Romancing The Past
Ah, the good old days. But were they really that good?
A year into the pandemic it was easy to understand why we found ourselves reminiscing about the past, while at the same time finding out that we missed things we thought we didn’t even like. We accepted things as they were and “took most things for granted.” But during that journey of surviving from fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, we began to appreciate the tangible things that were no longer available in large quantities such as food, anti-bacterial hand soaps, paper towels, but most of all, toilet paper. But now, we must ask ourselves what happened to the most crucial intangibles such as love, respect, connection to community, and unselfish behavior. Why and how did we lose them so quickly? What had we lost along the way that allowed fear, mistrust, and reckless trauma to infiltrate our everyday lives, heading us down a road of unprotected and unpredictable schisms leaving us to doubt that the God we once believed in is in fact benevolent at all.
Since then it has become very evident to me that a cognitive tendency now exists that we all share to remember the past better than it was, especially when the present doesn’t feel the least bit good at all. Making things worse is facing a future while holding onto selective thoughts of doom, gloom, and uncertainty. Might it be just a “misconception” that memories are accurate records of the good things from the past, pristinely preserved in a mental filing cabinet only to be visited on rainy days and cold winter nights? Maybe instead of recalling the bad stuff every day, we should use our rosy retrospect to stitch together a warm blanket of fond and comforting memories of small-town America in the ’40s and ’50s much like my hometown of Dolgeville New York.
As we take a long untethered look back on the “good old days, “we need to ask ourselves if the past was as great as we remember, and if have we learned all that was necessary about life from those walks down memory lane. By allowing ourselves to put positive and negative events into their proper emotional file, when we arrive at the intersection of memory, imagination, past, and present, some of us will have a pristine entry to those memories that best suit us.
The question then isn’t about how well we remember the past, but how to learn to appreciate the “here and now” more abundantly. We are constantly told to “be present,” while using medication, meditation, walking, or any other form of exercise to help reduce mental chatter. But immersing ourselves in the present isn’t the only way to appreciate the gift of life to a far greater extent.
Embracing our own capacity to reminisce about the past and to think of the future, can only help us to develop a healthier perspective and find more meaning in the now. It’s not a crap shoot where you just roll the dice, it becomes a cerebral, spiritual, and heart full of love balancing act that makes living in the present and being human much more satisfying and worthwhile. But we must not forget to seek that which we have lost that put us there in the first place.
Wouldn’t it be wonderfully exciting and rewarding if we could enter little time capsules that could whisk us back to a time and place when our youth was consumed with puppy love, sweet innocence, and a craving for the simple life of small-town middle-class authenticity?
If you find yourself getting lost in the past, make sure you get frozen in the good times remembering those times of unimpeachable romance. Wouldn’t you love to stroll down those village streets again walking hand in hand while stealing a kiss along the way? Driving down endless back country roads with a dear one, while circling around those pristine lakes and ending up at Green Acres drive-in for a burger, fries, and a coke was like evoking a taste of heaven. After all, in the end, we can look back and smile about the good times, knowing that small-town nostalgia is a reliable source of mental nourishment and steadfast nutrition for the heart and soul.
Blessings from a small-town boy,