Do you ever have moments that crystalize the passage of time? Moments that catch you off guard, surprising you with intense emotion as you look back down the road of your life? Happening at the oddest times and in the strangest places, they are often triggered by a memory, a smell, a song, or a photograph. This sudden merger of past and present make you acutely, and sometimes uncomfortably aware of who you were, where you’ve been and who you have become.
I had one of those crystallizing moments recently, in the desert, at the Dubai “Sevens” rugby stadium of all places. One of the iconic bands of my youth, the Eagles, came to the emirate as part of their 40th anniversary tour.
‘Has it really been forty years’ I thought?
Yet, there they were; Glen Frey, fellow Texan Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy Schmidt – all older now, calmer. I guess age has taken away a bit of that rocking stage presence they once had. I’m older and calmer too. I realize that the Eagles and I have grown older and calmer together. Their voices are still amazing, still producing that clear, unmistakable harmony, especially in Seven Bridges Road. Originally written by Stephen Young, the song’s imagery and lyrics seem to paint a picture of going home.
“There are stars in the southern sky, and if ever you decide you should go. There is a taste of time sweetened honey, down the Seven Bridges Road”
The lyrics came easy, even though it’s been decades since I listened to my old vinyls, now packed away in my closet in Houston. Yeah, I kept them.
This concert transported me back to the first time I saw the Eagles as a teenager, some thirty-five years ago. I can’t remember exactly how old I was but I must have been about seventeen. Wow, if anyone had told me where and when I would see the Eagles in concert again…well, I just wouldn’t have believed it.
I’m not particularly fond of waxing nostalgic about the days of my youth. I know I’m not alone. The thing is, nostalgia is just so emotionally unpredictable. For some, it is a source of comfort, for others, a source of pain. It can be where the mind goes when searching for release from the stresses and strains of the present day. It can also be something to avoid, a closed door to painful memories of the past. When I encounter people who are reluctant to talk about their pasts, I think this may be why. What is this mixture of joy and sadness we all feel from time to time?
My curiosity led me to research the origin and meaning of the word. The modern definition of nostalgia is, “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time:”[i] The term is a combination of the Greek words nostos, meaning “homecoming” and algos, meaning “pain, grief, distress”[ii] In other words, there can be pain in going home. There was a time when nostalgia, or “severe homesickness”, was even considered to be a disease. [iii] What we now know as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), was once referred to as Soldier’s Heart, a term coined in the American Civil War, for the suffering observed in returning soldiers as they struggled to integrate their horrifying war experience with the warm normalcy of home.[iv]
Our move to Dubai two years ago triggered nostalgic responses in one form or another in all three of our children. One said, “I try not to think about you, it’s just too painful. I can’t wait for you to get back to Texas.” Another expressed feelings of abandonment, as though her safety net had been pulled out from under her. Our youngest, having lived in Dubai for a year before moving back to the states for college, yearned for her former life. Nostalgia makes my husband feel claustrophobic, but I believe he has come to terms with that “sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time”. Something about the Eagles concert inspired him to make a surprise visit back to his hometown for his mother’s birthday.
My trip to the past caused me to reflect on the twists and turns my life has taken. Thirty-five years ago I was a different person. The sign posts that mark the forks in the road of my life make me once again thankful to God for the way He guides me, even when I don’t realize it. While my past and present are intertwined, there is a clear separation between who I was and who I am. God made me somebody new, and I am eternally grateful. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to the angst of nostalgia. He was a persecutor of the early Christian church and he conspired to murder Christians. But his life was irrevocably changed on the road to Damascus. In Philippians he penned, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, A Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6, ESV) Paul is an example of how to coalesce the past, present and future. He continues, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. …let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3: 12-16, ESV)
When aging rockers, Glen Frey and Don Henley joked during their song interludes about the “fun” they had while living on Mulholland Drive during the 70’s, I understood. I too, look back at my past with a mixture of joy and sadness, but mostly I marvel at who I have become through the Rock of Ages. It is said that we are the sum of our experiences. I guess in some ways that’s true, but I encourage you brothers and sisters, to forget what lies behind and reach for what lies ahead. Never feel you cannot become who Christ wants you to be. You may find that you are a mere shadow of who you once were. Praise God.
“Sometimes there’s a part of me, has to turn from here and go, running like a child, from these warm stars, down the Seven Bridges Road.” Stephen T. Young