This post first appeared on April 8, 2014. When I recently saw a comment on social media asking if we didn’t wish we could go back to the way things were in our youth, I decided to repost “Glory Days”.
What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy, children respected adults and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.
Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful.
Today, I tend to agree with her. In many ways life is better today than it was in my youth. If people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation do, is this a phenomenon, which occurs with each generation as we age? Or is each decade really worse than the previous or each 100 years really worse than the previous 100? I doubt 1916 was better than 2016. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and imbued with its excellence.
As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids weren’t a family. See, I can be cynical, too.
I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3. I managed to escape the disease relatively unscathed.
I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life.
I remember an economy, which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades.
I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate toward with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties.
I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we road this huge wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. My filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames.
As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities, which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be jaded and cynical about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or we can choose to seek out fresh, new horizons.
It is up to us to fire up the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today and all the tomorrows we have left. While it is fun to reminisce and essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is — the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.
Lovely and ever so accurate. Good job Kathy.
Great post…I missed this the first time …reminds me of a hymn …A GLORIOUS DAY IS DAWNING…and a good reminder to look where we walk….the gift of being present in the now unfolds new learning, new adventures…and surprises of course….Adelante!
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I think what the boomers miss about the good ole days is the feeling of safety–in our homes and on our streets. I grew up in Chicago and always felt safe as a child.
I think we are all worried about how things have so changed for our grandkids and all the shootings, wars, etc. And I think we know that those feelings will not return soon, if they ever do.
I’m always mystified by those who think the past was glorious. I remember the terror of both communist-hunting and air raid sirens in the 1950s and the frustration of the limited options available to girls and women as I entered my teen years in the 1960s. I am now in my late sixties and these are the happiest years of my life. I’m not alone in this. Large-scale studies of happiness in both the US and Europe have repeatedly found that self-reported happiness hits its lowest point in middle age and then comes up through the sixties and seventies. Why is our society so reluctant to embrace the pleasures and happiness of aging?
I think that what all the boomers miss is their safety in the world and in the family. We used to be so free to do wherever and not worry about anything. Never even thought about it. I also think we kinda know that it will never go back to the good ole days–not now and who knows if EVER.
I think that the need to reminisce about the “glory days” has a lot to do with the feeling that you have reached the end of your usefulness! I think that many boomers don’t feel like there is a place for them anymore so they have to turn around and look back at times gone by to feel as if their lives mattered. I am newly retired and I have been struggling to find my new passion and purpose for moving forward but I am very certain that it is definitely not behind me. I am still curious about the world and everyone in it. My youth was not all that glorious and there is no part of it I want to relive. I want to contribute all that I have learned and experienced to our collective future. I must have been given these life lessons for a reason and I can’t believe that it was just so I would have interesting memories to reminisce about! I am still part of this world and I am still relevant!
Your post took me back to my earlier self in late adolescence when I thought that I could do anything and succeed. But as I attended college and graduate school, I learned that because I was a woman, I could NOT do everything and wouldn’t be allowed in to the all-male occupations that I was interested in. Eventually I got a job that I wanted and was good at, and felt amazed every day that they actually paid me to do what I loved! I would have done it for free (had I not needed to support myself and my kids).
Now, in retirement, I think that the days I have now are some of the best days (and some of the most difficult, also) of my life. I think we need both: to relive the good old days and enjoy the days we have now. Every day is a gift and we can’t count on having a new one each morning. The attitude of gratitude is what keeps me going.