Yesterday a child came out to wander
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star…
Joni Mitchell, “The Circle Game”
We spent summer days playing capture the flag, weaving in and out of backyards, our Keds slapping the street pavement as our shouts lingered in the air, like the heat that clung to our skin. After the dinner dishes were washed and put away, we gathered every flashlight we could find and ran outside to meet again for a neighborhood game of tag.
Carnivals were erected in a backyard, where a hammock transformed into a ride, a Magic 8 Ball foretold our future, and erasers in the shape of unicorns and sunglasses were the grand prize if the ball made it through the tire swing.
In a metal canoe behind a shed, we were explorers out at sea; in an unfinished basement piled high with bags of clothes, we ruled a kingdom.
Parents taught us how to ride our first two-wheeler by shoving us down the hill in our backyard where we fell, got back up again, and kept on going…We scraped our knees roller skating and shed our tears as Mom bandaged us up; then we ran back outside, ready to do it all over again.
Sleepovers meant four girls playing dress up or Barbies or, as we got older, testing out the Ouija board and watching music videos on MTV. We whispered secrets-that-weren’t-really-secrets as we lay tucked in New Kids on the Block sleeping bags on a hardwood floor, thinking about the next day when we would traipse through the forest in the back of our neighborhood to pick daffodils and play house in the fort that we discovered and claimed but never knew how it got there.
Memories that are kept close to the heart, that break through the surface with the hum of a Saturday morning theme song or the mention of a favorite toy. What is this nostalgia? Why do we embrace the past and ask Remember When? with a smile.
Is it because things have so changed since then? Is it because we long for the simple innocence of yesterday, when being in trouble meant getting grounded, and getting grounded meant going to your room where you curled up in bed anyway and indulged in a favorite book? A time when fractions were the enemy, but you could always get your big brother to help you out, and when you could be proud of that diorama just knowing the work you put into it?
A time when competition meant either winning or losing and losing meant you just worked harder; a time when best friends sat beside you on the bus and held your hand when you were scared?
A time when a hug and a band-aid could make everything better.
Maybe we long for this time because every memory that makes you smile or laugh or cry or cringe is a culmination of you. Maybe looking back to then helps us better understand our now, to see how far we’ve come and how far we want to go.
Maybe, just maybe, thinking fondly on the past helps us look forward to a better future.
A smile. A laugh.