The Healing Disease
Swiss mercenaries serving in France and the Lowlands in 1669 suffered from a mysterious disease that caused fainting, depression, high fever, indigestion, stomach pains and even death. The physician Johannes Hofer discovered its source, naming it mal du Suisse or Scherizerheimweh, “Swiss homesickness.” The sickness of those Swiss soldiers was being away from the beautiful towering mountains of their homeland. So detrimental was this sickness that they were forbidden to sing the Kuhreihen that Alpine herdsmen sang when driving their cattle to or from pasture. Seventy some years later this malady was renamed “nostalgia,” derived from the Greek nostos, for return.
Records show early Jamestown colonists yearning for England suffered it, and in the 1850’s toughened Californian gold miners were reduced to tears upon hearing “Home, Sweet Home.” Doctors in the Civil War discharged soldiers with nostalgia from the army. By the early 20th century, while nostalgia was still a medical term, it soon disappeared from medical terminology—but homesickness didn’t! Haven’t each of us at some time, in some way, not suffered from it?
Nostalgia, the longing for a former period of time, is especially common in periods of social upheaval and historical change. Fifty years ago after the major changes of the Vatican Council, a wave of nostalgia swept over Catholics (and for some it continues) for the old Latin Mass, Gregorian chant and certain pious devotions. Yet those longing for the “good old days,” as they say, have poor memories!
The disease of nostalgia is healing when experienced as the adjective “nostalgic,” reminiscing former good times. Studies have shown recalling and savoring happier occasions wards off loneliness and anxiety. Reminiscing can magnetically draw marriage partners, friends and family closer to one another since by remembering we are re-membered together. Memories of special life moments reassure us we are living meaningful lives. Recollections of happy moments, adventures or joys of younger years, are therapeutic and also act as pungent spices to season with pleasure new memories being birthed today.
Some religions observe rituals of remembering past acts of divine interventions. Yet the power of a memory that is historical or legendary instead of personal has little real energy to inspire. Does then the Christian Last Supper Ritual, “Do this in memory of me,” today now millenniums later fail to have the clout to create martyrs and saints, unlike it did for Jesus’ first followers?
So create remembrance rituals of your own personal sacred visitations. Also, frequently celebrate past life events and feel the mystical power of reminiscing.