Reflecting on the past while still focusing on the present


Editorials and other Opinion content offer perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent from the work of our newsroom reporters.

Someone once suggested to me that instead of dreading the blank screen facing me when I sit down to write a column, I should consider it an opportunity. A chance to tell the world what I think. A chance to spread love and joy. A chance to make a difference.

I politely refrained from clubbing him with my laptop computer. He was one of those people who consider failure just a chance to try and succeed at something else. I know we need those people, but sometimes they are hard to take.

But Lord knows we need a bunch of them now. We need people who can look at what is happening and say, “It used to be worse.”

Because no matter how many people try to idealize the past, it was rough, too.

I grew up terrified of nuclear annihilation. True, there still is a chance, but it isn’t as high as it was in the past.

I grew up dreading the chance of contracting polio and being put in an iron lung. Those pictures of people encased up to the neck in a large metal tube with only a mirror to help them see anything were as scary as anything I’ve seen in a horror movie.

I grew up seeing movies and pictures of the Holocaust which I have never forgotten.

People were avoiding movie theaters because of possible contagion, kind of like — well — kind of like now because of COVID. Although we were less likely to get shot by a deranged gunman back then.

Still, we are living longer, or at least we were until COVID hit. And we are staying healthier longer.

Hang with me, I’ll get back to arguments for my point in a second here.

We have the choice of hundreds of low calorie or no calorie sodas, so much so that soda companies seem to be running out of colors to differentiate the kinds in packaging. It’s no longer Kool-Aid or water.

Most people have access to air conditioning so we aren’t waking up in sweat soaked sheets to the whir of a box fan in the window on a hot summer night.

Many schools are air conditioned which you might not think about. But if you ever went to one which wasn’t, you would know what a wonderful advance that is.

I’m not saying the present isn’t packed with troubles, but the past often wasn’t as rosy as our fading vision remembers it.

This too shall pass is the cliché jokingly recalled when troubles arise. But it is true. It’s also true for good times but we prefer not to think about that.

We once had a Supreme Court which decided African-Americans weren’t entitled to be real people. At one time, doctors used to appear in advertisements recommending smoking to soothe nerves. Someone thought the Edsel was a good idea.

What I mean is we will be wrong again, just as we have been in the past. But we’ve been right, too. The real trick is deciding which is which and sticking to it.

Just don’t expect those decisions to be unanimous. Because even in a landslide election, 40% of people disagreed, and a majority probably thought that we needed better candidates but they held their noses and voted anyway.

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