The Nature of Nostalgia

“The Atlantic Ocean was really somethin’ in those days. Yes, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”

—Burt Lancaster as Lou, an aging ex–underworld figure sitting at a beachfront bar in Atlantic City

After forty years, I rendezvous in a restaurant with a childhood companion. An instant of nonrecognition, a few minutes of small talk, and our disparate worlds melt away to remembered moments. There is a mystical sense that we are something more than our provisional selves, that we share something pure and fundamental, that those distant fragments are who we really are and the still-familiar features of this person are the one gossamer thread to that root past. We long to recapture that remnant, the faint echo of pristine clarity. But we cannot.

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