I reviewed Svetlana Alexievich’s fascinating and galling oral history of the end of the Soviet Union this week and it got me thinking—not for the first time—about what a dangerous thing nostalgia is. In that book, dozens of people, from all strata of society, recall one of the bloodiest eras in human history fondly and long for its return. I miss people who aren’t around and occasionally think back to this or that thing which has happened in my life, but I never long to go back or return and replace the present. It’s unthinkable to me to live at any moment but now. Whether it used to be better or may be better some time in the future rarely figures into my thinking.
I spent a lot of last year writing about my childhood, but never in any of those many days and hours did that exercise of burrowing into my own past make me ache to be seven or thirteen or twenty-two. I hear people at the bar and elsewhere talking about what amounts to “the good old days” but in nearly forty-six years of drawing breath I have yet to be drawn to that sunny glow of yesterday. Election politics traffics in this sort of thing too. That’s what “Make America Great” is about. We should be careful what we wish for or we’ll be reliving Germany in the ’30s or Russia in much of the 20th century. My crystal ball is pretty cloudy but I truly hope we don’t voluntarily start going backwards.