Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers; the next day, you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.
I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of other houses, a yard, like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back. . . with wonder.
(Kevin Arnold, in the Final Episode of The Wonder Years)
Say what you want about nostalgia, but the longing for the past or at least what we think was the past, has its rewards.
I discovered a new word a few days ago. Plangent. As in resounding loudly. Or as in a resonant and mournful sound. Sometimes that is what the past sounds like. It beats loudly in our ears, swells up in our hearts, as in a plangent longing for the past.
I don't think a plangent longing for the past is either helpful or even Christlike, and yet one can enter in for a moment so as to feel the weight of the past, to understand how it might feel for those who live in such lament, with the daily beat of missed opportunities, lost golden ages of youth, and past loves to preoccupy them. But not only that. The longing for the past is also a window through which we see our future, as the best of the past carries in it the seed of our future Home.
Kevin Arnold had it right. In the Summer before 12th grade, on the cusp of college, he and Winnie Cooper sensed that change was coming. They were no longer kids; the world was changing, and they were changing and would soon be moving on, saying goodbye to childhood, to the games and pettiness of the middle school years, to high school and changing relationships with each other and parents. An older, wistful Kevin Arnold breaks in, the last words uttered in the series, saying "I can still look back. . . with wonder."
So here's to old girlfriends, backyard games, nights laying on the top of my father's station wagon looking at the stars and talking with my best friend. To smelly locker rooms, long summers, first cars, and impossible dreams. To a if not always happy at least less complicated life and world, where the boundaries were clearer and the people both bad and good more easily categorized. To a street, a home, a room, and a family I could always come back to.
I never get over the obvious. It was all there, and now it's gone. Gone where? I don't know. And yet it fills my mind, informing every thought and move, and sometimes seems closer than the ground beneath my feet. I carry the past with me, not as burden but as a treasured gift that grows more weighty with time.
I am Kevin. I grew up on those suburban streets, in those backyards, in a cookie-cutter house a lot like every other house. Every morning I got up and my Mom made my breakfast and I walked to school or rode the bus or drove my car, and I sat in classes some good some boring and listened to the snap of the line on the flagpole the chatter in the halls and the droning of the teachers, and came home and watched Gilligan's Island or I Dream of Jeanie and ate a bologna sandwich and did a very little homework and ran and played until my Mom yelled out the door that it was dinner, and ate dinner feet in my chair and book in my hand and called my girlfriend or went to her house or walked the streets with my friends and then went to bed. And then I got up and did it again, and again.
You know what? Parts were sad, and parts were happy. But when I look back, I am filled with wonder. Those were, after all, the wonder years. And yet they remind me that a wonder-working God does that every day, making my plangent longing for the past into a plangent longing for a Heaven with all the good and true and beautiful of the past. I'm living the days of future passed. Don't you like the way that sounds?
[I first wrote about The Wonder Years here in 2008, and then in 2009 here. Maybe I should write a book about it, as I often relate life to something that happened in the show. Never released on DVD, it is at least available now as reruns on The Hub Network. The show had some excellent writing and captured what it was to grow up in suburbia in the late Sixties and early Seventies. I commend it to you.]