“Soon, nostalgia will be another name for Europe.”
— Angela Carter
When shadows grow long and light turns rosy near the end of a long summer day, a moment’s respite becomes an opening for the force of wistfulness to move in. It’s a trick of dusk: like lighting on a stage or the right musical cue, our hearts get swayed by this darkening day to color the past perfect and the present lacking in its absence of all the things gone by. It’s a trick of dusk, but dusk is not a unique state of being.
Let me take a step back: Today, I am missing Istanbul, the feel of its air, the taste of its tea, the seamless nature of its nights and days; the water, the boats, the streets I loved, the elusive emotion of my presence. I cherish this missing as something completely my own, as if the city belonged to me, and in my absence the scenes of its being are going unnoticed. I was not one of 31 million visitors; I was alone. And now I am alone in my sentimental yearning. This is how nostalgia manifests itself in us all: We are unique in our suffering, and our suffering is unique in us.
What becomes of all this missing is an aching desire to go back, to see it all again, but not just again. It turns into something like longing for time travel: I want to see and feel with pristine heart, with no memory to step in and snatch the newness away. I want that fresh experience to turn into the exact experience I had before, to relive it again and again.
In this, we are trapped in a moment in time, trying to hold up the walls of memory that keep crashing down around us and ushering us unpleasantly into the present. It is the same mania that makes us want a day to never end, as if we could reach out and hold the sun just above the horizon forever, a perpetual dusk of our own making. Nostalgia is nothing more than the sincerest longing for the impossible. And to think about this is to realize that dusk can make us all a little mad.
We are told to be in the present, to avoid reveling exclusively in the past. But maybe revisiting the bygone now is just a delayed affirmation of the present, the way dusk is a delayed moment of day and night, a beautiful and momentary limbo. If we can’t appreciate now now, at least we can find relief in the idea that someday we will. So maybe this madness is just how we are meant to experience our lives — always in a wistful hindsight, and always in anticipation of the night.