The Good Old Days

Posted on August 17, 2019

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Occasionally, like so many people my age—I’d say older than fifty or sixty—I revisit the “good old days” and remember nostalgically how much better life was in the good old days. The President even was elected in 2016 with his version of the good old days with his slogan, “Make America Great Again.” He’s running again on it in 2020.

The question we must ask is: how good or better or worse were the good old day? They can as near as when you were a kid growing up in the 1940s, 50s, or 60s, or a 100 years ago, 500 years ago, or even go back to thousands of years ago.

Personally, I’m glad I live in the age of wonder drugs and air conditioning, especially here in the Deep South. But I sometimes wonder if the magic and marvels of modern medicines and technologies are counterbalanced by the crippling addictions and modern problems—drugs, digital media addictions, anxieties, stress, suicides, deep divisions in identity politics, ideologies, our very culture, race, gender, and other problems you can add—that plague us today. We are fighting each other with a viciousness and vindictiveness that makes me wonder about the sanity of our civilization. Perhaps the world was indeed better in the good old days.

Where does one start? How about June 1535? We think of Christianity as a religion of love, forgiveness, peace, and redemption, but it wasn’t much of those in the “good old days” of King Henry VIII of England.

That summer a few centuries ago, John Fisher, Catholic Bishop of Rochester, was tried for treason against the king because he denied Henry’s claim that he was the Supreme Head of the Church. The Bishop had committed the unpardonable act of lèse-majesté, challenging Henry’s claim to leadership of the Church in England and Henry was a force to be reckoned with.

An intimidated jury sentenced Fisher to death, to be hanged and cut down alive, to have his intestines drawn out of his body and burned before him, to have his head cut off and his body divided into four parts. Henry later relented a bit, and ordered simply to behead the Bishop, his head being parboiled and mounted on a spike on London Bridge.

Be very careful to wish for the good old days. In matters of religion, violence, persecution, torture and executions were the norm for hundreds of years as Protestants turned on Catholics, Catholics returned the favors, and they both fought off Muslims invading Europe—reaching Rome and Vienna at one point–with a passion. Safe spaces provided today for students in colleges and universities to protect their tender egos and feelings is laughable when compared to how people dealt with others they didn’t like or agree with hundreds of years ago.

You don’t even have to go back hundreds of years. I can remember Jim Crow laws and segregation and racial divisions in the South in my lifetime. To argue for the good old times for American blacks is simply ridiculous. Sure, family values, Christian worship, and probably dozens of other categories may have been richer and deeper than today, but to return to the time of Henry VIII, or George Wallace in his segregationist prime, is not arguing sanely for the good old days.

Perhaps what we are asking for is recalling a “feeling” not a “fact” of existence fifty, 100, 500 years ago. Or you may be thinking, ah, for a simpler day and time, less confused, less focused on self, more given to honesty and integrity than simply getting ahead or getting your way in everything. There are a million examples of how this is both true and false in the good old days.

A recent columnist in the WSJ expressed the simple remembrance that he and his buddies had more fun building a pretend fort in his living room, while his own sons today are wrapped up inside playing videos. The lesson: real life and imagination were better in the good old days than some virtual reality video or game.

Perhaps that’s the lesson. Virtual reality games are just that, games, not reality. I too remember playing cowboys and Indians in the streets and unused lots of my neighborhood with my buddies, Roberto, Alberto, Paul, and others, riding our bikes, kicking soccer balls in the streets until our mothers called us home and admonished us to stop behaving like street ruffians.

There is something missing in life when the activities in life are dependent on a computer, television, tablet, cell phone, ear plugs, anything that comes at you from somewhere else other than your own five senses. How can you replace when I shook hands with one my heroes, Hopalong Cassidy, when he arrived at the airport on visit to Peru where I was living at the time? You youngsters can google Hopalong.

Some life in the good old days was good and good for us. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have wanted to cross Henry VIII, even with Hopalong covering my back.

Published as “Be careful when pining for the good old days,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday July 14 2019.