Word Play: Nostalgia

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, September 21st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. George Grant is here for this month’s edition of Word Play. This time, his word is nostalgia.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: Do you remember when going out to dinner meant spreading a red and white checked tablecloth over a picnic table in the backyard? Remember when playing some music meant gathering the whole family on the front porch with mismatched instruments, everyone singing gleefully about “Power in the Blood?” Remember when the idea of grabbing your phone and putting it in your pocket was absurdly unfathomable—even for someone with pockets like Captain Kangaroo?

Remember those summertime Saturday mornings when you and a gaggle of friends would hop on bikes heading out for an entire day with nothing more to sustain you than some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a few hunks of cheese, and a fistful of Saltines? Remember when going to find something for lunch meant stepping out onto the back stoop, screen door slapping behind you, to check on the cantaloupes in the garden, thumping them and deciding that they weren’t quite ripe, instead grabbing three beefsteak tomatoes almost too big to carry, and after a quick rinse in the kitchen sink, eating thick slices with just a sprinkle of salt, thinking that there was nothing better in all creation—except perhaps summer sweet corn and fresh picked blackberries fatter than your thumb? Remember?

Remember when little boys used to whistle? Whatever happened to the lost art of whistling? Or whittling? Or spinning tops on the front sidewalk? Or playing baseball with every kid in the neighborhood on the empty lot around the corner?

Musing in this fashion is what we commonly call nostalgia—a wistful longing for the days of yore. First coined in 1668 by Johannes Hofer at the University of Basel, nostalgia connoted “homesickness.” From the Greek nostos, meaning, “homecoming,” and algos, meaning “longing or yearning,” army field physicians quickly adopted the term to describe a debilitating malady, which often afflicted troops far, far from home, hindering them in battle.

The truth is that a longing for home is woven into the fabric of the life of every man, woman, and child. It is profoundly affected by our inescapable connection to place, persons, and principles—the incremental components of community. While the nomad spirit of modernity has dashed the integrity of community, it has done nothing to alter our need for it. Covenantal attachment has always been a vital aspect of the healthy psyche, while uprootedness has always been a kind of psychosis.

Hearth and home are the cornerstones of help, hope, and happiness. Humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and unfettered freedom—instead, its great promise may only be found in those rare places where people have established identity, defined vocation, envisioned destiny, and shared inheritance across generations. This is what makes home so priceless.

So, in that sense, nostalgia really is not a malady. Nor is it heart-sick musing or dreamy-eyed fantasizing—instead, it may actually be the first step toward the recovery of our sanity. Remembering may be the starting point for Reform.

For WORLD Radio, I’m George Grant.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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