aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Conservatives of various sorts are frequently sneered at for their nostalgia, for desiring an America of their dreams, an America that never really was. There's some truth to the charge, but not just vs. conservatives. All of us create a past to be from -- some of us to define where we'd like to return to, and some of us to define what we're rebelling against.

Those of us who actually study the past know that the past is not like people usually think. It's usually pretty much like now, but without, say, flush toilets or credit cards. People remain the same. Nevertheless, there is an intense attraction for many people to the past. Why is that? What do history nerds get out of reading history?

I think one of the primary attractions of the past is that it does not change. You know how the story turns out (what happens next). You know all the tragedy, as well as the triumph. But it is whole, complete, and you are able to wrap your arms about it, so to speak. You are not afflicted with the turbulence of the period (and every period had its turbulence). You are outside it, a tourist, a kid enjoying a trip back to the family home with Grandma still baking those home-made biscuits.

The thing that makes the present so difficult is that everything hangs in the balance. There are no guarantees. You have to commit yourself to the struggle -- to make a living, to keep your health, to guide your children, to vote for candidates in an election, to decide a million things. It wears on you. But the past, like a fairy tale, is always as it was, and you can refresh yourself by re-immersing yourself in it.

Revolutionaries have a similar problem: we all know how the story is supposed to turn out -- the liberation, the resolution of conflict, the advent of true justice. In "imminentizing the eschaton" (in Buckley's great phrase), we are imagining ourselves in the streets of that City that is to come, just as much as someone reading the Revelation to St. John is. But then, the revolution never quite comes. Or if it does, it turns out to be more thugs and more thuggery, and people still suffer and die without seeing their hopes come true. You can't flee to the imaginary future any more than you can flee to the imaginary past. But both provide comfort of a sort to the present.

And when we return to the present, to the NOW that nags us and demands a response, everything is still to do. At least we are somewhat refreshed as we take up the struggle again, though that has only moderate power. The only real comfort comes from a leap of faith -- faith in Jesus Christ, who is "the same, yesterday and today and for ever."

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