Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
There is something intriguing about the human fondness for nostalgia. Perhaps it’s the manifestation of selective memory, the way we can conjure up such deliberate omissions of undesirable aspects of personal and collective history. By focusing on the pleasant moments and memories, we convince ourselves that whatever chosen segment of our past was remarkably void of the undesirable aspects that plague current existence.
Nostalgia makes an art form of selective memory and often distorts both the past and the present. In that carefully crafted and custom created mental reconstruction, it was indeed a remarkably wonderful world. A world in which all schoolchildren happily pledged allegiance, recited the Lord’s Prayer, and dutifully went about their daily chores with nary a complaint.
We somehow forget the mandatory nuclear bomb drills, the sinister black-and-yellow insignias designating fallout shelter spaces, and the fact that we have always had over-populated prisons. We skip over the days of poverty and starvation during the Dust Bowl and the Depression, conveniently ignore a world war or two, along with the Korean War and the rampages of polio and tuberculosis. We forget that in the days of our youth, every local cemetery documented with monuments the deaths of infants, toddlers, children, and soldiers sacrificed in both Lost and Won Causes.
It would be good to pause in our mythological reconstructions and remember that every era, every generation, every decade has had its horrors as well as its joys. In the midst of human suffering there have always been stories of the triumph of the human spirit. In the midst of deprivation and affliction, there remain faith, hope and love.
Quite possibly, the ancient collector of proverbs and scribe of wisdom believed it was better to focus on searching for and celebrating the good that is still to be found around us than to afflict ourselves with distorted views of the past. Better to appreciate one’s daily bread than to long for the days when wafers formed like dew in the grass.
God’s own manna is still provided those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Better to be grateful for strength that sweats the brow and gains food to eat now than to curse the loss of Eden. And, perhaps, to note that in another forty or fifty years, people will swear that these are the good ole days.