I spent some time over the holidays thinking about the past. Not in a regretful sort of way, but with a good dose of romantic nostalgia. I was reminiscing to my children how I would climb on my bicycle on summer mornings and be gone all day, never once checking in by text or cell phone – so long as I was home before the porch light came on at dark.
I remember how we couldn’t “nuke” the leftovers; when Jiffy Pop in an expanding foil bag was advanced technology; and watching a black and white television with a screen the size of an iPad (and only four channels), was the best we could do.
I remember that spending the night with my grandparents in their cold, drafty farm house required being smothered by at least a dozen blankets (and how you hoped your bladder was empty, because once the layering stopped, you were there till morning). And yes, I remember rotary dial telephones; when $5 of gas lasted all week; and when chicken nuggets and Big Macs were new culinary creations.
Speaking of the “good old days” makes me realize that those days were not as “good” as I sometimes remember. Times were hard, we were poor, and the advancements of central air conditioning, laparoscopic surgery, and high speed internet have benefited me and mine exponentially. Remembering the past is just fine, but I have no need to return to it.
Those who do pine for “the good old days,” in an attempt to go back only succeed in going backward. Their retreat is driven by fear, as many try to escape the turmoil of today and tomorrow by withdrawing into yesterday, languishing for the false utopia of a better past.
I’ll concede that this current world is an extremely scary place, but was it actually better a generation ago? When U.S. soldiers were coming home in boxes by the tens of thousands; when America’s major cities were burning from racial conflict; when nuclear war was a constant threat; and when the oil embargo threatened our security?
What about two generations back? Was it better when Hitler was consuming Europe; when millions of Jews were dying in the Nazi ovens; when Japanese nationalism and Japanese internment flourished unabated; when the Depression gutted the economy; and when black men were routinely lynched?
Dive further back into our history books and you will find that every generation persisted under constant pressure and the perpetual threat of extinction. Yet, here we are – alive – in spite of all those “good old days.” To quote Frederick Buechner: “To remember our past is to see that we are here today because of grace.”
He goes on to say that in this world, “Beautiful and terrible things will happen.” Count on it, “but don’t be afraid.” Those who lived before us survived, and by God’s grace and faithfulness, so will we. Sure, “the good old days” were good, but today and tomorrow could be even better.