Metro, Column

From Chowder To Cheese: Returning To The Past

My time exploring Boston and writing fascinatingly entertaining columns has reached an end, for now.

The students of Boston College will soon be spread across the world like a plague, returning home or continuing their journeys elsewhere. No longer will I be stopped in the streets by my legions of devoted readers, begging me to impart my wisdom. Because of this, I’ve decided to devote the final 800 words I’ve been allotted to one of the few serious things I have to say. (I’ve also decided to write more than the 800 words I’ve been allotted because I’m a rebel and can’t be restrained by “the man.”) These serious column moments are few and far between, so sit up and pay attention, you scallywags.

As my first year of college comes to a close, I find myself preparing to return to my home for a longer period of time than the measly breaks we’ve had throughout the year.  For three months, Boston won’t be an easy train ride away, and the only shore in sight will be Lake Michigan. The mighty tower they call “Pru” will be nowhere in view. You might think that this would leave me lost, a stranger in a strange land.

“Archer’s columns are so insightful and entertaining,” you say, “His innate understanding of everything Boston is so pure—he must fall apart, weeping like a small child, whenever he’s away.”

Wrong. You are wrong, just like always. The cow-filled fields of Wisconsin are the place I call Home, and that is where I will be for those three months, making the most out of the summer, the beautifully odorous smell of cheese ever-present in my nostrils.

After my extended absence, this upcoming return to the town, to the state I call Home brings with it an onrush of feelings. These feelings remind me of the times when I find myself sinking into a painful, yet comforting, sort of nostalgia. It’s almost as though a portion of myself exists here, in my life, while another maintains a constant existence within the past, one I am all too ready to return to.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an escape. I’m enjoying my time here at BC more than I ever thought I would, but I still find myself yearning for a past that has floated away. In these moments, my mind floods with memories, images. Lights in the darkness. A cool breeze. Impossibly pure sunlight. Rainy bus rides. Gravel parking lots and easy laughter. Like photographs of my existence and everything it has meant.

Pursuing my past, this nostalgia, this feeling that grips at my chest and won’t let go, there is something there, something perfect, surreal, and constant. A vein of energy and youth, moments forever taken and idealized within myself. It’s difficult to put a label on whatever this is, but I believe it is the truth behind what we refer to as Home.

College serves almost as a cultivator, a tiller. We are thrown under the sharp teeth, wrenched away from comfort and familiarity. This process forces us to become our own person and confront who we are. In the middle of the constant assignments, tests, meetings, parties, lunches, or trips wandering through Boston, our true goal is to develop as a person, to grow morally. This entire process takes us away from Home, from that feeling we may always be searching for, and confronts us with the world, and with who we are supposed to be.

At the risk of looking like the kind of useless hippie I love to bash, I’m going to quote a line from a song by Noah Gundersen.

“You discover that home is not a person or place, but a feeling you can’t get back.”

This is heart-wrenchingly true and has existed since the beginning of time. This may sound like the most depressing thing you’ve ever heard, and maybe it is. But if there’s one thing you can learn from this, it is the unalterable fact that everything will always be changing and nothing you love will stay the same for your entire life. If you can’t accept this, you are doomed to live a life of pain and disappointment. Sorry to break it to you.

As the old phrase goes, “You can never go home again.” This is one of the hardest things to cope with, but one of the most important. Our past is gone, looking back on it may be painful and it may be comforting, but either way it is something that no longer exists. The only thing we can do about it is to remember that we’re living in what will, terribly soon, become our past and act accordingly.

Now, I find myself looking back to the Home I knew in my youth, and years from now I will still look back at it, but I’ll also look back at the years I spent at BC, and I’m sure that same feeling, the current of Home, will run through my mind. I’ll think about wandering the cobblestone streets of Boston, of my 1991 Buick Regal, my bookstore visits, my seafood experiences, and the rain falling on the streets. In those slices of life, I’ll search for the constant current, the feeling that affirms that I found something important here.

Your experiences are, no doubt, different from mine (we can’t all live the mile-a-minute, international intrigue-filled life I’m used to), but our outcomes are much the same. We’re all trying to go back Home, and finding that we can’t, we’re all trying to carve out a new existence with every passing day, overcoming the fear within ourselves. We’re all amazingly fortunate to be where we are, in the city of Boston, attending college. Take time throughout this last week to appreciate that. Take a final trip to the city. Enjoy what you have.

Allow yourselves your moments of nostalgia—they’re beautiful things, but keep looking forward. Keep looking at your ultimate goal and reach it. These painfully regressive attempts to return to a home that no longer exists, these are moments where we can see ourselves for who we claim to be. What is it we’re running to? Where are we trying to return to? And, ultimately, where are we trying to go?

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

April 30, 2015