Archived Opinion

Finding joy in the past and present

Finding joy in the past and present

They say nostalgia and reminiscing can do two things to the psyche: be a buffer against ailments like depression and anxiety or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions. Personally, I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. 

Several events lately have driven me down memory lane in a helpful, positive way. My 77-year old dad is about to move into an apartment. When the pandemic struck, he’d just sold the house he shared with my mom. At that time, we thought the pandemic would only last a few months, so he alternated between living with my sister’s family in Great Falls, Viriginia, and with us in Waynesville. Fast-forward two years and he’s ready to quit traveling and have a stable place to hang his hat. 

When my dad’s with us, we talk a lot about his childhood and my parents’ early years of marriage, as well as fond memories of my sister and I growing up. Additionally, I’ve been renting out a cabin I own in Maggie Valley, and one of the rooms had boxes of old photo albums that I needed to clear out. In between recent tenants, I spent time organizing the boxes and found numerous family photos from the 1980s and 1990s. I thought it would be hard to look back at those old photos, especially with my mom having passed, but instead, it brought joy. It’s fun to look at that little girl’s face and think, “Is that really me?” and then remember all her happy times and how far she’s come.

Furthermore, two weeks ago the owner of a storage complex in Candler called to say they were demolishing some of the older buildings in favor of newer units. I have had a storage unit there since 2017. I have wanted to clean it out, but for everyone who has a storage unit, we all know what a lofty goal that is. 

The man told me that I could either move my stuff to another unit or empty the unit within 10 days. It was a perfect opportunity to clean out, organize and save money to boot. In that storage building were cards, photos and memorable pieces from all stages of my life. I even found a 1983 Sports Illustrated with Coach Jim Valvano’s N.C. State basketball team on the cover after winning the NCAA championship. In that same bag were ticket stubs from a 1979 N.C. State vs. Duke game. I am an N.C. State alumnus. I can’t remember where I got those cool items, but I’m grateful to have them. I also found a coin collection, a newspaper from when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a button from Obama’s 2008 campaign and many other unique items I’ve acquired or been given through the decades. 

In that storage building, I also found both of my boys’ baby boxes which held their tiny baby shoes, hats from the hospital and other keepsakes from their infant and baby years. I’m trying to get everything organized so that when they become curious about stages of their own lives, I’ll know exactly where to go to find photos, special items or tokens of their achievements.

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While cleaning out a cabinet unit that moved with me from high school to college to adulthood, I found a long-lost VHS tape of my best friend and I lip syncing to Elton John’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” We thought we’d lost it, but nope, it’s safe and sound. She and I have tickets to see Elton John this September during his final concert tour, so finding that gem of a video felt very serendipitous. In the same filing cabinet were my original iPod, notebooks of lesson plans from my years teaching and a box of 3M Macintosh hard discs with a total storage of 1.4 MB per disc, which made me laugh because these days that would not hold even one high-resolution photo. 

I also found my old CD collection, and let me tell you, it’s bee fun to flip through that Case Logic album and reminisce on the days of CDs when we listened to one musician for an hour or more, in stark contrast to today’s music streaming services which offer endless variety mixes. 

It’s funny how life unfolds so quickly that when we become my dad’s age, we finally slow down and wonder how it all happened so fast. We wish we could re-live certain moments or time periods or see our loved ones for 10 minutes just to remember what it was like to be with them in mortal form. 

Sometimes I feel older than I am and maybe that’s because I’ve dealt with some heavy heartaches, but I’m beginning to view this as a small blessing instead of a curse. It really helps me enjoy each day and look upon the past as a beautiful component of my life, instead of something I want to either forget or slip back into. 

One reason I’ve enjoyed digging through old items is because enough time has elapsed between my mom’s passing and finding these photos, videos and keepsakes. Had I tried to do this when my grief was in the earliest days, I’m not sure my heart could have handled it. 

We all have our own unique vessel of nostalgic images and keepsakes. As we ease into the spring season, I encourage you to not only embrace new growth but to remember days gone by. Even though we work to live for the moment, we mustn’t forget the past, present and future all work together to create this one wild and precious life.

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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1 comment

  • Thank you for such a thoughtful, beautiful article, Susanna :)

    posted by Erin

    Friday, 02/25/2022

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