The Good Old Days: The Hidden Dangers of Nostalgia

Recently a friend sent me a link to a long array of nostalgia from the 40’s and ’50’s, along with a message glorifying and wishing back for the “good old days”. What follows is the letter I wrote to her, but had the discernment not to hit “send”. There is no point in life in confrontation that can only hurt our friendships. However, there is some value in examining our romantic ideas about the past. So here is the letter:

Thank you for sending the web link. I have to disagree, however, about the descriptives you use for “back then”. Far from “calmer, sweeter, simpler, and more peaceful”, to quote the terms you use, when I was born the Normandy Invasion had been in progress 20 days with untold numbers of dead, The Battle of the Bulge was just over the horizon with 100,000 +/- casualties, 6 million Jews had been gassed and burned, untold others tortured, orphaned, widowed. Europe was a bombed out disaster and within a year the first and second atom bombs would have put us on the brink of where we find ourselves with a number of other countries today, Iran in particular. I’m afraid looking at the “good old days” realistically never yields the rosy picture we wish had been true.

I do not intend to be cynical. As I age, I find that I cherish every minute and that I must learn to love every moment exactly as it is. I think that, apart from certain short-lived glitches of worry or anger, even despair, I am succeeding. I am happier than I have ever been. I enjoy life more than ever. I have overcome more than I believed I could endure and still be joyous. I would not go back one day of my life. Every trouble, every pain, every heartache has brought the blessing of perseverance and wisdom and gratitude. When I wrote this, I was sitting here in a wheelchair with 3 broken bones in my right foot from zip lining in Punta Cana with my 13-year old twin grandsons. The day after my injury I went swimming with them in my hard waterproof cast and then had the most fun in a while watching them swim with the dolphins from an 18’ high deck after being carried up a long flight of steps to by two handsome (yes, strong) young men.

I am surrounded by precious children all the time—some mine, some not—but loving them all with their bright vibrant life. They come to my Nonnie’s Story Hour with their eager young minds and imagination. Their parents want them to sit still and behave, but “behaving”  to me is seeing them dive enthusiastically into the book. Or they gather in my studio to make Fairie wings to play in the Fairie Village my 6-year old granddaughter and I built from “treasures” at the thrift store. Or in my kitchen decorating cookies willy-nilly, not caring if the shapes we cut come out right. I do not think that the quality of their growing up these days (hopefully to become their “good old days”) is any less than mine. And I am grateful for all of it.

I do not intend this as a “sermon”, but I don’t do well with thinking of the “good old days” as better or more to be desired than what we have: this moment, this life–which is a treasure to be cherished as long as life endures.

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