I love taking long walks down Memory Lane, and have done so often on these very pages. But having done so recently in heavy doses has made me reflect on one of my favorite pastimes.
I don’t believe I’m alone in my love for nostalgic recollections. Reunite a group of people with a joint history, and in no time, they will be talking about how things were back in the day - the good and the bad. Nobody enjoys shivah calls, but they are a breeding ground for such discussions, which frame the loss in a certain perspective while comforting the mourner in the process. With the relatively recent passing of two aunts and an uncle of mine, I’ve participated in many such conversations with my cousins, recalling our fond memories of the good ol’ days. We remember family gatherings on Sunday afternoons where the adults would shmooze, the kids would play, and someone would pass around an aerogram so that everyone could write a line to whichever cousin was studying in Israel at the time. As odd as it sounds, we love to talk about the fun we had when we were young children during the shivah for our grandmother, whom we loved dearly. Since it was only a two-day shivah due to its proximity to Yom Tov, it was decided that all the grandchildren would stay local for the duration. We spent the time bonding while crafting art projects, eating pizza, and playing baseball on the beach.
During a recent visit with a friend with whom I’ve been close with since age five, we filled each other in on what we’ve heard about our mutual childhood friends and acquaintances over a late-night cup of tea. We had always gone to different schools, but our friends from the neighborhood overlapped. When I went to sleep that night, I suddenly wondered what had happened to Tova*, a girl in my class in elementary school whom I hadn’t thought about or seen in decades. The very next morning, my friend asked me if I had heard the news about Tova. I was shocked! I didn’t even know that my friend was acquainted with her. The fact that she asked the question so soon after I had suddenly thought about Tova was a bit eerie. Fortunately, the news about Tova was fantastic! She was getting married for the first time! Incredible! I was thrilled for her. I reached out to Chedva*, another classmate whom I thought was likely to have kept in touch with Tova. With a click of a mouse, I’d hit the jackpot. Not only was Chedva still in touch with Tova, but she was even part of the bridal party. Since the time I reached out, Chedva and I have been sending each other emails practically every day, sharing our memories and photos of our elementary school years. Through our recent weeks of retrospection, we’ve been able to reflect on the impressions and perceptions of our youth and view them with the added maturity and wisdom that comes with life experience.
After dusting off my yearbook, I find myself leafing through its pages, which exude a sense of innocence and hope. The memories of those years come flooding back. Chedva and I reminisce about the teachers we loved as well as the ones who left some scars. I can still sing the songs from the plays we performed, especially the major annual Yom HaShoah production. I look at some updated photos of classmates that Chedva sent me. Some haven’t changed a bit (I’m obviously one of those), and others are barely recognizable to me. Some turned out as one would have predicted while others seem to have reinvented themselves in surprising ways. Some who were not particularly studious in school are now living in mansions and enjoying the fruits of extremely successful careers. Others made highly unusual career choices and live in very remote places. Unfortunately, several of our classmates passed away at a young age. Who would have thought? And who can forget when Esther Ben-David, a twenty-five-year-old woman who had taught in our school, was tragically killed in the Golan by a Syrian shell, leaving behind a husband, three sons, and a stunned community?
People love that fuzzy feeling that’s engendered when we are transported back in time to the days when life was more simple, more predictable, and less stressful. We happily share snippets of memories of the past, at home, and at school. Oh, how we laugh out loud when recalling our funny jokes and escapades, and we laugh at ourselves when we recall the things that frightened us, now understanding that in reality, these things weren’t really frightening at all. We are mortified by our sense of style (or lack thereof), and wonder how we could have possibly chosen such an embarrassing wardrobe. Things that were once critical to us now bear little significance. While it seemed very important at the time, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter which team chose us for sports games during recess. The choice of game was somewhat important, however. Anything but Red Rover, I begged. I can practically still feel the pain from playing that horrible game. Who came up with such a terrible idea? Some things that concerned us back then similarly concern us now as well, but in a more adult fashion. Back then, we were preoccupied with who would be elected the president of the G.O. (student organization). Now we are concerned with who will be the president of the shul. Or of the country.
Every time period has its pleasurable as well as more challenging aspects. While it’s fun to look back at the olden days, it’s to our benefit to be aware of and appreciate the good we have at the time that we have it. One day, B’ezrat Hashem, when we will look back nostalgically at these days, our hearts will be warm. But we should feel the warmth even now. These are the good old days.
By Suzie Steinberg