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Change and Nostalgia

October 27, 2010

Change is uncomfortable. In times of change, we want to return to the past, because it’s familiar. But the past is never a simpler, more pure time, because when that past was happening, it too, was full of change. We find comfort in the past because we’ve acclimated to the changes of the past. We understand the rules. And, sometimes, we’ve just forgotten the drama for the perfect picture.

We also remember life as simpler when we were children because we were too busy playing in the moment to concern ourselves with the threats and change around us as much as our parents did. When I was a child, change meant growing old enough to drive a car, or a new place to explore and play. Politics meant nothing to me, because there was sunshine outside, and cousins to play with. Religion meant nothing to me, because I hadn’t yet learned that we live our lives by absolutes; primarily that we are absolutely right, and everybody different is absolutely wrong.

Nostalgia: white picket fences and children playing baseball, with mothers lovingly creating feasts from their Joy of Cooking cookbooks while wearing pearls and heels. Husbands leave for work after a wonderful family breakfast together, returning home to enjoy those perfect suppers with their families, while the children share the lessons they learned at school or play. Ideally, the father imparts some random piece of wisdom, and the mother smiles serenely over her little kingdom. Mix in some penny candy and a cute floppy-eared dog, and it’s the quintessential example of “what should be.”

It’s also pretty much scripted from a 1957 Leave it to Beaver episode. It’s fiction. And, I’ll venture a guess that it’s never truly existed beyond the television. Because in 1957, the same year that Leave it to Beaver premiered, there were terrorist attacks, nuclear weapons testing, a national battle over desegregation, murders, accidents, and all sorts of things that sound as if they belong in our headlines today.

It’s hard to remember that in the Cleaver’s perfect little world, children were practicing hiding under desks for protection when they were attacked by nuclear bombs. Racism, segregation and the civil rights movement were huge and messy issues of the day. Terrorist still attacked because of religious differences, only at the time it was over whether Catholics or Protestants were right and/or wrong.

Politicians paint a picture of that nostalgia, and promise to take us “back” to that purer, simpler time. But while nostalgia can be pure and simple, reality is never so easy. Nostalgia is pure, but life is messy and complicated. Life is change. Clinging to the past doesn’t stop change, it just prevents you from enjoying each messy moment of life.

Beware of those who want to take us back. The past has it’s own problems. Let’s move forward, because while we’ll find new problems to work through, we’ll also find new joys, new technologies, new friends and most importantly, we’ll create all sorts of new memories. And someday, our grandchildren can talk about us, and our lives, with fond nostalgia…. and hopefully, decide themselves to leave our messes behind them.

Change is life. Life is change. Embrace it, enjoy it, and look forward to the promises of the future.

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