Sophie's Choice: Our love affair with the past

When I was in my teens, I was whole-heartedly predisposed to the notion that I had been born in the wrong time. Surely, I belonged in the days of Dorothy Parker and her intellect tank gathered at the Algonquin Round Table! Or perhaps I was meant to be a roadie for Joan Baez (don’t knock it, she’s awesome) or traveling alongside Lowell Thomas on his many adventures, especially the one that led to his 1925 novel, Beyond Khyber Pass. Because these periods were obviously the only time in the history of the world that anything re¬markable, innovative, or audacious was taking place! Anything after was so much white snow on the television screen (or, if you’re under the age of 25, so much “interrupted signal” on your flat screen TV). Or so I had convinced myself. For whatever reasons, I had manipulated myself into thinking that the times I currently lived in lacked any true vitality, because I did. That’s a whole other story to tell that requires more coffee on my part, and probably the reader’s part as well. Point being, we tend to romanticize days of yore as if they truly were paradise on earth, when it really wasn’t so. There are no questions that there are people who behave like foul cave trolls today. Alas, history is littered with cave trolls, so it’s not a symptom that has mysteriously developed over the past decade. Yet to hear some people talk, you’d think our forefathers and fore-mothers were the epitome of wholesomeness and morals so clean, they squeaked when they slipped on their powdered wigs in the morn. That’s not to say there weren’t men and women of the times who inspired and strived to make the world just a little brighter place to live in, but let us remember that no one particular person or place is perfect. Spousal rape was still legal in the United States until South Dakota became the first to outlaw it in 1975 (North Carolina didn’t see the light until 1993). Lynching was a common form of mental and political intimidation in the south (though it did occur in northern states as well) against blacks and poor whites that were purposefully disenfranchised by state constitutions as a ploy to keep them from voting. Such barba¬rism occurred up into the 1960s and was even celebrated with photograph postcards of the actual event that were sent through the mail until the U.S. Postal service banned sending them in 1908. We could talk about the unbelievably cruel, nasty stunts people have pulled throughout the ages all day, but do you see what I mean? The notion of “life was better/simpler when (fill in blank with social commentary of choice)” is a false one that keeps us from digging our hands in the muck of the present and using it to build something sustaining for the future. I mean, think about it. Did our ancestors leave behind the only home they knew to endure long sea voyages and face the perils and challenges that dogged them every day for us to complain about how bad we have it now? Our great-grandparents and grandparents dreamed about having the kind of lives that most of us do now in modern Northern America—dare we make those dreams for nothing by viewing our present with disappointment and disdain, our future as bleak and the past with rose-tinted glasses?To those who have taken the time to read through this, I dig comments, criticism, or any excuse that allows me to check my email. So if you would like to vent or share, please send questions and whatnot to