Emil was already familiar with those people who always say, “Goodness, everything was better in the old days.” And he no longer listened when people told him that in the old days the air was cleaner or that cows had bigger heads. Because it usually wasn’t true. Those people simply wanted to be dissatisfied, because otherwise they would have to be satisfied.
Yesterday was the perfect Colorado day. The temperature cool but not crisp, good for light layers and long sleeves. A friend, her toddler and I walked to a local park where cottonwoods loom and squirrels scavenge without concern. Train tracks run along the east perimeter. We waved to engineers of the passing trains, awaiting toot toots.
Our time together was showered with firsts. A first time careening down the covered slide without assistance. A first time climbing the ladder. I do it! a common refrain from the independent minded two-year-old, while mommy’s hands were never far from her tush. Unintelligible-to-anyone-but-parent’s proclamations punctuated my friend’s and my conversation around politics and plans and parenting.
I am grateful for the teenage years, as tricky as they’ve been. But I found myself longing for days gone by. I wanted the days when I knew my kids were safe. I knew who they were with, what they ate, how much technology they consumed, when they pottied. I used to know everything. I used to be in charge. As hard as it was, it was my job. And yesterday I wanted it back. A return to simplicity, purpose, certainty.
Those younger years were not my best. I was not happy or thriving. The early years of motherhood were fraught with more baggage than I will explain to you today. Trust me, it wasn’t always good. I hid it well.
The lens of nostalgia rarely offers clarity. Instead we believe a washed out version where the desperation and grief is eliminated. We carry the memory but not the specifics. My early days as a mother were mired in handwringing frustration and fear. But now as I face the natural and normal tides of teenagers, I glamorize the park visits, the long days. I edit the soundtrack, removing the discomfort and difficulty.
I have deemed myself useless as of late, with the firehose of news. Those of us concerned about the state of our nation and world, find ourselves scouring for infinitesimal nuggets of goodness. I traipse the fine line of being informed and being obsessed – praying, hoping, yearning for better.
In our quest to make America great, to return to a time of ease and simplicity, many Americans believe an ideology that seeks to take us backwards. We elected a man full of promises, empty of policy. A man who has insulted each and every marginalized people group, who bullies and lies and scorns anyone not of his white, male, heterosexual ilk. A man white American Evangelicals have touted as God’s answer for our country.
Whose America was great? As far as I can tell, the only group doing great in America is the white, heterosexual, wealthy male. Otherwise, it seems the others are, at best, ignored – children, women, people of color, LGBT, Muslim, disabled, Indigenous. When America is only great for some, it can never be great. The goal is baseless, spineless.
So, we have traded our forward movement, our inclusion and generosity, for an imaginary day in the past that never did exist. The lens of nostalgia never tells the whole story. This is why I ran more than one marathon and why I had more than one child. I forgot. I forgot the pain, the fear, the discomfort – all of it. I was left with a memory, a beautiful memory, that did not inform my future comfort. I did complete the marathons and I definitely continued the birthing process for two more, but I was reminded. And I said something to the effect of Oh shit. Now I remember.
As much as I love the scent of a child from the bath, the goopy grins and the godlike giggles, my station in life no longer revolves around young children. To long for a return is not helpful to the children I have now, the lives they live, the life I live. We must evolve and grieve and celebrate the endings and beginnings of new and old chapters. To live our lives backwards is to choose dysfunction. To live idolizing the good old days damages ourselves and our communities. As we live in the present, in the way of love, we must weigh the evidence, consider the facts, honor our bodies, and discover the truth as it is revealed. We press forward in this knowledge, dispensing life in new and fresh ways, eschewing greed, striving for the collective good.
The notion of “Leave it to Beaver” needs to be left behind. It’s time we strain forward for the goodness of what is before us, loving well, fiercely protecting our neighbors. We cannot sacrifice our greatness on the altar of self-service. We cannot choose silence in an attempt to return to fictitious days gone by. We cannot lean backwards into days that never were.
Instead we march in the rhythms of grace, honoring one another and ourselves with our actions. As we choose life and abundance, we serve our neighbors, our nation, our homes in what we know to be true – it’s all about love, generous, inclusive, life-giving love.