Time has a way of glossing over reality. We sometimes don’t see it, but it is true none the less. When we remember good ol’ days gone by, we don’t always remember with accuracy.
The result of our flawed memories is an often unrealistic idea about the way things used to be. We think back on the times of yesteryear, and think of how grand and glorious they were. We think of the problems today (the seemingly endless problems!) and wish we could transport back to a better time, when life was easier. Simpler.
But was it really?
Even 3000 years ago, this was an issue. Solomon, perhaps the greatest mind ever to contemplate the deeper questions of life, said this about longing for the past:
“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10
Even Solomon spoke of the good ol’ days, and he lived in them! I sometimes wonder if Solomon often observed people in his court and family asking this millennial question. I also wonder if all people at all times have asked this question, in some fashion. Since human nature never changes, it stands to reason.
Our human nature is such that we are forever wishing things were better than they currently are. Why? Because nothing is ever just right. Nothing is ever completely okay. Ongoing problems are always in the present tense.
When we think of the past (the good ol’ days), we tend to forget all the things that were just plain annoying. Take for example, boredom. Do you ever think about the past and remember boredom? No, of course you don’t. You remember what was exciting. You remember the extreme highs, the extreme lows. Even when remembering the lows, you don’t really “feel” the pain of the events, but instead you remember getting through the lows. Which, in a sense, is a high.
As a result, your memory doesn’t serve you a dose of reality. It serves you a distorted picture of the past. And with a distorted picture of the past, you find yourself longing for it.
Regarding the past, it only takes a little time to unearth the trials and heartbreaks of each and every generation gone by. No matter what a period might look like in the history books, those black and white photos don’t reveal the true color of human sorrow and disappointment.
There has been and is one enduring constant in all of the history of the world: time. Time is the great curator of life. In our limited perspective, we understand time as broken into three distinct parts: past, present, and future. When we look closely at these three elements of time, we find that:
- We don’t experience the pain or pleasure of the past. We only remember it, and remembering pain or pleasure is like watching a movie – you feel everything vicariously, so the pain doesn’t really bite and the pleasure is elevated to something far beyond actuality.
- We don’t experience the pain or pleasure of the future. Like the past, we see them from a distance. They don’t quite touch us. Thus, pain doesn’t really sting, and pleasure can be vastly more impactful than reality.
- What happens in the present, we experience fully. We feel every pang of sorrow, physical harm, and stress. Further, we find pleasure to fall short of our minds’ expectations. Pleasure might be pleasant, but it never quite measures up to what we think it could be.
Understanding the dimness of our memories of the past or our fanciful imaginations of the future, we would do well to entrust our happiness to neither one. No, the time to live and enjoy life is NOW. The past will forever fade away, the future will forever escape our arrival. What God has given to us is TODAY. We must learn to find all of the joy and wonder in it. And we must be willing to accept the pain we know it will bring.
Let us follow Solomon’s simple but profound counsel, and look to the present to find our happiness and meaning. Otherwise, we will forever be longing for the good ol’ days that were really not so good!