Those of a particular generation are well known for reflecting in the rear view mirror of yesterday. Most roiling to younger generations is the hackneyed phrase, “Those were the good ole days!” Rear view mirrors serve a purpose. However, one’s obligated to spend more time looking though the windshield to navigate the circuitous roads ahead. Without doubt, there’s wisdom in reflecting on yesterday. Visiting for perspective-not setting up housekeeping again.
Some loved the Beatles. Others not so much. Their 1965 hit, “Yesterday” has haunting lyrics of lost love, and conflicted feelings, “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 a retreat from life. Nostalgia’s a feeling that lingers long after the taste has passed. The Statler Brothers amassed a fortune singing about memories.
When one claims, “Those were the good ole days,” what does that mean? One may assuredly gain life-altering lessons from the past. Mistakes and miscalculations can be re-engineered for the road ahead. Many are smarter today than yesterday. One can’t erase the past. One can turn the page. 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 haute couture.
Webster defines nostalgia, “a longing to go back to one’s home, home town, or homeland: homesickness; a longing for something far away and long ago, or a former happy circumstances.” One’s 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, and accident that scarred one for life, or the rupture of a long term relationship, from which one hasn’t fully recovered. It’s simultaneously real and deceptive, daring to rob today’s joy at the expense of yesterday.
One’s memory is selective-even faulty. There’s a tendency to inflate an event in one’s mind, when recounting it to others. 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 one imagined. They’re stow aways in our memory. Nostalgia’s fragility requires a loose grip.
Interestingly, in Greek, the language of the New Testament, “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 every lurking. Nostalgia’s reach is longer than Pinocchio’s nose. Some liberty minded conservatives long for an era when college presidents actually ran the institution; when every athlete proudly stood for the National Anthem. Even some #Never Trump adherents, after a brief dose of weak Joe Biden, may have twinges of the heart that Trump 47 may not be so bad. Or 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 occupied 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 salesmen once found mothers at home, and mother’s womb was a safe haven for the unborn. 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. Parents are particularly vulnerable to regrets, because they want to do everything right. Then reality shows up. Today is tomorrows nostalgia.
Thankfully, many discover that God’s forgiveness and transcendent peace has dispelled most regret. Evangelicals attest to the eternal truth that Jesus has relocated millions from Regretville to Peaceful Valley. One positive thinking guru flippantly quipped, “Plan. Do everything right. There’s no need for regret!” How’s that working out for us? Putting yesterday in context challenges most mortals. Jesus’ disciples received a valuable lesson, after claiming they’d follow Him anywhere. He said, “No one 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. A rear view mirror is our yesterday. The windshield’s today. Proverbs 27:1 warns of boasting of tomorrow.
Why did the wisest man ever, until Jesus Christ, Solomon, expressly counsel us in Ecclesiastes 7:9, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this?” He didn’t say why. Perhaps focusing on the past robs us of the moment. Does it distort, dilute and diminish today? If it’s unwise, one may conclude it’s foolishness too. It’s appropriate that we extol our Founders and Patriots, who fought and laid the cornerstone for liberty. Today is our time to wage war for virtuous liberty. Few advocate ignoring the past. However, existential fulfillment from the past is a cruel mirage. Intoxication on the past offers today’s hangover.
Heroes of yesteryear have one thing in common-they are dead. Our appetite for a more idyllic time is understandable. However, the Greeks were right about nostalgia. Each visit to that place figuratively “picks at the old wound.” Will it ever heal? We hold no sway over yesterday. There’s no promise of tomorrow. Solomon’s right. Whether it feels like it or not, “these are the good ole days.” May our comportment reflect it. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org