Nostalgia For the Future

This morning on my way to work, the Jackson 5 song “I’ll Be There” came on and I found myself far more nostalgic than normal. I thought back to three-hour summer treks to visit my grandma and the rest of my mom’s family in Columbus, OH. The Jackson 5 was always in heavy rotation, but “I’ll Be There” particularly resonates with me because at 5 or 6 years old, I was always assigned the Michael role as I was the only one who could hit the notes.

For whatever reason, this morning, at the age of 25, I tried once again to hit the notes of a 10-year-old prodigy and came up short. At first I was frustrated, and then immediately embarrassed by my anger at not being able to hit a prepubescent vocal range. I sat in my car in the parking lot outside work trying to rationalize such an odd fit of disappointment, and then it hit me: I miss it.

Nostalgia for the past isn’t a foreign concept, but the feelings and emotions we associate with certain memories exist on a case by case basis. For example:

I find it easy to admit that I’m better on the page. Like my father and older brother, I’m often too passion-driven to participate in a quick, one-off debate with any hope of successfully getting my point across — but not for lack of effort; after all, a person’s expression of emotion doesn’t necessarily take away the validity of what he or she is saying. But to paint a picture, just imagine three grown men, holiday season, a few beers deep, talking over each other about whether or not some ref in an IU basketball game should’ve called a charge or block. Then, imagine all of us being one-upped by a thunderous “REBOUND!” screamed by my mom that reverberates throughout the house. It’s honestly fascinating when you shut up for (literally) 30 seconds and observe what’s happening. Then, of course, you jump back in the fray because the moment you tell someone he’s being to loud, he reminds you that you’re being a hypocrite.

I would classify my family and their raucous sports viewing as a more humorous example of what comes with feelings of nostalgia, but given the current political climate, as of late, I’ve been forced to experience the less humorous cases surrounding nostalgia.

2016 was horrific. I would describe my mindset for the entire past year as the slow-burning rage you feel when you see someone walk out of a bathroom stall and not wash their hands, or when the guy next to you on a plane doesn’t cover his mouth during an entire 5-hour cross-country coughing spree. It’s constant, unyielding, and always leaves you asking yourself “why can’t people just be better?”

My saving grace leading up to the start of 2016 was my former roommate. He was a college acquaintance with whom at school, I would share the occasional sidewalk head nod, which of course to me signified the telepathic understanding of the nuances that come with the lived experience of being relatively “token black guys” on predominantly white sports teams. But, in living together post college, he became a valued confidant and someone with whom I could discuss racism, sexism, religion…you name it. We didn’t always agree on everything, but nothing was off limits and I was sad to see him move just as 2016 was peering around the corner.

The benefit of that friendship (and I didn’t realize this until recently) wasn’t the fact that we came from similar mindsets more often than not, but was rather his willingness to actually sit down and challenge not only my examination of a specific situation, but also his own.

The older we get, the more we encounter people who come from diverse backgrounds ranging from socioeconomic and ethnic differences to political differences, and everything in between. We all, whether we like it or not, have different lenses through which we view the status quo and thus, our reaction to events or occurrences that tend to challenge that status quo will vary.

When I’m home with my family, those reactions are basically identical, but when I’m elsewhere with friends, those reactions can be challenged and outlooks can be shifted. We should always look to shape our own beliefs by analyzing the world around us, but 2016 was the year of closed doors and lack of confrontation.

Unlike the passionate, dedicated revolutionaries before us, we have now become partial. We become exhausted by even the simplest attempt to scrutinize the world around us if it’s not presented in a way that we’re comfortable with or in a settling that makes us feel safe (which let’s be honest, just means with people who think the same way we do). We would rather remain in the confines of our own mind, complacent with the fact that we think we are correct and never have to think otherwise if we avoid the conversation altogether. Not everybody has the luxury to pick and choose when the world’s historical atrocities become relevant in their lives and thus become something worth not just talking about, but fighting for.

I suppose I should clarify that this mindset doesn’t apply to everyone, but I use the term ‘we’ because as long as that apathy exists amongst the few, we are all casualties of its detrimental effects. How many people did we hear talk about how Colin Kaepernick should’ve found another way to express his beliefs, without giving any sort of possible alternative? The same goes for the Women’s March and the Immigration Protest where the living room couch rationale of ‘what will protesting do?’ seemed to be the logical attempt at undermining movements that those same people often agree with wholeheartedly. I don’t say that as someone who’s stuck on his moral high horse, I say that as some who had to be convinced up until the night before to actually attend. Convinced, I might add, by someone who chose not to run away from a difficult conversation.

What I wouldn’t give right now to be back in that car on the way to Columbus singing “I’ll Be There” and hitting every note. What I wouldn’t give to vehemently claim that an IU player did in fact commit a charge, while also reminding my family that just because they cheer for IU doesn’t mean that every call should go their way. Trust me, I’m well aware that my family is more boisterous than most, and I’m well aware of the limitations that might bring. But in the time we live in, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe we need more confrontation when we are faced with practices we know deep down are wrong. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. Maybe our ideologies overlap in some ways, but not all. The point is, no one learns anything if we remain silent and censor the small conversations that eventually aid the greater cause.

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