When I was a teenager, I spent several summers helping my father with his small-scale commercial fishing business. Early in the morning, just as the sun was creeping over the horizon, we’d push a boat out on the water, heading out to raise the lines we’d put out the night before. The water was still and brightly colored with the reflection of the dawn. The air was just chilly enough to warrant a flannel shirt (that would usually be taken off after an hour or so).
My father and I would pull in those lines. I would usually guide the lines in and dip the net into the water to scoop up the fish, while my father would remove the fish from the line and keep it from getting tangled.
It was a beautiful and simple routine, almost a ritual. For the weeks when we were both on our summer vacation, fishing in this fashion was simply our daily routine – and even in my teenage years, as jaded and reactionary as I might have been, I really did appreciate those beautiful mornings out on the water.
Quite often, the things you remember and keep with you aren’t the expensive things. They’re the nearly free things – the reflection of sunlight on the water, the time spent with someone you love, the moist chill in the air, the stillness of the water, the quiet dawn before the water fills with traffic.
The great things in my past aren’t things – they’re experiences.
For some, the way to draw upon that kind of nostalgia is to buy an expensive fishing boat and to take their own son out one morning on the lake, only to find out that after dumping thousands of dollars into that boat and the necessary equipment, the trip out on the water with their son just isn’t the same.
To put it simply, you can’t buy things to recapture the beauty of the past.
I offer a different approach. Next summer, I’m going to go visit my parents. Early one morning, before dawn, I’ll take my son down to the water’s edge – and if my father is up for it, he can come along as well. Maybe we’ll go out there on a boat if one is handy – maybe not.
We’ll be warm in our flannel shirts, with the cool and quiet air of the retreating night. And as dawn breaks over the horizon, spilling her pink and orange and yellow rays out over the still water to be reflected in an infinite kaleidoscope, I’ll watch it with my son and with my father, too.
I don’t need a boat to enjoy that moment, to taste a bit of the best moments of my past. I don’t need thousands of dollars in equipment, either.
All I need are the people around me that I care about, standing with me in a place that holds great memories for me.
Sure, my son might be restless. It’s not his memories that I’m touching. He might grow bored and begin to toss rocks out on the water, filling the air with splashes and disturbing the still glass of the water with infinite ripples.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. While it’s wonderful to touch the memories of the past, he and I have lots of new memories to create together.
It doesn’t take a wallet full of cash to make memories, or to touch them again. You’ll never have the full flavor of that experience again. What you can have, though, are tastes of it, flavored with the new spices of the changes in your life. Perhaps that will spoil the broth – or perhaps it will bring new flavors to the surface.
Either way, it doesn’t require you to sacrifice the things you have – and the things you will have – at the altar of nostalgia.