Golden age thinking sends us back in time. Through nostalgia for a past we never lived, or frustration with a present we routinely bemoan, the memory of a golden past can seem all the more real and all the more enticing than our own present.
What if we could travel backwards in search of that happier yesterday?
If I had been born on the exact same day that I actually was, but had lived my life backwards, today would be October 29th, 1902. (Perhaps some time earlier than that by the time you read this.)
I have no actual recollection of the events that occurred between my birth and 1902, although I have read much about them and I have talked to people who have actually lived during that time, so I have few doubts that the events actually occurred. Some of their memories of the former half of the 20th century are wistful; others not so much. What might my life be like had I lived it in reverse and experienced those things?
I may have sung Buddy Holly songs as a small child and shared my parents' joy when we traded in our black and white TV for a console radio.
I would have witnessed the end of World War II, right before the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and then Hiroshima. As a teenage boy, I likely would have been drafted into the long, arduous war that followed. After the war, I would have lived through the Great Depression. If my family was like many others, we would have eaten some bread and a bowl of soup and then gone to stand in a long line.
In October of 1929 I would have found great fortune when my stock portfolio doubled in value, if I had one. I probably wouldn't have. It would have been nice to drink away my sorrows, but Prohibition would have prevented me from doing so. As an adult, I would have heard the news that the Treaty of Versailles had been signed and another war - World War I - was to begin. It was to be the 'war to end all wars,' but history books teach us otherwise.
There would have been good things in life too. I would have gotten to witness the career of my all-time favorite baseball player, Babe Ruth - great pitcher for the Red Sox that he was in the end. I would have been around for the first Indy 500 - an event I enjoy to this day. Amazing how fast those guys can drive their cars backwards. Let's see... I'm sure I can think of more good things I would have experienced. Ah, yes - Buddy Holly, I guess.
If I had lived my life backwards in time, I would be writing this article with a fountain pen. You would be laughing at how many misspelled words I'd have written. It would have only been read by the few people to whom I could physically show the manuscript.
Instead, I am writing it at an efficient keyboard with spelling and grammar correction apps undoing my every conventional mistake. I can publish it to the Internet where it is available to view by virtually everyone in the world.
If I had lived my life backwards in time, I would have only been able to listen to Babe Ruth's baseball games on the radio, and then later only read about them in the newspaper. Today I can watch stars like Christian Yelich and Mike Trout on screens so large that the players are almost life size and broadcast in images so vivid I almost feel like I'm there. And if I'm not at home, I can pull a small device out of my pocket and watch my heroes anywhere I happen to be.
Not since I was young has my country been involved in a major war that consumed the consciousnesses of the people. An atomic bomb has never been used as a weapon in my lifetime. We still sign treaties, but they are for preventing wars rather than ending them. I have never stood in line for food. Well - I have - but you know what I mean.
I didn't experience the career of Buddy Holly as it was happening, but I did those of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. I'll take that trade. And alas, there are so many different craft beers legally for sale that I couldn't possibly ever try them all.
Upon reflection, I am very happy that I have lived my life forward in time rather than backward. You should be too. Be glad that you didn't need to live through the trying times that your grandparents did. Be thankful for the bounties of the 21st century, for there has never been a better time to be alive than right now. And tomorrow will be better yet. Keep looking forward. Know that the best of life is still to come.