It was a typical pandemic Saturday night: home, alone, binge watching an old TV series and occasionally chatting with friends via phone, text, or Facebook Messenger.
Then, a friend of mine messaged me. He was helping his dad clean out his grandparents’ home now that they had moved to an assisted living facility. He had found some old photos of himself there and was sending them to me. So, of course, I decided to send him some of mine.
After trying to find them on my hard drive, I remembered that I had at one time or another posted them on Facebook. So I dove into my photos and started to scroll back to find them.
I quickly found them…and kept scrolling back. I saw past vacations, Christmases, birthdays, parties, weddings, and random photos pass by as I went further and further back. Finally, I reached 2008, the year I joined Facebook. And it was a revelation in more ways than one.
First, I found people I had forgotten ever existed, people who had largely been on the periphery of my life but whom I would frequently see out and about. Somewhere along the way, they had faded from my radar and I had forgotten all about them. I also realized that at least two people from those early pictures have since passed away.
But what really struck me was how different life was then. Almost all of the pictures are of big house parties, clusters of people out on Rehoboth Beach, or group outings to bars or events.
Back then, when I was a part of the DC gay rowing team, I would be kidded a lot about all of the people I knew. On one beach trip, they literally kept a running count of how many people I would run into whom I knew.
Even before the pandemic started, there was very little of that happening anymore. On the rare occasions when I did venture out recently, I’d be lucky to see one person I knew. And the days of big house parties, shared beach houses, and group outings really do seem to be behind me.
While I know that part of life has passed, I’m still not sure what has replaced it. Over the last few years, I’ve felt as though I’m in some sort of social transition and I’m not quite sure yet where that’s going to lead. I feel as though I still have one foot left in a previous life and one in a new life. Perhaps it’s time to move that other foot forward.
So what does that have to do with the pandemic? Well, a lot actually. Without the usual distractions of life, there’s a lot of time to think. And when the present looks bleak and the future looks very uncertain, the past can occupy a lot of your thoughts.
Not to say that I’m not thinking about post-pandemic life because I certainly am. But when life overall has been put on pause and the reality of the passage of time can no longer be denied, nostalgia can sometimes reign and can be set off by the smallest of triggers.
Since the pandemic started, I’ve spent a lot of time watching old TV shows and movies, listening to old music, reading old books, and going through closets, boxes, and file folders. Inevitably, something will set off a nostalgia rabbit hole. And I’ll start to think about people and places and things that have been lost along the way.
I think one of the reasons why those old photos had such an impact was seeing so many people who had once been so important to me and now have either moved to the periphery or are gone from my life completely. I know that happens often but it’s still sad to me, particularly when the parting was sudden and not of my wishing. Those loose ends continue to bother me.
Plus, thinking about the past always makes me wonder if I’m really where I want to be in life. I think post-pandemic that there will be some major life changes. I think perhaps I’ve stayed too long in one place physically and mentally. Other friends of mine have moved to other cities, gotten married, had kids, retired, etc. and I’m still in the same space I’ve been for years. I think it could be time for a big shake up. I just don’t know what it will be yet.
Seeing those old photos was certainly bittersweet. Reliving those times and memories put a big smile on my face, as they were some of the best of my life. But they were also a reminder of things long gone that can’t be reclaimed.