Since the start of the pandemic, I have developed this love-hate relationship with Facebook Memories. When the notification bell rings, Facebook displays tons of old photographs of childhood friends taken years ago, with jovial all-caps captions like “BEST DAY EVER!” followed by excessive use of emojis. It’s like a peephole to the past—a way to look back on past summer vacations, random road trips, holiday celebrations, or perhaps a normal day outside the comforts of our home with our friends and family.
Usually, I love having to reminisce about days gone by, but not if it only reminds me of the glaring contrast between the good old times and the uncertain present.
Overindulgence in nostalgia has become an offshoot of the pandemic. Our social media platforms are filled with throwback photos taken before the period of face masks and face shields, the captions usually yearning for some sense of normalcy to be back in our lives. With the seemingly endless community quarantines and limited social interactions, most of us are limited to creating more of these special and happy memories. Of course, we all try to make the best of the situation within the confines of our homes. However, most of the time, we find ourselves scrolling through old photographs and chatting with friends just to say, “Let’s do this again someday.” We try to find some sense of comfort in looking back to when the days were good, given that the present and future seem full of uncertainties.
As I scrolled through an album of more than 300 high school photos in the morning of March 7, 2021, there was this sinking feeling in my gut. It had been a year since the beginning of endless community lockdowns, and the whiplash of nostalgia hit harder than usual that day.
I perused old photographs and remembered that I appointed myself the official photographer of my high school class. I was always the one with a phone on hand, documenting every school event, special occasion, and even regular and mundane after-class moments. When I say I took photos of everything, I literally took photos of everything, from class stage productions to science experiments, recitations, even the whole class waxing and scrubbing the classroom floor. Obviously, I was sentimental—I wanted to capture the bliss of our youth, the mundanity and awesomeness of high school, the folly of our teenage years.
The idea of preserving those memories as they happened, and wanting to look back on them in the future, was my drive to not miss any moment. That was the entire point—to not miss any moment. I didn’t trust the fallibility of human memory. I needed something tangible for the thin slice of memory that my camera lens had saved.
And yet, as Facebook Memories began reminding me daily of the old photographs I took a long time ago, I felt detached rather than nostalgic. My friends were laughing in one of the pictures, but I couldn’t remember for the life of me what I felt in those moments. I was certain I was physically present at that time—how else could I have taken the photo?— but this time I felt like a mere spectator. Hundreds of photos on my Facebook timeline, and only a handful of me in them: I was looking in only from an outsider’s perspective, and had effectively dissociated from the story. I was now removed from the original moment, but I was also not completely in the present.
Perhaps it’s the overall somber tint of this pandemic that has my chest feeling heavier than usual. Perhaps the feeling of losing or being cheated off of a year of my life due to the coronavirus had driven me, however unwittingly, to make sure that I had lived and owned the past years of my life.
It is during moments like these that I have to remind myself that the best days of my life are still ahead of me, no matter how unlikely it may seem given the present state of things. With neither the past nor the future to give me comfort, I try to take comfort in what life has to offer me at present inside the four walls of my home.
But once all of this is over, I’ll make sure someone else takes the photos next time.