Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Nostalgia for something you’ve never had…

…Someone really ought to define that. I wonder if any other languages have a special term for this phenomenon that I have experienced all too many times before.

One of my favorite things about traveling – perhaps even the primary reason I do it – is catching glimpses, however brief, into the lives of others. Since I was very young and took my first trip to Disney World I’ve been fascinated with other people, other places, other times; in other words, the other.

Some of these travels, these memories, are easy to put into words: taking a boat ride along the canals of Amsterdam at Christmastime, hoping to catch a peek into someone else’s life for just a moment; peering into the forbidden doorways of mosques in the Fez medina, wishing to understand the driving force behind people’s prayers; taking the tram in Prague to the farthest end of the line, hoping to find solace in the high-rising paneláky of Háje.

Others lie forever on the tip of my tongue. Why is it that I feel so strangely nostalgic for somewhere I’ve never lived, didn’t grow up? Queens does this to me, Brooklyn too. And why for places I’ve never been? My ice-cold dreams of Soviet Russia, dispassionate images of Damascus, and arbitrary yearnings for Almaty find no explanation. And don’t get me started on places that never existed…I spent much of my youth immersed in drawings that can be described as nothing other than architectural plans, albeit poorly executed ones, and nothing fascinates me more than Walt Disney’s unfulfilled dream of EPCOT.

There’s nothing unhealthy about these yearnings. They come from a place of true, unbridled curiosity and despite a fear that I will one day see China with my eyes closed, I know in my heart that it won’t happen: I am still, at 26, as curious as any five-year-old. I still wake up most mornings full of the buzz most people only feel on the first day of school. I wake up each day knowing that anything can happen.

And yet they are yearnings and with yearning comes sadness. Just as I was titillated as a child to think that celebrities were doing something at the exact same time as me, now I am spun into endless wonder over what my friends – all over the world are doing right now. And saddened that there are lives that I will never glimpse, not even for a second.

5 Comments

  1. I get the same feeling when I hear certain songs or see pictures/visit different places. Its strange.
    This wierd feeling like I’v missed out on meeting someone or something in the past. Maybe its an unconscious desire for wanting something significant to happen in your life, like meeting someone or having a certain experience. Or maybe just regret. i dunno maybe I’m just talking shite. What you said about being sad about missing out on other peoples lives is spot on. Just a sense that theres so much happening in the world that we can’t or won’t experience. Maybe thats why we love the fantasy of cinema. Your blog is one of the first links that came up in my search. its pretty cool. I should probably go to sleep, but this term paper wont finish itself. time for coffee.

  2. I feel that way about old cartoons and videogames,
    I miss the gameboy games even though i never really grew up with them

  3. as a first generation immigrant, i feel the same towards my parent’s homeland. there is a word for that feeling- saudade, it is portuguese .

  4. Hi. I do not have the answer for you, but I wanted to tell you that there IS such a word. I was taking a course in Celtic literature in college and the professor told us the Celtic word. I have been trying to find my notebook from that class for twenty years.

  5. I have this feeling whenever I hear Celtic music, especially songs of Enya

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