by Mike Pyatt
Rear view mirrors serve a function. However, one’s obligated to spend more time looking through the windshield to navigate the circuitous roads ahead. Threescore and ten generation members have been criticized for our “rear-view mirror syndrome.” That’s valid. Few phrases aggravate younger generations more than “In my day we…” Nevertheless, there’s wisdom in reflecting on yesterday. Visiting for perspective-not setting up housekeeping.
Some from aged generations have disdain for the Beatles, mostly philosophical.Their 1965, hit,Yesterday, are haunting lyrics of lost love, and conflicted feelings, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play…Oh, I believe in yesterday…There’s a shadow hanging over me…Now I need a place to hide away, Oh, I believe in yesterday.” We get it. Lost love is vexing. Morose sentiments persist. Yesterday, it’s not a hiding place. Memories are for visitation, not an retreat from life.
One may gain life-altering lessons from the past. Mistakes and miscalculations can be re-engineered for the road ahead with a new perspective. Most are smarter today than yesterday. One can’t erase the past. One can turn the page. A trip down memory lane. “Oldies” music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are more popular now than when they were contemporary. We enjoy recalling fond times, when life was wrapped in a neat little package. Before it was hastily unwrapped by those assailing vicissitudes and trials of life. Memorabilia’s hot.
Webster defines nostalgia, “a longing to go back to one’s home, home town, or homeland: homesickness; a longing for something far away or long ago or for former happy circumstances.” Our first kiss. First prom, first romance, first car, and memories that are unique to one’s memory bank. It interrupts our reverie, and tugs at our heart to this day. The loss of loved ones, an accident that scarred one for life, or the rupture of a long-term relationship, from which one hasn’t fully recovered.
One’s memory is selective-even faulty. There’s a tendency to inflate an event in one’s mind, or when recounting it to another. It brings such pleasure, it’s easy to conflate that pleasure with today’s. The human condition’s prone to exaggeration. The former fish, or touchdown pass, is much longer today. He or she is prettier or more handsome on this side of yesterday. There’s danger in getting today entangled in yesterday’s web. Unresolved gremlins of yesterday didn’t disappear, as we imagined.They’ve stowed away in our memory.
Interestingly, in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge of the heart exceedingly more powerful than memory alone. A place where we ache to go, knowing pain’s ever lurking. Emily Dickinson said, “That it will never come again. It’s what makes life so sweet.” Nostalgia’s reach’s longer than Pinocchio’s nose. From politics to sports, from culture to education. Conservatives long for the Ronald Reagan era, or when college presidents actually ran the institution; when every athlete proudly stood for the National Anthem. When marriage was between and man and woman. And when “gay” was a last name, or described one who’s “joyous and lively; merry and happy; lighthearted; given to social life and pleasure.”
Understandably, some yearn for a time when one’s mother or father hadn’t forgotten how to brush their teeth, and recalled every detail of the home they’ve lived for decades. Who wouldn’t pine for those days? Yesterday’s photos are cherished memorabilia, yet stark reminders of profound changes. California was once a “Golden State.” Door-to-door salesman once found mothers at home, and the mother’s womb was a safe place for babies.
Preoccupation with the past may unwittingly transport one to “Regretville.” A perfidious place to visit, and a lonely place to live. “Regrets are the natural property of grey hairs,” said Charles Dickens. A litany of notable people vow they’ve zero regrets, like the late Jack “Dr.Death” Kevorkian, Edward Snowden, and serial liar, Hillary Clinton. They either have a very poor memory or seared conscience. Taylor Swift takes a utilitarian approach, “Every one of my regrets has produced a song I’m proud of.” Parents are particularly vulnerable to regrets, because they want to do everything right. Then reality shows up. One wag admitted, “Of course I have regrets; I’m not stupid. I’m a parent!” Harriet Beecher Stowe opined, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” What about women who’ve experienced an abortion? Some defiantly claim “No regrets!” Some confessed otherwise, finding God’s forgiveness and transcendent peace. Evangelicals attest to the truth that Jesus has relocated millions from “Regretville to Peaceful Valley.” One “positive thinking guru” flippantly remarked, “Plan. Do everything right.There’s no need for regret.” How’s that working out?
Putting yesterday in context challenges most mortals. Jesus’s disciples received a valuable lesson, after claiming they’d follow Him anywhere. He said, “No one having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom.” Yesterday’s intended for a brief stop. Not a fortress from today. The siren of the past is a formidable force. Someone said, “Don’t permit yesterday to eat up too much of today.” A rear view mirror is our yesterday. The windshield’s our today. God owns tomorrow.
Few advocate ignoring the past. However, existential fulfillment from the past is a cruel mirage. C.S. Lewis commented, “If I find in my own desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The Greeks are right about nostalgia. Each visit to that place figuratively “picks at an old wound.” Will it ever heal? Many stalwarts and heroes of the past are dead. The appetite for a more idyllic time is understandable. However, we hold no sway over yesterday. Be percipient about today. There’s no promise of tomorrow. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org