Do you remember the days when we all lived in beautiful small towns where every house has a white picket fence, the sun always shone, and the milk man always gave a cheery greeting as we passed him on our way to school? I don’t remember those days either. It is sad to say, but I don’t think those days ever existed.
I find it troubling that so many of us long for some forgotten period of peace, morality, and harmony. Some think it was the 1950’s, but as we scratch at the shiny surface of the Leave It To Beaver era, we find that there were still unwed mothers, there were still abortions being performed, men still cheated on their wives, and politicians were still corrupt. The world was in a constant state of tension because of the Cold War, there was political upheaval all over the globe, and racial minorities were treated disgracefully.
Some imagine that the period of the founding of the United States of America is the paradise that we long for. Despite the brilliance of America’s founding fathers, the birth of America was a time when poor people had few rights, women could not contribute to society (except as mothers and homemakers), blacks were treated as less than human, and unspeakable atrocities were committed against native Americans. Also, people told dirty jokes, gambled a lot, and drank in excess (except the Puritans who murdered people for not living as they did).
While there are profoundly good things in our history, there is still bad. No matter what era we look back on, the world has been full of violence, immorality, and inequity. Looking back fondly on bygone times is good, an important part of our human experience, but to long for a mythical period of goodness and prosperity that we believe might have existed at some point is naive at best and delusional at worst.
When we imagine that contemporary history is the height of decadence, we are seeing through a very narrow lens. Broad views of history show us that nations rise and fall, societal values change, evil men sometimes prevail, good men always stand againt evil, and people very rarely see beyond the borders of their own experience. We should remember Ecclesiastes 1:9 that tells us “There is nothing new under the sun.” Whether it is good or bad, there is nothing new.
When we long for times past we rob the present of our efforts and our enjoyment. The times we live in are both wonderful and dangerous. The present deserves every ounce of our attention and energy in order that it might make us better people and we might create a better future.“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.” –Henry David Thoreau
I do not propose that we go into the woods, but I do propose that we live every day quite deliberately, never wishing for another time or place.