I picked up The New York Times the other day and found these words in the first paragraph of a front page story in one of the paper’s sections:
“A few times a week, he was suddenly hit with nostalgia for his previous home at the University of North Carolina: memories of old friends, Tar Heel basketball games, fried okra, the sweet smells of autumn in Chapel Hill.”
These words are the lead in to a report on the serious study of nostalgia by Dr. Constantine Sedikides. Although a colleague thought that the nostalgia for Chapel Hill meant that he was depressed, Dr. Sedlikides thought it was a positive. “Nostalgia,” he said, “made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.”
What made me feel good was that The New York Times was writing so positively about a North Carolina town and the memories it evoked and it was doing so without feeling any need to explain anything to its worldwide readers about what our town was and why it evokes such good memories. It just seemed to assume that its readers already know about the special and positive ambience of our community—something those of us who live here may, too often, take for granted.
Two days later the Times took a blow at the good feelings they had given me about our state and its university town. A Times editorial titled “The Decline of North Carolina” said, “State government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.”
The Times noted the immediate cut-off of benefits to 70,000 unemployed, the upcoming loss to 100,000 more, and other sharp reductions in a state that “has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country.”
After asserting that our state is making it harder for “future generations of workers to get jobs, cutting back sharply on spending for public schools,” ranking now 46th in the country in per capita spending for our schools, the Times concluded, “North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.”
Unless things change in Raleigh, that positive nostalgia we feel for our towns and our state is going to have to be only for the way things used to be.