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NOSTALGIA

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It is 1941, the year the United States enters WWII. A young man receives his draft card in the mail and has no choice but to leave for war. On the day of his departure he shoulders his bulging rucksack, looks longingly through his front door, and hugs his mother one last time. A government issued, army green truck’s horn blares outside. He hops onto the truck with a dozen other young men, sits down and stares at his feet. He can think of nothing but childhood friends, his mother, and times of goodwill. He survives basic training and enters the army as a P-3 officer “new recruit.” Franklin D. Roosevelt orders more firepower and he is deployed across the big pond also known as the Atlantic Ocean. He has made new military friends but still can think nothing other than times of goodwill at home, his mother, and his friends. He loses his appetite, becomes depressed and falls ill. Rushed off the front lines, trucks transport him to the nearest hospital. There he spends six months waiting for a diagnosis; the doctors are stumped. What could be wrong with this poor, battle-beaten man?

Doctors do not find out until a nurse casually asks the man about his homeland. A quiet man during his six months in the hospital, he suddenly opens up as if a light switch has been flicked on. Doctors diagnose him with nostalgia and tell him he can return home on leave in a few months as soon as his condition improves. First insulted, he soon becomes chatty and excitable. A diagnosis of being homesick or yearning to return to some past period, nostalgia can be a bothersome, invisible condition. Also known as longing for “the good old days” the old timers of today’s society are excellent examples of having feelings nostalgia through their stories and sometimes depression.

Although older than the old timers of today, nostalgia has not changed meaning throughout the years. Derived from the Greek word nosots (to return home) and the New Latin word algia (pain) nostalgia has not been an official word long enough to morph into new meanings. Johannes Hofer first coined the word in 1688 when he began diagnosing soldiers far from home with nostalgia. In battle, nostalgia was considered an insult or a weakness. A form of melancholy, the word was originally used to define Swiss mercantilists who longed for home after months away in the 17th century. Normally nostalgia occurs during wartime and continues to be diagnosed as a medical condition. However people, not limited to the Swiss or soldiers, still have feelings of nostalgia when away from home for periods of time. For example, new parents on extended business trips can loose appetites and feel overall more tired than usual. Once home, all symptoms mysteriously disappear. Nostalgia is like being hit in the gut because when experiencing feelings of nostalgia people report loss of appetite, reduced sex drive, and an overall worn-out feeling. On the original TV series “Star Trek” (1966) the squire of Gothos (#1.17) Mr. Spock speaks to Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk about his homeland. “The precise meaning of the word 'desert' is a waterless, barren wasteland. I fail to understand your romantic nostalgia for such a place.” Dr. McCoy responds, “Doesn't surprise me, Mr. Spock. I can't imagine a mirage ever disturbing those mathematically perfect brainwaves of yours.” Mr. Spock has just proved any needs to return and unconditional love about the place one calls home are forms of nostalgia. Home may not be the nicest place in the universe but has a deeply engrained importance to most people no matter how unappealing the physical place may seem to an outsider.

People enjoy thinking and speaking about their homeland therefore, nostalgia has many synonyms however they are not all correct. Reminiscence describes the first part of nostalgia because when one reminisces he/she does not necessarily want to return to that time he/she just want to talk about the past. Another synonym, longing, also misses the exact definition of nostalgia. One can long for something without having an undying need that affects their appetite and health. As nostalgia as a mamma’s boy at college our solider is not only wistful, or longing, or reminiscing or wishing. He has an extreme need, longing, and physical pain to return to a past time and place.

With an improved condition, the man flies home to once again see his mother. He speaks about the terrors of war, good friends he has made, and his nostalgia for home. Finally cured he smells familiar smells, locates familiar faces and eats his mother’s comfort foods. Without a return or drastic improvement in environment nostalgia can kill through starvation and depression. Although impossible to live in the good old days we can always reminisce and speak of good times. However, when nostalgia sets in one sometimes needs to be reminded of how good life is, right here and right now.



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BaiLiHua This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm
Nostalgia definitely hurts. This was a most interesting piece.
 
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