Time was passing by in reverse as I viewed antique photos that had been given to dad several years ago by Janet, one of dad’s cousins. She frequently visited northern Sweden in her ongoing quest to investigate our family’s history. The photos came into my possession after dad’s death.
I drifted into a daydream during which, I boarded an ocean-going steamship which resembled the Titanic. The vessel would take passengers to Gammelstad where one of the old photographs was allegedly taken. From there I began a trek to the nearby Arctic Circle with my high school best friend Joe who had English ancestry but has been deceased since a few years ago.
My subconscious probably chose Joe because he loved to push beyond his comfort zone and we shared the same last name. He was also much better at diplomacy than me. Joe would be a good person to communicate with the Sami people we might have encountered. Never mind that neither Joe nor I speak any Swedish. We would probably had communicated with primitive sign language or gestures.
I snapped out of the fantasy then looked up to stare at the blank, white ceiling of the living room. Feelings of longing for my old best pal washed through the mind. I smiled at the thoughts, knowing he would have thoroughly enjoyed going on such a fantastical expedition as I imagined. The journey could also help cousin Janet investigate the lives of our ancestors who are now only names in a Swedish government tally from the 1800s and a large Bible in an old church somewhere near Goteborg.
The imaginings triggered deep nostalgic tuggings at the heartstrings. The emotion was akin to deja vu except that I have never been to Sweden, I only know about my ancestors because of stories I’ve heard since boyhood. Perhaps fond thoughts about Joe were also involved.
I studied more of the photographs. They triggered even deeper yearnings for places and people I’ve never seen, nor can ever experience. The 1800s are long gone, and so is the culture of those days. The nostalgia morphed into dull, profound discomfort. My back tensed and breathing became shallow. I put the small stack of old photographs back into a fresh manila envelope, labeled it, and put it away.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing chores to distract my mind from the queasy feelings of impossible nostalgia. Finally, they faded. The mind felt light and healthy again.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Czech-French writer, Milan Kundera. “The Greek word for return is nostos. Algos means suffering. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”