Monday, June 4, 2007

Modern Nostalgia

So, I woke up this morning from fruitless dreams and turned to my computer, the modern's version of the morning newspaper. I was drawn over the initial cup of coffee to Facebook because I had a mysterious friend request. And I sat there, sipping coffee, staring into this person's face, trying to rack my memory for where our paths might have crossed.

The name sounded familiar. But I just couldn't connect name and face to anything that might have happened to me. And then, in a flash of understanding, in one of those moments in which all the elements of a problem arrange themselves and stop looking like a problem at all, I realized it. Facebook says it best: "You went to high school with this person."

Now, to understand how strange this is to me, maybe you need to know a little bit of my history. I moved around a lot - I spent the first chunk of education in Oregon, then had some middle school in Chicago, and split my high-schooling between Oxford, England and Canberra, Australia. I have never kept in good touch with my old friends. I think of them sometimes, but for the most part I recollect only a mass of faceless people and a feeling that I cannot name. And I know that feeling and those people used to mean the world to me. And now... they could, if I remembered just a little less harder, be nothing.

But this Facebook picture is like a small tear in a fabric that's been covering all these memories of high school - and out of the tear peeks a glint of light, of understanding. I page through the faces of her friends... and about one in ten are people whose names I barely remember - but who I begin to remember, people who are not exactly strangers, but who nonetheless I just do not know. Each little picture is a person. I think: would they remember me? were they my friend? my enemy? what? And the picture remains silent. But with each face, the little tear in the fabric that's been covering my memories grows a bit bigger.

But the bedrock of memory beneath the fabric is never completely revealed. All I get are little glimpses of it. Those glimpses grow bigger as I think more: I begin to be able to remember old friends' names, maybe a flash of a gesture, a voice; but in the end, that forgetful fabric recovers these bursts of understanding, and I am left staring at a lineup of strangers once again.

But why do I even want to remember high school? High school sucked. I sucked in high school. I don't want to go back to high school - mostly, in high school, I thought about how much I hated everything and everyone and wanted to leave. So why, this morning, looking at the faces of people who make me remember that suffering, am I feeling like I have just solved a puzzle about myself?

This nostalgia is a way of communing with my past, of going back to the disused altar of my memory and worshiping again the dead gods whose names I barely remember and can hardly pronounce. It is a solipsistic worship - I worship a past who no one else remembers, with prayers no one else will intone. And then end result: a couple new friends on my Facebook profile, and the glimmer of a feeling that I might - if I tried hard enough - look back at the past and understand the changes that passed over me, make worthwhile all of the dim memories. Maybe I will send an e-mail to an old friend and figure out where they are, and what they're doing. Who knows, maybe, sometime in life - we'll have a coffee together.

But not yet. I click 'Add to friend' - a small benediction.

1 comment:

Evan Petrie said...

A quick check of Facebook tells me that there are over 500 people on Facebook in the network "Woodstock High School" and yet I do not have a single friend in the Woodstock High School network. I definitely have friends that graduated from Woodstock, but they have all since identified with other networks. Weird.