As some of my readers may be aware (yes, I do mean you, Mum), despite my Anglophilic tendencies and the facts that I hold a UK passport, have lived in England for the past 13 years, and have one of the oddest transatlantic accents to occur since Lloyd Grossman first opened his mouth, I was, in fact, born and raised in the United States. Which appears to mean that this time every year I am hit with an unexpected bout of nostalgia and, for the second time in two years, found myself driving around the Leeds ring road on the verge of tears while listening to the particular brand of female singer-songwriter country/folk music that I favour.
There is no particular reason why this music, which I listen to quite often when I am driving, should spark deep emotion every third week in November, nor why my particular nostalgia should find its focus in my final year as an undergraduate. Quite why the memory of cheap warm beer and long nights writing my dissertation should have such power is beyond me. But clearly the potency of cheap music and a subconscious recollection of national ritual combine in me to stir deep emotions at this time of year.
Interestingly, nostalgia was once classified as a mental illness, related to melancholia and, during the early years of the First World War, occasionally identified as one manifestation of shell shock. The symptoms were heightened emotionalism and a longing for home, neither of which one can imagine being uncommon among soldiers drawn largely from the civilian population and plunged into the chaos of trench warfare. Yet clearly many men who did not suffer a diagnosable or disabling illness felt deeply nostalgic about the homes they had left behind, a fact reflected in the many and varied descriptions of Christmases in the trenches.
Of course my experiences of homesickness and nostalgia for my youth are in no way comparable to the experiences of men at war. But for me they serve as a reminder that, while the past may indeed be another country, it’s residents are human beings and the power of their emotions is all to recognisable. And also that today, safe and healthy, and able to say the same about my friends and family, I have a great deal to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.