Inside Nostalgia

To visit a dear friend, last week I drove to Upstate New York. As soon as I crossed the state border I was surprised to feel the green, undulating hills say, “You’re home!”

New York is my birth state and where I lived and studied for my first twenty years. I’ve moved around in the forty years since, so I had to laugh at that “homelike” feeling and the swell of my dusty pride in the state’s geographic beauty and cultural diversity, long history (one of the original thirteen states of the Federal Union), industrial and economic strengths, and famous residents (Groucho Marx, Robert Oppenheimer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Walt Whitman). As I drove, I rejoiced in the deep, saturated oranges, reds, yellows, and greens of the wet fall leaves, sights I miss now, living among evergreens. And later, when I kicked a pile of fallen leaves during an evening walk, I had an acute rush of nostalgia for those fall days, half a century ago, when, after playing soccer with my friends until it was too dark to see the ball, with similar kicks I’d sent colorful leaves flying high into the evening sky.

Looking deeper, my nostalgia isn’t really for the state I happened to grow up in or the kicked leaves but for that place I know, in the innermost chamber of my heart, is actually home. It’s a place where my friends don’t suffer from life-threatening diseases, where time doesn’t gnaw at my and everyone else’s vigor, where no one lives with assorted internal and external misery. That place is an emporium of rich relationships – richness glimpsed at in this world in a mother’s love for her child and that child’s charmed laughter, and in the joy of selfless service and the inner glow of that service accepted graciously.

The beautiful verses of the Bhagavad-gita, one of the most brilliant stars on the horizon of the spiritual sky, describe our real home as a world of pure love and service. That world is not so utopian that we can’t touch here and now; it’s a matter of meditating on sacred teachings and inviting their wisdom into our heart, thoughts, and daily life.