Summer is a season ripe with a certain kind of nostalgia. The delicious garden produce of the here and now shares my consciousness with fond reminiscence of sleep-away camps and running around the neighborhood with friends from sun-up to sun-down. It’s been a long time since I was on summer vacation, and proportionately I have experienced a great many more summers of just working indoors at the office. Adults don’t do summer vacation the same way school children do, but maybe we should.
Some places outside the US seem to have the right idea. Last time I was in France (also the only time I was in France), a local told me half the country takes the entire month of July off and the other half takes August. Apparently 4 weeks of paid vacation is a minimum requirement in the European Union. There is no such vacation guarantee in the US, so I’m sure I’m not alone in wistful pining for the freedom and adventure of a whole summer off.
I’m also probably not alone in my longing for a summer with predictable weather. So far this year has been a complete guessing game. A very late frost made for a very delayed start to the growing season. The weeks and weeks of torrential rain that followed were also out of the ordinary, so all my starts were pale and washed-out until just a couple weeks ago when the sun finally made a showing. This week the pendulum has swung and we’re under a heat advisory, so I’m hoping all my under-sized produce makes it through the roller-coaster and into my kitchen.
Climate change is just one reason a person might long for a time before, but humans are generally disposed to experience nostalgia about a lot of things. For the most part that seems fine. It’s enjoyable to get the warm fuzzies about good times come and gone. Those positive memories can also inspire us to build the opportunity for similar experiences into the future. The problem arises when folks try to cling too insistently to the past. Or make current policy out of it after it no longer applies.
There is a whole swath of the US citizenry committed to bringing back a time in America that never actually existed. A time of general innocence and harmony when there wasn’t so much bad shit on the news every day. A time of great prosperity for all, where hard work was all you needed to guarantee success. A time of The Land of Milk and Honey. A fantasy.
Perhaps it’s their way to envision a future they want to live in. Perhaps they just bought the snake oil from the peddler because they don’t know enough about their own national history. It’s probably some of both, and most definitely the latter. It’s hard to buy-in to a false reality when you are grounded in the actual truth. And it’s incredibly easy to be taken-in by the fantasy when you don’t know what really happened.
This is why it’s so important to continue learning all the time, and equally important to spread that knowledge. For example, this week I learned it was common practice at a certain point in US history for white folks to don blackface, commit a crime, then blame it on a black person and lead a mob to murder that black person. It’s a strategy that was undoubtedly effective given the circumstances in late nineteenth century America, and a reality that makes my stomach turn and my skin crawl. I wasn’t looking for this info specifically, I happened upon it while reading an essay by Ida Wells-Barnett published in 1900.
I've read about Ida B Wells, and I've read what other smart people think of her reporting and other writing, but it was a different experience to read her thoughts written in her own words. This was no nostalgia-coated version of what was happening in the US at the time she lived and wrote. It was what she saw and heard and what she thought about it. It’s important to absorb pieces of contemporaneous history any time you can because the revisionist versions dilute or erase the lessons we learned (or could have learned) from the events and people in those times.
Unfortunately, this is true even for folks who lived through history and are still around to talk about it. Every time we recollect something, our brain forms that memory afresh from all the associated pieces. It's a truly remarkable process, but it's also malleable. We are not looking back through our memory like video records in a vault. We are almost reliving the circumstances of the past as our current selves. Sometimes that means we have new insights about old happenings and get to grow a little from the revelation. Other times, it means we try to apply outdated strategies to current problems.
It seems like this is happening more often in politics. Some politicians have just been around so long, they are still playing by the old set of rules even though the game has changed a few times over. I want to be rooted in my past so my branches can reach up and out toward the future. But I don't want to be stuck there. The world is constantly changing and growing, and so am I. It makes no sense to try to cram the world into a box it already outgrew, even if we were fond of that box once upon a time.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.