The past perfect: one of many slightly confusing verb tenses in the English language but more importantly, proof that even grammar gets nostalgic from time to time.
We have a lot of reasons to think the past is indeed perfect or at least superior to the present. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a lot of time rifling through a pile of photo albums that smell like musty attics and a little like your childhood home. You’ve looked at pictures of yourself as a charmingly chubby baby, eyes full of untainted wonderment, and felt a pang of jealously, a drop of remorse because those were the good ol’ days. You were just beginning, blissfully uncomplicated.
It would seem that life, ironically, starts to get a lot messier when you learn how to use the toilet. You can flush, you can walk, you can speak your mind and then slowly (though you remember it as suddenly) your Lego-framed life is compressed into stacks of hazy photos, stored away in plastic bins so the mice can’t make a nest out of them.
This beast called nostalgia can be a dangerous indulgence that reels you into a place in time that can’t be replicated. It’s purr makes you roar because these moments that have passed, that saunter around your head and sunbathe in your attic, can’t be fully revived. You have your memory but you don’t have the ability to travel back in time.
But maybe I can tell you a brief story that will undermine everything I just said. Maybe I can convince you that even when everything is changing, some things stay exactly the same. Maybe like most rules of grammar, the past perfect has its exceptions.
When I was one, my family and I moved to Slovakia shortly after it became an independent state. At the time, my mum was a diplomat working for the British Foreign Service which meant she was posted to a different country every three to five years. Our time in Slovakia was brief but it serves as a smattering of home for our family.
While we lived in Slovakia, my grandmother, who lived in England, came to visit. During her visit, we traipsed around Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and of course, Kraków, Poland (ring a bell?).Kraków has and always will a place ruled by street performers so it’s no surprise she took a picture of a street performing couple playing Polish Folk music. In the picture, they’re dressed in traditional Polish garbs as they play the accordion and cello. It’s certainly a memorable picture.
Years later, after my family and I settled down in the US and I graduated from high school, we went back to Kraków, a place I didn’t remember but heard so much about. I didn’t look at any of the photos my parents or grandmother took during our last trip to Kraków until we returned from our latest visit. The only images I had seen of the city were the ones I found online.
While in Kraków, I was captivated by every street performer we came across but I only took pictures of a few. One of the pictures I took was of a folk-playing couple, dressed in traditional Polish clothing.
I think you know where this is going.
Months after taking this photo, when I was feeding my nostalgia with a routine photo album flip, I came across the photo my grandmother took years before. I recognized the musical couple right away. Although the photo quality isn’t the best, the subjects of both pictures are unmistakably the same people. I was gobsmacked 🙂
After years of moving from country to country, after a constant slew of change, I took a picture of strangers with friendly faces only to find I had known them since I was one.
So this beast called nostalgia, that paws us into the past, that gives us hazy memories and blurry photographs, perhaps it learned to scurry through time without changing its bark. Yes, we are constantly changing and adding layers to our being. Everyday, we complicate ourselves a little further but the barebones of who we are are simple and unchanging. The moments, places, and people sprinkled into our lives do not just disappear.
So if you’re flipping through old photos, reminding yourself of the good ol’ days, remember that the good ol’days are not aging. Remember that even photographs, frozen snapshots in time, are just beginnings.
Thanks for reading!
PS: Here’s a picture I found in our box of photos of an edgy monkey on a motorbike. I don’t know when or where this picture was taken or if the monkey has a license. I just know that this is a really really awesome picture that must be shared.