On the Seductions of Nostalgia

(PHILIPPINES, Samar) The author's mother and aunts. (Photo taken by the author's sister, Elaine Tupaz.)

Today, I fly back to Manila after having spent the last four days with my mother’s relations. The occasion was the wedding of my mother’s older sister’s youngest daughter’s wedding; the site was the city that my mother (and to some degree my father) called home. The time passed by far more quickly than I had anticipated, and all the events of the preceding days combined with persistently contrary weather have left me with the following jumbled and barely coherent impressions:

  1. The thought, saddening, of the inevitable fissures wrought by time; how the affections between siblings dissipate with the passage of generations; how people brought up in the intimacy of a single household can eventually culminate in strangers separated by country and culture; I look at my mother and my aunts—four sisters whose affections remain touchingly palpable (and whose antics have a hilarity bordering on the hysterical)—and I look at myself and my siblings, and our cousins and their siblings, and all the numberless children in between—and I sense the estrangement that has been the inevitable byproduct of so much time and distance, and I feel sad. And I think: if someday I should have children, and if my brother and my sister should have children, a mere two or three generations on, it will be as if our descendents never had kin in common, will never know the bond that existed between their forebears, will possibly even fight amongst themselves, oblivious to the connections buried under so much time.
  2. The regret, also saddening, that I do not have an innate capacity or memory for detail; that, unlike many writers I admire, I do not remember vast, or even minute, stretches of my history with clarity (photographic or otherwise). Driving through the streets of Tacloban on Friday afternoon, my brother pointed out one landmark after another (and neither of us had been in the city for nearly a decade). I could recall almost nothing, despite the fact that I had spent many childhood summers in Tacloban. I have only the haziest recollections, most of them revolving around the books in my cousins’ library (it was there, I recall, that I encountered Dr. Seuss for the first time). Sandwiched between my father, my mother and my aunt, I found it astonishing that they had an intimate memory for almost every structure: This was where I taught English for years…This was where I lived as a boarder…Those were the very steps on which we posed for countless photos…That used to be the lot where I’d play as a child…So much nostalgia, so much fondness, so much that remains unraveled and untold. I could not even bear my own history—how could I begin to carry theirs?
  3. The yearning, more wistful than hopeful, to capture all the untold narratives, all the stories that began before mine—all the disparate threads that constitute the fabric into which my own life is woven—to see my mother and my father through eyes different from those of the child’s, to understand the joys, the affections, the anxieties, the despairs, the dramas both pedestrian and profound, of a time that seems so much simpler, and because of that simplicity, so much more real. As an exercise, it would provide no value, serve no utility, apart from fulfilling that very human urge to hear stories and make them.

Maybe someday I’ll return to fulfill that yearning. But for now, it’s time to return to my own story.


2 thoughts on “On the Seductions of Nostalgia

  1. T says:

    “So much nostalgia, so much fondness, so much that remains unraveled and untold. I could not even bear my own history—how could I begin to carry theirs?”

    I feel you. And thanks for giving words to the complexity of this experience, for they can finally be acknowledged.

    I suppose then that what we are here for (or one of the reasons) is to keep what we can remember and when given the chance, share it with others—like a piece of a historical puzzle, something that we can all contribute to, so that in the end, nothing will be lost.


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