Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be

All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time when I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again . . .

Andrew Lloyd Webber/Trevor Nunn, sung by Barbra Streisand

It’s amazing how longing for the past can deceive you into believing that life used to be simpler, forgetting how advances in technology have made so many things easier.   Even taking a photo in the old days required a skill that many people just didn’t have, as many old blurry photographs can attest.  Subjects squint into the camera, the photographer sacrifices a closeup view to include large groups of people who are reduced to tiny faces, the sun casts shadows across photos.  Film was expensive, and you had to wait for it to be developed before you knew how successful the pictures were.  The old photos and videos show family get-togethers, the parks and backyards teeming with children.   It took planning to get out the old Brownie camera, to bring everyone together, to coax crying toddlers to “look at the birdie!”  In the photo below, I am with my three younger sisters at Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Gardens.  We didn’t fully appreciate at the time how precious and fleeting that moment was.

Memories can be like those old photographs, misty and indistinct, but they still evoke strong emotion.  Nostalgia is a word with a Greek root, meaning to “return home,” and suggests a feeling of homelessness or homesickness.  My father once advised me “Don’t look back!” and I’m still trying to understand his meaning, because I love history and old family stories.  Perhaps he meant that we should not try to re-create the past    It’s no longer a real world, and can create a time warp that’s difficult to escape from when we should be moving on, focusing on learning and growing.  And the way forward is, paradoxically, also the way back to our true home.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets, 1943

The past has its lessons and memories, and we are grateful for them.  But we live best when we live fully in the present, orienting ourselves with hope because we know that someday we will truly arrive, know that we are forever at home.


Four Sisters, Royal Botanical Gardens, 1960s

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Ambleside, England

“I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain sometime . . .”

Written by Joe South, singer Lynn Anderson


I was still in high school in the early 1970s when I was sent to help out a great-uncle who was dying of cancer.   It was a very sad time  –  his young son had already lost his mother, who had been killed in a car accident.   I have vivid memories of hearing Lynn Anderson’s song being played over and over in the boy’s room, and it’s remained with me ever since, a recognition that, as much as we’d like to,  we can’t  protect those we dearly love from life’s losses and suffering.

There’s been both sunshine and rain, and I have been blessed with rose gardens that themselves have brought both beauty and thorns.  Roses are a picture of love.  They are joy to see, their scent luxuriant, their petals soft, mysterious in their depths.  In our travels, we saw roses sheltered against the  stone fences of English gardens in the Lake District.  When I worked at McMaster University many years ago, it was a heart’s delight when early summer brought the bright roses that would reach up along a sunny wall of an old edifice.

McMaster University, 1968 Orientation Video Screenshot

Roses have thorns, and love has its heartbreak.  Many lessons have had to be learned in loving and letting be, many tears shed in saying good-bye.  It’s part of being human – learning to love is lifelong, through sunshine and rain.

“Love is a rose
But you better not pick it 
Only grows when it’s on the vine
Handful of thorns, and you’ll know you’ve missed it
Lose a love when you say the word ‘mine’.”
Written by Neil Young, singer Linda Ronstadt




Hidden Treasure

Todayby Ethel Romig Fuller

Swansea, Wales

I have spread wet linen
On lavender bushes
I have swept rose petals
From a garden walk
I have labeled jars of raspberry jam,
I have baked a sunshine cake;
I have embroidered a yellow duck
On a small blue frock.
I have polished andirons,
Dusted the highboy,
Cut sweet peas for a black bowl
Wound the tall clock,
Pleated a lace ruffle . . .
I have lived a poem.

We had driven through Cardiff, Wales and continued on up the coast to Swansea when we came across this gigantic billboard, and on sighting it, I felt as if the treasure I’d been looking for had been found.  It named the essence of my desire to journey to Ireland and England last fall.  Wales has a Celtic charm, so that even the road signs felt like cryptic clues, and  Swansea had a waterfront museum that held us spellbound  with its tales of rugged coves, swashbuckling pirates and hidden gold.    But I believe the Welsh had it right –  poetry itself contains all kinds of hidden maps and meanings,  narrows our attention down to the very essence of things so that we really see their great value.  Hidden truths, like jewels, are cached in the least likely places.  Ethel Romig Fuller, in her poem,  opens our eyes to those riches in Today, an ordinary day.

Our life can be expressed as a joyful poem, beautifully crafted, rhythm in the footsteps of our days.   I’ve been struck by the names of people and places, coincidence, reoccurrence, metaphor, harmony and rhyme as patterns in my life, as if I myself was created for this purpose of joy.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are of God’s making,  “For we are God’s handiwork (poema), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We are God’s poetry.  We are the “treasures hidden in jars of clay.”  (2 Cor 4:7)

On to the Fields of Praise

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

From Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas

“But to you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.  And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”  Malachi 4:2

We had the opportunity this past week to spend a couple of days in farm country, and by lucky coincidence, we were there to watch the cattle being unloaded from a trailer  into new pastures.   The calves skipped through the spring-green grass, so alive and exultant that their joy was contagious.  Winter has been long.

A farm, for the young, is an expansive place, and I remember my childhood exploring of fields and ponds with surrounding bulrushes, of haylofts in old barns, of picking berries from the bushes along the fence rows.    In the country, nature is right next to the skin, and there’s a sense that we are in a sacred place.

Through God’s grace, we are set free from our fears and limitations, free to explore and experience all the wonders He’s made in creation.  We are ” in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”  (Romans 5:2, The Message)    Not only standing but running, like the young calves,  with joyous abandonment “on to the fields of praise,” exuberant and elated, dancing our life.