The French phrase “déjà vu” (already seen) carries a negative connotation. If something is déjà vu, it means that one has done something, been someplace, or had an experience that he does not want to repeat, revisit, or undergo again. These are not necessarily unpleasant recollections or bitter experiences, but times or moments one does not wish to relive or to recapture. They no longer bring happiness or joy. They refer to the things a person has outgrown and has no interest in doing again because they no longer give pleasure or excite the mind.
The words of St. Paul provide some sense of this experience when he refers to the difference between being a child and being a man: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
While it is natural to outgrow certain habits of thought, behavior, and pleasure with maturity and wisdom, it is important to retain a fondness for other ideas, customs, and joys that a person should not discard as a useless relic of the past. One must take measures to prevent the feeling of déjà vu from influencing a person’s entire outlook on life.
The Spirit of Childhood
While an adult no longer enjoys playing with dolls or toy soldiers, he should not lose a sense of playfulness or the lightheartedness of a child. While the love of playing a favorite sport like baseball or basketball diminishes with age, the love of nature and being outdoors should not fade. While the pleasures of youthful adventure like hiking mountains or running marathons no longer capture the imagination, a person must remember, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, that “No man can live without pleasure.”
While certain favorite foods and beverages no longer whet the appetite, one must always appreciate good cooking and be grateful for abundance of flavors and taste that abound in God’s plentiful creation. The outlook of viewing the past with jaded eyes and a blasé spirit breeds cynicism about the limitations of all things that never give all the delight they promise. One cannot say of all the experiences of a human life that they breed weariness, ennui, and the sense of emptiness of Solomon’s famous words: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Some of these experiences provide a foretaste of the heavenly world.
The Love of Old Pleasures
While persons outgrow childish pleasures and lose their relish for many earlier pastimes and recreations, they must also be in touch with the sources of undying joy and constant pleasure that never cease to give savor to life. No matter how many times a person has tasted them or repeated the experience, they remain, in John Keats’ famous words about beauty, “a joy forever.”
Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows illustrates this distinction between the passing pleasures of the moment and the abiding joys that always nourish. Contrasting the simple life of Rat on the river, which he calls his “world,” with the restless travel of Toad on the Open Road, the book shows that life on the river and in the home never produces the sense of déjà vu.
Because the river offers an inexhaustible source of variety, abundance, beauty, and wonder, Rat explains why he has no desire for a life of constant travel and new sensations: “It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other.”
Rat’s life on the river is not based on a love of novelty but on the recurrence of old pleasures that never cease to delight. They possess fullness or richness that cannot be depleted no matter how frequently they are enjoyed as Rat recalls all the pleasure the river has afforded him in course of a lifetime:”Lord! the times we’ve had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, it’s always got its fun and its excitements.”
Toad, on the other hand, imagines that “real life” exists, not in “some dull fusty old river,” but in a life of constant motion that transports him to new sights and places: “The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs!” Toad’s perpetual travel in newer and faster vehicles provides momentary thrills that quickly end in dull anti-climaxes. He soon tires of the slow travel of a canary cart and replaces it with speed of a car and then wearies of a slow old car that he abandons for a faster newer vehicle.
Everything soon becomes déjà vu because Toad never repeats or returns to an old pleasure that possesses depths or riches that cannot be emptied.
The Everlasting Transcendentals
Rat’s home, scorned by Toad as a mere “hole in the bank,” possesses the fullness of joy that the river contains. During a beautiful spring day that Mole and Rat spend of the river, Rat introduces his guest to the beauty of nature reflected on the water(“All was a-shake and a-shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble”), welcomes him to the most delicious picnic lunch he has ever tasted (“This is too much!”), delights Mole at night with river stories in the comfort of a cheerful fire, and invites him to enjoy a night of rest “in great pace and contentment, knowing that his new-found friend the River was lapping the sill of his window.”
These simple pleasures of rowing a boat on a pleasant spring day, enjoying the companionship of a generous friend, relishing a zesty lunch in the fresh air, telling stories by the warmth of a fire at night, and falling into a deep slumber to the gentle sound of water do not grow duller with time. They are the sum of the little things and exquisite pleasures that keep life from becoming déjà vu. They partake of those profound realities and great mysteries the philosophers call the Transcendentals—the good, the truth, and the beautiful—that are spiritual in nature and do not ever dim, fade, or wither. They more they offer, the more they have to give. The more they give, the more they refill. The more they refill, the more they offer.