Last time, I wrote about the extreme nostalgia possessed by, or possessing, Millennials as shown in marketing directed at them and how it might be explained by the increasing instability of the family in the past few decades. Now I wish to write that this is but a particular instance of a universal longing.
For myself, the nostalgia for childhood is colored with memories of summers here in Aitkin, fun on Cedar Lake and in town at Ben Franklin, Butler’s, the bakery and the Rialto – only one of those businesses remains. My father is a professor, so we could spend almost the whole summer up here. There are many difficulties in the teaching profession, but one glorious perk is the continuance of summer vacation into adulthood. Those of us who aren’t teachers must make do with weekends and days off. Still, summer is something longed for and treasured, even more so because of long winters like this one. But I also now know that Aitkin isn’t the perfect paradise my 6-year-old eyes saw it as. Everywhere on earth has its troubles and disappointments. Still one feels a sort of homesickness for a place one has never been, a place to be truly happy.
G.K. Chesterton wrote that “the finest line in English literature” is, “Over the hills and far away.” This line figures in The Tale of Pigling Bland by Beatrix Potter, my favorite of her stories, wherein the titular pig gets woefully lost on his way to market, then finally escapes deadly danger along with his new sweetheart Pig-wig by irrevocably crossing the County Line. It ends: “They came to the river, they came to the bridge – they crossed it hand in hand – then over the hills and far away she danced with Pigling Bland.” This story, as well as The Lord of the Rings and the beautiful cartoon miniseries Over the Garden Wall, evoke such a longing, painful but precious.
Myths of Arcadia, Asgard, Tir na Og, Nirai Kanai, show it’s a universal human feeling that something is wrong with our current existence, so full of sorrow and grief, and there exists some perfect place, the land we are all homesick for.
Of course, there are people who believe there actually once was paradise, that something did go wrong and a tremendous Price was paid to make it possible again to reach a land where tears are wiped away. C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Others disdain such hopes. With belief in no existence beyond this one, humanist utopianism has repeatedly attempted to create perfect society on earth by enforcing “no possessions, nothing to kill or die for and no religion too,” with totalitarianism and genocide along the way. Some despair that mankind can ever be rid of its faults and place their faith in replacement by enlightened aliens, or descend into nihilism.
Whatever we believe, we’ll know the truth when we reach the tomb, and beyond. Happy Easter!