Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The Good Old Days
I've been awfully nostalgic lately. Times are tough right now, just about everyone can attest to that, but then again, if we're really honest with ourselves, things have always been tough in one way or another. I've always believed that being blind to the great complications of life, engaging in that innocence and naiveté so many people own day-to-day, is, of course, a much easier place to inhabit, but is that really where we want to be?
The realities of life have never been fair or easy, and though the recent economic crisis has hit most of the world fairly hard, I don't ever recall a time when people were consistently, fundamentally happy with everything. In especially the United States' highly politicized fear-mongering climate, it is far easier to sugarcoat the past and be fearful of the future. Hindsight is always 20-20, and when I sift through the twenty-four hour news cycle I am often shocked by the warm, glowing terms with which the past is discussed. Oddly, many of the loudest voices of fear and anger are the same people who vilified and demonized that same time period in the past as it was occurring.
The most common example cited: the 1950s. That period after World War II is often touted as a utopian age, when children in nuclear families grew up in happy homes occupied by a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and zero complications. None of the talking heads on television now will ever reference the open racism, back-alley abortions, or anti-Communist jingoism that alienated and, more often than not, caused great physical and philosophical harm to our society as a whole. Interestingly enough, not many people realize the word "utopia" derives from the Greek language, literally translated as "not a place," as in "somewhere that does not exist." Today, many politicians use the 1950s as a benchmark of what we need to get back to, yet they recite the same phrases that politicians have used for millennia. There are quotes from two thousand years ago of Roman senators decrying a need for their culture to get back to the ideals of "financial responsibility" and "family values." It appears the we as a species haven't evolved that much since the time of ancient conquests and the bacchanalia.
I believe all of this comes from a lack of perspective. The old lyric "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" pretty much sums up major aspects of human nature. In my case, I'm not nostalgic for the past, I'm nostalgic for the present. My own life is full of uncertainty, be it professional, personal, financial, and even spiritual. I can't say what is going to happen tomorrow, but I do know that I will eventually look back on these days and think fondly of the good moments, ignore the tough times, and wish I could be back where I currently am. The problems I am dealing with today, the stress and pressures, will have all been resolved and forgotten in a week or a month. It won't matter what rude e-mail I got, what driver cut me off, or what deadlines have been forced upon me. All I'll recall is the smiles on my nieces' faces, my nephew's first words, and all the crazy, silly situations I put myself in through my photography. Everything else is a waste of time and energy, and though that is a belief easier declared than practiced, we all need to be reminded that it is actually true.
The answer is simple: the reason we are all nostalgic for the past is because we know how it ended up. The Cuban Missile Crisis: resolved. The war in Vietnam: over. The turbulent 6Os: forgotten in a drug-addled haze. As a society, we're still here fighting and fucking and having backyard barbecues, just like we've always had. In the grand scheme of things, human life is "business as usual." I'm sorry to remind you, but there will always be uncertainty. Sure, life is not a video game, you don't get a second chance, but just try to appreciate life for what it is, not for what you'd like it to be. Do your best, take some risks, and get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new and unexpected day.