Have you seen "The Summer of Soul" documentary on Hulu yet?
I watched it the other night and, for a while, was delightfully transported back to the summer of 1969. I was 14 - still too young to run away to Woodstock (though I had plotted with a girlfriend about how to pull it off) and very into music of all kinds.
Everyone knew about Woodstock but no one heard of the Harlem Cultural Festival - except those who lived in Harlem.
When the movie begins, it centers on the jaw-dropping performances by some of the biggest names in 1960's black music. And they're incredible to see - young, vibrant, passionate singers and players, many of whom would become cultural icons as the years would spin by. Their music lit my heart up and coaxed me into remembering a simpler time as I was pulled inexorably into the past.
Yet the film wisely doesn't let us just sink into the rosy glow of musical nostalgia - no, it also forces us to look at the serious issues of the time, which provide us with a collective lesson to this day.
It balances the yearning for a more innocent era with driving home the truth about the turmoil of a people walking among us who felt invisible and had to fight, sometimes to the death, for identity and equality in a world rigged to exclude them.
That's what impresses me the most about the film: it stares Truth right in the face.
You see, as tempting as it is, nostalgia is not necessarily our friend.
I learned this when I had my walkout some years ago (another story, another time). Before it, I was quite sentimental, clinging to glories of the past with my loved ones. But when I returned from the walkout, I found that attachment to my memories had been largely erased - what remained were fuzzy images that could only be recalled with considerable effort. It was strange at first, but then I realized that the best thing about the situation was that the need to hang onto any old stories was mostly gone. Freedom!
Of course, I still loved and appreciated my friends and family, but because I was no longer bound to the sentiments of earlier events, I could actually be more free with them in the present.
Needless to say, I couldn't see this about myself before the walkout - it was hard to discern because it was so woven into the fabric of my identity. I realized that I tended to refer backwards more than forwards... backwards could be trusted, backwards was foundational, backwards felt safe.
That's when I understood that nostalgia can be a means to remove us from an uncomfortable Now. And it's largely inaccurate.
We can all be forgiven for wanting to escape from the present from time to time - it's not always easy being here, especially now.
As evolving souls, however, it is necessary to confront our Now, and to practice sitting in whatever discomfort may arise, accepting it, feeling it and letting it pass through, which it will always do if it is allowed and not resisted.
Now is not a time to long for "better" days of yesteryear - that will not propel us forward. Instead we need to adjust, adjust, adjust to what is happening, always asking, "Who am I in this moment? What is important to me? What is my next best step forward?"
Does this mean we should never look back?
Not at all.
If we are to cast an eye into the rearview mirror, it is not for dwelling, but for diving in a search of the pearl of great value: Truth.... truth that can be pulled forward into the lessons of the present.
With these lessons, we get to decide anew how we view and want to move around in the world, rather than merely living out inherited, 'consensus belief' patterns. We are here to break those chains of tight, compartmentalized thinking and to reshape our beliefs and actions for the future.
So, watch the film, enjoy the music, the innocence, the delight... but come right back with the lessons that the truth provides and apply them to today.
Then stay peaceful in the present, knowing that a better future will arise from all the wisdom gathered from the past.