Sometimes when we think of the past we look at it in a prism. We rarely see the figures or times we’re studying for what they are, preferring to see them as what we wish them to be. We say things like, “I wish I could go back to that time period” without truly considering what we’re asking. For me, I’ve said more than once how I’d love to have lived in the 16th century, but that’s primarily due to my historical inquiry proclivities. To see how peasants lived, what a town was really like other than the old decaying remnants we have today would be astonishing.
What would not be astonishing is to live to an average age of 30ish, be hungry all the time, worried about disease, fresh water to drink (yes, people drank water but rarely as it was usually contaminated with human waste), or any of the other trappings the age contained. Further, I’m positive the king or queen, or the local nobility would have little use for me so there would be no opportunity to see how they really lived. Grandiose thoughts tempered by the sting of reality.
Maybe something closer to home. How ‘bout going back to the ‘70’s. I was in my teens then. I can hear the slight groans from my audience complaining about disco and reliving Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. I’m constantly amazed how many people were there, when in reality, most weren’t. Ironically, I was, along with my father and a friend but we left before the event itself, Dad saying Steve Dahl was an idiot as we made our way to the car. I also hear some saying, “Yes, bring back actual dancing, not the pseudo-sexual dry humping that passes for dancing today.” That I get, completely. C’mon, K.C. & the Sunshine Band or Earth, Wind and Fire didn’t do it for you? Maybe Frampton, Zeppelin or Yes? So much to choose from musically – I could go on all day.
Remember winters in those days? Snow in Chicago was not only a regular thing by December but stuck with us all the way through to sometime in March. Ah, the good old days. Hip hugger jeans, leisure suits, and Archie Bunker along with his nemesis Meathead. There were also crappy air conditioning units, giant gas guzzling cars and the energy crisis, not to mention Watergate and the remnants of the Vietnam War.
Cell phone technology was just getting off the ground but we had CB’s…remember them “good buddy”? My handle was Disco Jammer, and when I got my license, morphed into the White Shadow on account of my white ‘71 Chevelle with posi-traction and 50’s on the rear, Cragar mags, and a Hurst shifting system. Oh yeah, headers too. It was loud and I was proud when I pulled into the high school the first day I could legally drive. Ah, the good old days.
Romantic memories of our youth, or traveling back in time tend to permeate our thoughts as we age, and there’s nothing wrong with that unless we continue to live there, casting the present aside as an old washrag. Sometimes we forget the now will soon, as Carly Simon reminded us, be the good old days. Maybe rather than dream dreams of the past we should concentrate on the present, the past a chocolate dusting to be enjoyed but not made a steady diet.
My kids are all in their 20’s now, and time as truly flown. Days of baby wipes, toddler tears, and first days of school disappear in the rearview mirror, to be replaced by young adults carving out their place on this big blue marble. We converse now, not as father and kids (although sometimes that’s the case), but as peers, me bringing my experiences to the conversation and they, their youthful exuberance. What fine people they’ve become, and how proud we are as parents.
My wife and I sit together and enjoy each other’s company. We’ve always been that way, but now, for some reason, we enjoy our time even more. Maybe it’s the slow creep of age that’s not so slow, or the realization that we’ve grown together these past thirty years, closer than we’ve ever been and more appreciative from whence we came. Doesn’t matter any more. All that matters is what remains.
So, here’s to the present, the soon to be past. May we savor each moment enough to make a memory to revisit, never forgetting we live in the now.