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Nostalgia, a cure for modern life

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Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything – Terrence Malick

LYING in hospital for a few days recently suffering from pneumonia, with only my thoughts to keep me company, I confess to indulging in nostalgia. Now that I’m well on the road to recovery, I realise these feelings were beneficial and I was able to draw on past positive experiences when I needed them most.

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. It is often characterised as a longing or desire to return to a former time or place.

The word ‘nostalgia’ originated in the late 17th century when a Swiss medical student, Johannes Hofer, noticed a pattern in some patients who were mercenary soldiers, living a life of danger and uncertainty. Many were obsessed with returning to their faraway homes and although not wounded, they became physically sick. Hofer created the term for this ‘disease’ by combining the Greek words nostos (homecoming) and algia (pain).

It was obvious that sending the afflicted home was the cure, but in keeping with the barbarity of the times, inciting pain and terror also became a strategy. Threatening the sick with a red-hot poker was suggested by a French doctor, and a Russian general reportedly tackled outbreaks of nostalgia by burying alive the first to succumb.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that doctors agreed that Hofer was wrong and that nostalgia wasn’t a physical disease; thereafter the word was no longer used to define a medical condition. It became instead a term used to define an emotional state characterised by a wistful affection for the past. Poets, philosophers, artists, composers and writers all use nostalgia, as indeed we all do when reflecting on our lives.

The benefits of thinking about the past are many and include boosting one’s mood, increasing self-esteem, coping with difficult situations and increasing confidence through reflecting on past achievements. Nostalgia can have positive effects on physical health. It has been shown to boost immune function and reduce stress, not to mention helping to increase life satisfaction and reduce anxiety. However, it can have negative implications. Reflecting too much on losses can engender loneliness and isolation. It can cause people to dwell on the past and become unhappy with the present and can cause inertia and a lack of willingness to take action in the present.

Over the last three years, we have all been subjected to cataclysmic changes in our lives. Who among us can say that we have not harked back in our thoughts to pre-Covid days, when the annual WEF events at Davos were given as much importance as the ski races at the same time?

Is it any wonder that millions go to bed each night and, amid the fear and confusion they feel, resort to travelling to another place in their mind’s eye? Nostalgia must surely be an exhaust valve, a release, a relief from the turmoil that the worries of life now afford them.

In my hospital bed I not only lost myself in memories of times past, but reflected very definitely on the Covid age and how I had experienced it myself. I was completely divorced from the fear of catching Covid on account of my not believing it from the very start. I never indulged in the mask-wearing, the social distancing and the jab programme. The best thing to come out of the last three years for me, and I thought about this many times in hospital, were the new relationships I formed during this time. I have met some of the loveliest, most compassionate, open-hearted and genuine human beings. Making contact with my local Stand In The Park groups very early on was quite the best thing to have happened to me for many a year, and these relationships are deep and meaningful. Many in our groups see what was happening as an opportunity for a ‘great reset’, but one in which the evil of the world would be exposed and the ‘elites’ be overcome by exposure of their conceit, overbearing arrogance, their cruelty and their distaste and disgust for human life.

In short, their evil ways will become so obvious that change will be inevitable, but not in the way the perpetrators of these crimes expect. I firmly believe that this is happening now. The opening address at Davos by America’s ‘climate envoy’ John Kerry, beginning with the words ‘We, a select group of human beings’ is indicative of a Messiah complex. I think history tells us all about those who set themselves up as superior beings, who want to create a master race with the rest of us subservient: it doesn’t work out well for them.

During my four-day stay in St James’s Hospital, Leeds, which began on New Year’s Day, not once was Covid mentioned by anyone. I was never asked about my jab status. The staff were kind and attentive and I genuinely felt I was being looked after to the highest standards. All staff wore masks, but their hearts weren’t in it as they were worn under the nose or the chin and frequently removed when conversing with patients and each other. Although I was tired and unable to indulge in any meaningful conversation, I was treated to my neighbouring patient’s views on the nonsense of everything Covid. My journey home by taxi was a half-hour of the friendly driver telling me how many nurses, doctors and consultants had refused the jab and that more health workers than we generally realise are aware of the nonsense of it all. Strictly anecdotal, but good to hear nonetheless. Thank you to Jimmy’s, as it is affectionately known: you were there when I needed you and for that, together with my ability to call on nostalgia, I shall be for ever grateful.

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Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins is a furniture designer/maker who loves to write.

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