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Nostalgia - The Best of Times

Rolling Stone magazine called this Beatles song the best song of the twentieth century. It goes like this:Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.       

Yesterday. Remember? Canada’s Happy Days.

The Mounties were beautiful in scarlet and above reproach. Archie’s biggest problem was choosing between Betty and Veronica.        

The past. Remember? Everyone who wanted a factory job had one at the Motors in Oshawa or GE in Peterborough. Women stayed home and wore aprons and the only people who said “me too,” were kids who wanted dessert.       

Yesterday. Remember? Expo 67. The Leafs won a Stanley Cup. Paul Henderson scored—not once or twice, but three times. Kids played baseball at the park and road hockey in the streets. Screen time meant The Brady Bunch or I Love Lucy.       

The best of times. Donald Trump misses them, so he promised to, “Make America Great Again.” During the presidential race he was asked by a journalist when exactly that was. Trump said, “well, America was great when Ronald Reagan was president!”        

So, do you remember what Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogan was? You guessed it. “Make America great again.” We have always believed in yesterday.       

And lest we think that is just an American thing, don’t forget Doug Ford. He said, “We will return our province to where it belongs. Ontario will be open for business.” He said this when our unemployment rate was near historic lows and businesses are complaining that they can’t hire the help they need.        

We believe in yesterday. Nostalgia is a worldwide phenomenon. Chinese president Xi Jinping calls for “a great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.” Russia’s Putin insists that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster that he will help Russia recover from. After the Brexit vote, British politician Vince Cable said, "Too many were driven by a nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink."       Yesterday. Actually, the best of times, but also the worst of times.       

Not quite fifty years ago, mortgage rates were 18 percent and unemployment over 13 percent. More than 400,000 people died of starvation in Ethiopia. The Vietnam war raged. Residential schools sundered children from parents and tribes. Not long ago most cancers could not be beaten, the cold war filled us with fear, labour strikes were regular occurrences, and acid rain had killed many of our lakes. Looking a bit deeper into the past, there was WWII, the holocaust, the 1918 flu epidemic, as many as twenty million starved to death by the Soviets in the Ukraine, and we lived, on average, twenty years less than we do now.        

Nostalgia has a sweet aroma, but as a plan for the future, it is poison. Our memories are very selective.The truth is, as Calvin so aptly observes, when you think about it, our lives now are actually pretty nice. A lot of kids don’t have as good a home life as we do. We have a lot to be thankful for today. We can’t really complain.       

Which is not to say there are no problems. Our lives are always a mess of broken windshields and relationships and worries of deep concern about big worldwide problems. I write about those problems regularly. But we will never find a solution to those problems by idealizing a past that gave them to us. We must find solutions to those problems, in part, by seeing things as they are now.       

I’m a writer, and so perhaps I have an over active imagination. But I play an odd game with myself, sometimes, when I’m driving through town, by myself, at night.        

I imagine that my great grandfather, Willem Suk, who died in 1909, is sitting beside me in my car. Willem died of lung disease from working in a cement factory after spending most of his adult life selling groceries door to door out of a dog cart. His family was left in heartrending poverty. Anyway, as I drive along, I describe for my grandfather wonders he could never imagine: jetliners landing at Pearson passing overhead, Audis and Buicks, electric street lamps and three-bedroom bungalows with in-door plumbing, air conditioning, and my groceries in the back seat. He would have been amazed that his own tragic life did not result in generations more of pain and poverty for his descendants, the same pain and poverty that was commonplace for his ancestors.      

 Today is Thanksgiving. Let’s embrace how far we’ve come in order to tackle the problems we have.       

The truth is, our future can be even more bountiful, more life-sustaining than our lives are today, so long as we do not wallow in yesterday, but rather, roll up our sleeves, and with hearts full of gratitude, live by ideals worthy of the future we want for our own grandchildren.