Nostalgia and the joys from old wounds

JULIAN WYLLIE | | Opinion Editor

My ignorance as a child made me believe that no place on the planet was quite like Brooklyn, New York: The borough of kings where over 2.5 million people call home today.

Although I’d like to believe that my devotion to the city is unique, in truth, most people possess a passion for their places of origin. It doesn’t matter if you hail from New York City, Chicago, Kansas City, Cleveland or Timbuktu.

In most cases a hometown bias is universal.  Our home may be where our fondest memories as individuals are toned. Our homes may be where we feel most comfortable. Our homes may be where we incurred our first tastes of triumph, anger and joy.

True, it is impossible to remember the first time we cried in hunger or laughed at those we love, but it is possible to reach into the past and rediscover old sentiments.

All it takes is a photograph, an image that encompasses an abyss of memories, to produce a heavy sense of nostalgia. It makes us yearn to return home.

In short, a photograph is a time-machine.

This past weekend, I went to my new home in Indianapolis to browse a collection of photographs from the late 1990s, my childhood.

As I stared into each photo album, I couldn’t help but notice all the ways I had changed.

Aside from the obvious fact that I got taller and my hair grew, I noticed what my mother called “an endless smile.”

I was jarred by her statement. My mother was right. Almost every photo was a symbol of genuine happiness.

As I perused the albums, two photos in particular caught my eye. One was taken in April 1997 and the other during the Christmas holiday in 1998.

The former is a photo of me in blue denim and Fila sneakers, two staples of fashion from the decade that I am still embarrassed about today.


The photo also shows a red fire truck on a black couch, because I wanted to be a fireman at the time.

I have since changed my what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up aspirations.

But above all, the focus of the image is the sight of my mother dressed in white, with her hands clasped against my own. Her demeanor is serene

She is bordering on angelic. The image alone sends a strong statement, one that conjures more than a thousand words.

While the other photo is less celestial, it still features a memory dear to me: Christmas in Brooklyn.

I miss throwing snow at the steel bands that protected our homes. I miss reading the graffiti on the garage across the street. I miss walking to the corner store bodega with my mother to pick up cakes, cookies and hot chocolate to keep warm in the cold.

Snow photo Color

I am willing to bet most of us can find pictures in old albums similar to this one. The photo may be the wedding of your parents. The photo may be your mother or father holding you at birth.

All that matters is the understanding of what a photo can say about us as people. It captures our entire essence, and it shows how far we have come. Furthermore, it previews how much further we have to go.

After all, a photo lets us travel the way a carousel goes—round and round—and back home again to the places where we know we are loved, secure and accepted.

I challenge everyone to rediscover old photos and discuss the memories captured by the images.

Share your findings with others and let them know what those moments meant to you.