Yesterday is a powerful and poignant concept in language. My mother, Ezinnebunor, often said to the sufferer: Don’t worry, in a short time all this will be ‘yesterday’. In her hands, yesterday was comfort for those hard done by today. Yesterday puts pain in perspective. But what about joys? Alas, even joys fall at the ax of time as well. Ezinnebunor herself, with all her counsel, sleeps in yesterday.
Some dialects of Igbo have an interesting portmanteau word for ‘yesterday’. Echi gara aga translates as ‘the tomorrow that is past’. Deep: yesterday as the ultimate Russian nesting doll: unscrew one and you find an old tomorrow. Unscrew that and…) That perspective invests all our tomorrows with the fragilty of mantles that are just a breath away from the ashes of yesterday. Some might sleepwalk through today while pining for a boon in the distant future: a lottery win, a degree certificate, or a perfect spouse. Some might still be centred on a trauma in the distant past: perhaps a rape or an auto accident, perhaps a bad decision that wrecked our promising lives. Most of us will be more fortunate and can live in our here and now, opening the gift-wrap of each day with Christmas surprise, living into grand old age with the giddiness of youth, and neither pining morbidly for what is gone, nor dwelling forever on what may never come after all.
Yet, it is only by sparing a moment to ‘anatomise’ our yesterdays (usually our last 24 hours… but, on a Sunday night perhaps, the last week… and on a new year’s eve, certainly, the dying year…) that we can convert the fresh remorse of lost opportunity into the live coals for the engine that will fire our today. That daily backward glance should catch the silent gallery of ancestors, and that consciousness of generational consequence makes it harder for us to endanger the future of our children for the cheap thrills of a temporary day.
I have an eye on Yesterday, because it is our true homeland – and Tomorrow never comes, anyway.