There is a fundamental part of us that seems to yearn for something in our past. I don’t know if it is a universal human trait or not. Perhaps there are people who are constantly looking to the future without that nostalgic pining pulling them back to days gone by, but I am not sure I know anyone like that. I think most of us, at least occasionally, are drawn to reflect back on “simpler times” or “the good ol’ days.” It’s only natural that these feelings tend to intensify around the holidays. We naturally find comfort in these warm and cozy corners of our minds.
There is nothing wrong with finding those happy places in our childhood memories and revisiting them. In fact, it is one of the true pleasures of our humanness. We have the ability to travel through time, in our own minds, and relive lovely experiences. Our loved ones, long gone from this earth, can come back to us and spend time with us during these precious moments. I spend a lot of time with my dearly departed grandparents around the Christmas season each year. I can go back and bring those wonderful family Christmas memories up with stunning clarity. In fact, in my memory, those times are perfection.
That is the thing. There in lies the “myth of the good ol’ days.” Nostalgic reflection often is very selective. We have a tendency to romanticize our memories to the point where we white wash them until they have an ideal glow. This is all well and good when we apply this technique to warm and fuzzy family Christmas memories. There is nothing wrong about polishing those moments until they are perfect in our recollections. Where it can become less healthy is when we apply the same technique to our memory of the world in general. It is at that point where we run the risk of creating a world that never existed at the expense of reality. If we aren’t careful, that can be a recipe for a depressing present.
It is easy to get depressed in this world we live in if we get too fixated on how bad it is now as compared to our polished, unrealistic image of how it used to be. If we allow it, we can get caught up in a 24-hour a day onslaught of negativity. At no time in human history has news been so available in so many formats to so many people. I know people who have their tv’s tuned to some round the clock news network all the time. They are bombarded with all manner of negative news from the time they wake to the time their heads hit the pillow. It is easy to see how they get the impression that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. But I have news for them…’twas ever thus. That’s right. As one who has studied history, I understand that there was never an era that would qualify as “the good ‘ol days.” Have things gotten worse in my lifetime? I really don’t think so. What has changed in my lifetime is that it has become nearly impossible to escape from hearing bad news. Between television, radio, and Internet, it is in our faces, literally, all the time.
Depending on our age, we all go back to different eras when we reflect on “simpler times” and long for the way things used to be. For many, the 1950’s embody the good ol’ days. It takes an awful lot of selective memory to weed out the bad to make the 50’s fit that image. We had just come out of the biggest war the world had ever seen. Over 60 million people died in WWII. As long as I live, I’ll never be able to truly wrap my mind around that horrifying statistic. As much of humanity was still reeling and scrambling to find some semblance of normalcy in the aftermath of that war, a new war in Korea was beginning. On the home front, while Ozzie and Harriet put up a lovely smoke screen on the new fangled contraptions called televisions, African-Americans were being blasted in the streets by high-pressure fire hoses or held at bay by police dogs for simply trying to get their basic rights to go to a decent public school, sit down at a lunch counter, or ride in the front of a bus.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. I tend to look at those as simpler times…my “good ol’ days.” In doing so, I must push aside some rather distasteful memories. In my young childhood, our nation was embroiled in its most controversial war, Vietnam. Very little “good ol’ days” imagery would be found if my memories would allow Vietnam in. The 80’s were when I came of age. Lots of great memories of carefree days with friends dominate my reflections…but only after I’ve pushed aside the terror filled emotions of the Cold War, when most Americans felt almost certain that we would see a cataclysmic nuclear war with the Soviet Union within our lifetime. To remember the “carefree” days of my youth, I must forget the bomb drills at school where we crawled under our desks as if that could shield us from a nuclear holocaust. I must forget about the movie “The Day After” that we watched and discussed at school, not as if it was fiction, but as if it was preparation.
So what is my point here? What am I trying to say?
I guess it is this…Go ahead and go back to your own happy memories of your “good ol’ days.” Enjoy them and cherish them. It is a really important part of being human. Spend some quality time with grandma and grandpa. Relish them.
But when you come back to reality and get hit in the face with the evil that we have to live amongst, don’t fall into the trap of believing that things are spinning out of control and falling apart, or getting worse. Realize that today will be your children and grandchildren’s “good ol’ days” in years to come. Realize that you are helping to make their warm and fuzzy memories, even in the midst of this awful, scary world. Try to keep things in perspective and enjoy your here and now. It is all we have. ‘Twas ever thus.