With predictability, one may join a growing throng of Americans who are convinced the occupant in the Oval office is ill-equipped to make major decisions, or cobble together a cohesive sentence. While visiting storm ravaged Texas, President Biden himself, in the midst of ricocheting thoughts, he tried to put together syllables, then asked, “What am I doing here?” There’s little mystery why nearly half of Americans are asking that same question. In doing so, multitudes discover themselves yearning for the “good ole days.” In their mind, a safer time that offers succor for their soul. Older generations are scolded for our “rear-view mirror syndrome.” It’s a valid charge. Few tawdry phrases alienate younger generations more than, “In my day we…” Nevertheless, there’s solace in reflecting on yesteryear. Visiting for perspective-not setting up housekeeping.
Rearview mirrors serve a function. However, one’s obligated to spend more time looking through the windshield to navigate the circuitous roads ahead. Our momentary focuses on yesterday, serves as a reminder that memories are for brief visitation. It’s neither a hiding place, nor retreat from life. Nostalgia is a priceless commodity during bewildering times. However, it doesn’t mix well with melancholy. Most enjoy reminiscing on fonder times, when it seemed life was wrapped neatly in little package, until it was unceremoniously unwrapped by the quotidian trials of our existence. Thanks to President Biden and COVID-19, nostalgia is haute couture again.
Webster defines nostalgia, “A longing to go back to one’s home, hometown, 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; first home. Such memories that are uniquely fit to our experience. It tugs at the heart to this day. A loss of a loved one; and accident that scars one for life; or the rupture of a significant relationship, from which one hasn’t fully recovered. Former President Trump struck that cord at CPAC, when he asked, “Do you miss me yet?” He’s only been out of office for months. His advocacy for the common citizen is still a familiar memory.
As a cautionary note, one’s memory is selective-sometimes faulty. There’s a human tendency to inflate an event in one’s mind, while recounting it to others. It brings such pleasure. It’s easy to conflate that pleasure with today’s. Our human condition is prone to exaggeration. The former fish or touchdown pass are both longer today. He or she is prettier or more handsome on this side of yesteryear. There’s danger in getting today entangled in yesterday’s web. Unresolved gremlins of the past didn’t disappear, as we imagined. They’re stow-aways in our memory bank. 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 may be lurking. Emily Dickinson said, “That it will never come again. It’s what makes it so sweet.”
Understandably, many yearn for a different time, when one’s mother or father hadn’t forgotten how to brush their teeth, when they recalled every detail of the home they occupied for decades. Who wouldn’t repine for those days. Yesterday’s photos are cherished memorabilia, yet stark reminders of profound change on every front. California once was a “Golden State.” When door-to-door salesman found mothers at home. Mother’s womb was a safe haven for the unborn. A time as President, when Harry Truman paid for all his own travel expenses and food out of his own pocket-not ours. Preoccupation with the past may unwittingly transport one to “Regretville.” A perfidious place to visit, and a forlorn abode to live. “Regrets are the natural property of grey hairs,” said Charles Dickens. Harriet Beecher Stowe opined, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are the words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” No regrets? Many profess otherwise, finding God’s forgiveness and transcendent peace. It’s no secret that Jesus has safely relocated countless millions from “Regretville to Peaceful Valley.”
Depending on one’s ambit, putting yesterday in context challenges most mortals. Jesus’ disciples received a deserved rebuke, after vowing they’d follow Him anywhere. He knew their frame, declaring, “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. A rearview mirror is yesterday. The windshield is our today. Few advocate ignoring the past. However, existential fulfillment from the past is a cruel mirage. There’s more. 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.” Only eternity will scratch that itch.
One can’t erase the past. We can turn the page, gaining life-altering lessons from the past. Mistakes and miscalculations can be re-engineered for the road ahead with new perspective and renewed vigor. The Greeks were right. Each visit to that place figuratively “picks at an old wound.” One’s appetite for a more idyllic time is understandable. James Fenimore Cooper’s sage comment regarding the venal and virulent press, unambiguously bridges the past and present, “If newspapers are useful in overthrowing tyrants, it is only to establish a tyranny of their own.”
We hold no sway over yesterday. There is no going back. Stalwarts and heroes of the past inspire us onward for the cause of defending liberty. It would be shameful to forget. But they cannot do what we must. It’s incumbent upon us to stand conspicuously as defenders of individual liberty under God, and “contend for the faith once delivered.” One can honor the past without being held hostage by it. When absurdity reigns, nostalgia’s stock rises proportionately. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email is email@example.com