Did you ever have the experience of returning to the house where you grew up? If so, did you have the experience that the house and its rooms were much smaller than they seemed when you were a child? Did you remember the backyard as very large only to discover, as an adult, how small it was?
There is a case study of a man who decided he wanted to visit the old neighborhood when he reached the age of sixty. He had several reasons for wanting to do this. For one, he had nostalgic feelings about the old place. When he and his friends got together, there was a tendency to reminisce about life back then. The theme was about the “good old days” and how those were the best times compared to the world now. He hoped to recapture memories of his parents and extended family. Maybe just turning seventy-five was reason enough for wanting to go back.
However, the outcome of his visit was not good. The old neighborhood was gloomy and narrow. The old friends no longer lived there; his parents and grandparents were gone. The neighborhood felt like an empty shell of what he remembered. He remembered that this was why he moved away and onward with his life. He returned feeling depressed and empty and vowed never to do that again.
He realized those were not the “good” old days, but the “good” days are right now. Maybe, for some people, memories are better than reality. Indeed, the saying, “You can’t go home,” is true, at least for himself. If there is any concern about violating confidentiality, that man is me.
There are three reasons people visit their childhood homes:
1. They have a wish to reconnect with their childhood. Because many things from the past are forgotten, there is a hope that, by returning, they will recapture essential memories.
2. Some individuals going through a crisis or problem need to reflect on their past. They want to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make their decisions.
3. Because of having lived through abuse and trauma or having suffered from some abuse or trauma, there is a hope that by returning to the site where these things happened, they can both find closure and leave with a sense that they have healed.
People romanticize memories but soon discover nothing was romantic about the places in which they spent childhood. If they were happy there, they could not recapture that happiness. For those who experienced abuse and trauma, the visit brought back pain rather than closure.
Too much time is spent living in the past or worrying about the future. A consequence is that we cannot appreciate it now. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher of meditation and mindful living, points out, we will never have this moment again, so live it, experience it, and be in the moment.
How many of us sit around during the holidays and listen to stories shared by your loved ones, such as grandparents or parents? Have you witnessed the emotions expressed by your loved ones? Listened to the details of the story? Even if you have heard the story before, you need to be an attentive listener because reminiscing serves a purpose in older adulthood.