Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The good ol' days
Every generation tells stories of the good ol’ days, and I am told the older you get the further back those memories go. They say you can tell the age of the storyteller from the period of the stories! The truth is we all need some nostalgia. To reminisce with some longing and melancholy does us no harm. Our heritage has helped shaped and made us who we are (for the good and the bad), and we do well to keep the memories alive. However there are two attributes of the past we cannot avoid. The first is that if there is stuff that needs to be dealt with, then it must be dealt with, we can’t sweep it under the carpet and hope it will go away. Speaking of men’s spirituality, Stephen Biddulph in his book ‘Manhood’, says past unresolved issues between a father and a son are like a bad smell trapped in an attic – you have to open the attic door, let the smell out, and start putting something better in its place. The second, and it comes after the first, not in place of the first, is that in a real and true sense the ‘past’ does not exist anymore, it is simply not there. I remember not understanding why my grandfather never went back to visit his Yorkshire place of birth (he left as a young boy to emigrate with his parents to South Africa in 1895). Now I understand, the place that lived in his memory, no longer existed. I once took my wife, Yviette, on a tour of La Lucia and Umhlanga Rocks. I wanted to show her where I grew up. After discovering the little dirt road we used to take as a short cut through the sugarcane fields to play tennis at Mount Edgecombe was now a four lane freeway, and that the old brick double story house we lived in on the Umhlanga beachfront was now a five story Cabana, I declared the tour over. This was not where I grew up. That place does not exist anymore, except in my memory. The good ol’ days are gone. Life cannot be lived backwards. I wonder if this is not the lesson of Lot’s wife? “But Lot's wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). Yearning for a past that does not exist, and never will again, paralyses us! Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “You cannot pour new wine into used wineskins, because the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins" (Mark 2:22). Living in South Africa, and I guess it is the same everywhere, I used to hear it often in the Mississippi Delta, is a nostalgia for the good ol’ days. This runs deep. The truth is there are only two things we can do, other than nostalgically reminisce, and that is to deal with the stuff of the past that needs to be dealt with, and then to let it go. The past is no longer there and never will be. Rather than constant paralysis the only way is the way forward, to pour new wine into new wineskins, and to have the courage to embrace and grow that which is now before us.