There are spaces that once existed that we can no longer visit. The bedroom I had as a child is gone. I went to university. My parents sold the house and relocated the remainder of my stuff to the new house. That was a cute room, too. Various apartments I’ve lived in over the years, creating cosy spaces — those spaces can never be exactly recreated. Even if your parents still live in the same house and didn’t redecorate your childhood room — you still see it through different eyes as an adult.
There ought to be a word for the melancholy of lost spaces in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. There probably is, if only I could find it. There are some wonderful descriptions of obscure sorrows there.
I remember the feeling of sitting on the back seat of my parents’ car, driving along country lanes at night, with the tunnel of overhanging trees illuminated by the sweep of the car headlights. There’s a delicious melancholy to that feeling of being in the car with your family with the night and the unknown passing by outside. Similarly, when travelling by train, passing thousands of strangers who you’ll never meet or know.
Or what about the feeling you had on reading an amazing book for the first time? I can still remember reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and the music that my brother was playing at the time (All Night Long by Rainbow), which became the theme in my head while reading the book. Mostly just the chorus as he was playing the record in the next room, and I couldn’t hear the rest of the lyrics. The sense of the plot of The Lord of the Rings being new and unknown, though — that sense is lost. I can revisit the characters as dear old friends, and even create fan fiction about them, but the newness of that world is gone.
None of us will ever see the great library of Alexandria (unless time travel becomes a reality). Nor the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, nor the “twice five miles of fertile ground, with walls and towers girded round, in Xanadu”. Nor the great city of Cahokia. Nor the lost cities of the Incas.
The forests are shrinking, being cut down at an alarming rate — the Amazon rainforest, the Boreal forest in Canada, and many others around the world. We cannot save the lost library of Alexandria, or our childhood bedrooms, but we can protest against the destruction of ancient forests.
We do need to feel sadness and melancholy and grief, and express these feelings. In the case of climate grief and anger about injustice, we need to act upon our feelings. It’s important to sit with these feelings and let them play out, rather than trying to be positive and sunny all the time.
We can recover and expand upon the lost spaces of the imagination — the breadth and depth of creativity that we had as children. Many people, including me, have discovered new hobbies and crafts during lockdown. I learned to crochet and started baking again. I’ve also been having vivid dreams, along with many other people. Let your inner child out to play. And “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.