Who remembers the good ol’ days? You know way back when teenagers could ride in the back of a pickup truck on the freeway, or you could light up a cigarette on an airplane, or hold a baby on your lap without those confining car seats. And if you had a problem in your life, nobody asked you to share it. Nobody wanted to hear. And, by God, if the ice cream man wanted to give an eight-year-old a ride around the block in the back of his truck, he could do it. You could even ring the bell. Just don’t tell your mother.
Like I said, the good ol’ days!
And, sure, these might not be the golden days you have in mind, or what most people think about while sipping lemonade on the front porch. But, the fact is, it’s easy to cherry-pick our memories and then let selective recall convince us that life was so much rosier in another time.
It’s the curse of getting older. At least it can be.
But, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a hard curse to fight, especially when today’s world is so complicated and challenging to navigate. It’s easy to get lost in nostalgic moments—open the photo album and rewind to simpler days. And it doesn’t matter what generation you’re from, we all want to spend a little more time in our own Mayberry—Floyd’s for a haircut and Aunt Bee’s for a piece of pie.
Most of us have our own version of simpler days—a bubble-like period of time when life was easy-going and untroubled. We had no responsibilities, mortgages or debt, along with healthy bodies and sharp minds. Sunscreen was optional. Good hearing was a given. Naked somersaults whenever you felt like it.
Pick your own rose field. We all have one, even if it’s buried somewhere deep.
I might choose when I was in college, or perhaps that time when my wife and I traveled across the country waiting tables, or my first year of teaching, or the early years in our kid’s lives. There are many sweet spots.
But, if I’m being completely honest, and had to choose just one particular time where my mind travels back most often, it would be five years ago. It would be the time before I had Meniere’s Disease and before a tumor ripped apart my balance and hearing. Life before my body became compromised, and suddenly everything became more complicated.
I know I’m not alone. Most people who have had struggles in their lives (and isn’t that all of us) can’t help but let their minds occasionally play the “life before” game. If you’re lucky, you’ll realize how exhausting and useless a game that is. Cliché aside, time does indeed march on. And I have learned that I either march with it or I don’t. Don’t get me wrong; memory lane is a beautiful place to visit. It warms the heart and helps us appreciate all the blessings that have come our way. But, stay there too long, and that sweet nostalgia turns into a dissatisfaction that comes when you don’t want to be where you are, or believe that being where you are is a consolation prize—good, but not quite the real thing.
Unfortunately, this is what age has become for so many—the runner up life, a less relevant and not quite as meaningful existence as the one you had. Life before and life after. And go ahead and compound this with physical difficulties and diminishing energy, and it is no wonder we spend so much of our “dream time” back in another day.
But, I’ll say it again, not being where you are takes so much more energy than being where you are. Living in the past (or the future) sucks the life force right out of you. It takes away all the energy you need to live and enjoy today.
Eckhart Tolle wrote a book on the subject. His Power of Now is a life-changing, must-read, book that describes how living in the Now is the only place where you will find the power that keeps you creative, joyful and alive. And, more importantly, connected to who you really are. The Now is the only place where age is entirely irrelevant. It doesn’t exist. (Share that at your next job interview).
Of course, you could read Tolle’s book, become impressively enlightened, and still make a strong case for how difficult a time it is we’re living in, and why escapism to a simpler time is warranted. The facts speak for themselves. In our 24-7, always-on, lightning fast society, we have access to the world at our fingertips. Unfortunately, this comes at the high cost of actually having the world at our fingertips, and with it, every possible bit of bad news imaginable. We don’t just have our own problems and heartaches to deal with, we have 7 billion other people to think about. It’s an impossible load to handle.
And while the world may feel close and connected, it still takes an hour and a half to get 15 miles across town. And for all the social connections we may think we’re having online, people are more isolated and lonely than ever before. Get yourself a bowl of ice cream and do a Google search on how many people are dying alone.
And, of course, we all know how dangerous the world has become. Who wouldn’t wish for a life in which we didn’t have to lock the doors, shut the windows, or tell the kids not to talk to strangers? Or if we didn’t have to be suspicious of packages left on the street. Or worry about the growing divisions in the country and the world. Hostility. Paranoia. Anxiety. It’s a crazy time to be alive. It’s definitely not Mayberry. But, guess what? Mayberry wasn’t Mayberry. Fun fact: In real life Aunt Bee wasn’t warm and cuddly. She didn’t even like Andy. And who doesn’t like Andy?
Life might have been simpler in another time, but only if you kept your eyes shut and stayed in your small bubble. It’s a lot easier to find bliss when you’re living on an island in the South Pacific. It’s not so easy when the guy on TV is shouting at you, you’re out of work, or a naked man comes running up to you in Times Square. Throw in wildfires, flooded coastlines, and senseless shootings, and you’d be crazy not to want to escape to another time.
But, before you purchase that plot of island in the Pacific, you should probably know there’s a typhoon heading that way. And, even more important, you should know there is a huge silver lining to the world we live in. And, no, this is not a “look at the bright side of life and keep a stiff upper chin” silver lining. You can’t just put a bumper sticker on the back of your car and will yourself to happier days. You have to get your hands dirty and do the work.
This silver lining is simple, although it’s a hard pill to swallow. It is this:
The crazier, screwed up and more challenging the world you live in, the more opportunity there is to discover who you are and what you're made of.
Caveat: If you’re willing.
In a world filled with such heartache, anxiety, and pain, you have three choices: You can sink, swim and stay afloat, or swim to higher ground.
Most of us are strong enough (or have enough support systems) to stay afloat, to find a way to keep going and get by. It’s called survival. But, for those who aim to live beyond survival, the alternative is higher ground, where the view is spectacular and life-altering. Of course, this takes conscious effort.
It calls for us to be stronger than we thought possible—kinder, gentler, more compassionate, forgiving, and loving. In other words, it calls for us to live at the top of our game—balanced, mindful, and awake. Always searching.
It is a life that requires us to become fierce warriors committed to a better world, but with the knowingness that we are, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin explained, “not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Acceptance of this dual reality is what allows us to find meaning in it all.
To live in today’s world, we must be part Gandhi, part Terminator, and part Monty Python. Wise and humble, fearless and bold, and with eyes to see the humor and absurdity of it all.
To live in today’s world, we have to be immune to the toxic poisons that surround us. We have to choose to live above the noise—to turn off what doesn’t matter and tune into what does.
To live in today’s world, we must honor our past with gratitude, plan for our future with purpose, but live for today. Now. No judgment. No resistance. Not better or worse. Perfect, just as it is.
To live in today’s world, we have to transcend the madness and illogical world of mind and matter, so that we may pursue who we really are. And who we really are is wise beyond space and years, and always aware that the good ol’ days are right Here and Now.