobes, willows and cottonwoods by the streams, a twisted apple tree, a few cattle, stacks of firewood, everyone related.  And I felt a strong sense of the distinctness and value of their life.  And an attraction, like nostalgia.

That’s what the best tourism usually is.  Nostalgia for unlived lives.  Imaginative communion with them.

Of course, if I actually chucked my life and wormed my way into that land grant, I would discover the many defects in their mode of living.  But even if I didn’t, the thing I felt nostalgia for would slip out of my grasp.  I would much better be able to explain what was real and different about their life, and I would have a deeper, truer kind of affection.  But the thing I was looking for would stay out of reach.

Just as with the traditional nostalgia for the past–“you can’t go home again.”

Moderns usually think that this inability to reach it means it doesn’t exist.  The nostalgia I feel for the past, the romance I feel for other lives, they are all fake.  The prosaic, flawed experience from the inside is the real thing.

But this is the same flawed thinking that Lewis pilloried in the Pilgrim’s Regress.  The Giant has a kind of x-ray vision which renders people transparent so you can see inside them.  “See,” says the Giant, “beauty is a fraud because that beautiful woman is really pulsing wet guts.”  But there is no reason to privilege the Giant’s vision over the ordinary kind of vision.

Nostalgia is as much the truth about the past as the humdrum broken present of the past was.  Glory is as much the truth about war and heroism and the fearful nasty fighting is.  Romance and courtship are as much the truth about marriage as the sick kids and unpaid bills are.

We can’t keep both perspectives within the circle of the world.  We are either in or out.  But in the time to come, when our mortality is married to eternity, we will do both.  We will be nostalgic for the past that we have, in fact, gone home to.

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