With the end of the year comes a whole lot of nostalgia. Seniors make trips back to Newton Campus to eat dinner at Stuart and bother the current residents in their freshman rooms. I even heard a few seniors on the Comm. Ave. bus the other day planning to make a Facebook group for Gonzaga floor 1 so they could all meet in the bathroom and shotgun beers on Friday night.
Like the end of senior year, nostalgia brings both sadness and joy to those experiencing it. In fact, “nostos” literally means return, and “algia” literally means a pain. So where does the happiness come in?
Ironically, many current freshmen eating dinner at Stuart feel a lot of pain, at least for the first few weeks of freshman year. They feel the pain of being separated from their friends on Upper Campus, and the pain of waiting for the bus every morning. Yet, the seniors returning to Newton Campus after three years are happy and excited to come back to that once-painful place.
It’s difficult to feel nostalgic by yourself. In my experience, nostalgia is something to be shared, and I think that is where the happiness comes in. It doesn’t make many people happy to sit alone and remember the hundreds of crowded bus rides between Newton and Main Campus. It does, however, bring great happiness to talk to old hallmates about the experience. It even brings people joy to talk to strangers who have shared the same experiences.
For example, I met a Boston College alumna of the Class of 1985 at a reception a few weeks ago. Of course we had the everyday BC experiences in common, but when we found out that we both lived on Newton Campus, we had something special to talk about. The shared pain served as a connection that enriched an otherwise standard conversation.
The “algia,” or pain, that we might experience as a freshman can only make us more closely bonded as seniors and even alumni, making us happy to look back on the memories that may have seemed less than enjoyable at the time.
But nostalgia delves even deeper than just recalling sometimes-painful experiences. Whether seniors realize it or not, the reason they are recalling the trials of freshman year is to solidify bonds for years to come. That’s why commencement speeches are always filled with jokes about bad cafeteria food or cranky professors-it brings people closer together than if the speech were about how easy it was to pass a certain class or how great the food was.
At the heart of the strongest nostalgic feelings is some kind of shared struggle or challenge, because pain unites people a lot more than happiness. This idea is proven in the amount of people lined along this year’s Marathon route. United in the pain of last year’s bombing, the city came together to share more joy and spirit than was ever present before the tragedy.
Nostalgia is a device used to change the course of the future just as much as it is used to remember the past. Every story told about Mod-walking or eating too much Late Night carries a deeper meaning. If you take the time to distill the nostalgic story, there will always be some underlying message about the strength of friendship-how you sat outside in the freezing cold with your guy friends who weren’t allowed in the Mod, or how you paid for all of their chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks afterward.
Although nostalgia literally means a return to pain, the word has a joyful connotation. It allows classmates, best friends, and strangers to unite through a surface memory that carries a deeper meaning of struggle and triumph.
Nostalgia uses the past to reshape the future into a less painful experience by creating lasting emotional bonds. As the Class of 2014 enjoys its last meals in Stuart or its beers in the first floor bathroom of Gonzaga, it reveals the power of shared experience that will transcend the years it will spend apart.