In conversation, we often talk about the past as if it were the present.
Instead we should live in the present but prepare for a future that improves upon it. You say it’s hard to know whether the future will meet that expectation. Ah, but if you aim low, for a so-so or not-so-good future, it’s harder to envision the possibility of a better one and harder yet to obtain the desired future.
“Past Becomes Present,” is this blog’s title, pulling our combined history into present day for better or worse. Or turning history inside out. That seems legitimate. But in conversation this week, I found myself reliving the past, not so much to sample its lessons, but to examine points of trial and pain that should be soothed and digested by now. I decided to take a look at the role the past and future play in life. One might think my hands and mind would have little bearing on the future as I am over 60, but as long as there is breath in any of us, we can influence tomorrow–whether it is the next time we awaken or even possibly 30 years from now.
If we want to push forward, we need to go far beyond the past, carrying it with us, pay attention to our role in the present, embrace it, but hold in our minds a vision of the future that we will work to achieve.
Cruel realities of 21st century life—extreme fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, political philosophies that whiplash the country left and right, and an economy rising upper incomes but often neglecting the bottom–threaten to cloud our impression of the present and impose fears for the future.
As a grandparent, who frequently looks into the inquiring eyes two generations below, I seek the positives that could provide them a future worth moving into. While the current state of affairs has not reached the conundrum faced by Abe Lincoln in the Civil War and Winston Church in World War II, they exercised hope in bleak worlds when their people needed it most.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Message sent to Congress delivered a written review of the nation-(The tradition at the time minus tv cameras to register the clapping, standing, and sitting of the opposing parties). On December 1, 1862, Lincoln seemed to address my concern as he wrote:
“ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862
Churchill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean peppered with German U-boats to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941. He asked for their assistance but also spoke to his countrymen:
Let us address ourselves to our task, not in any way underrating its tremendous difficulties and perils, but in good heart and sober confidence, resolved that, whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.
Winston Churchill December 30, 1941
Each man had the ability to see beyond the current difficulty to believe in their nation’s ability to overcome, not in a Disney-esque fashion, but in a positive reality built out of turmoil.
Few could have predicted what post-war Reconstruction would bring without a fair and steady hand, like Lincoln’s, at the helm. Some might say America still suffers from the missteps after 1865 that resulted in Jim Crow laws in the South that punished blacks and might have been avoided had race relations been handled differently immediately following the Civil War. Fortunately for Europe, Germany, and Japan a more progressive hand administered the Marshall Plan after World War II, yielding strong partners today. But still this did not prevent backward looking nationalist tendencies from cropping up throughout Europe and the U.S. today.
Every country and every era has been divided by serious issues, but without agreement about the need to draw the sides together and ease opposition by finding areas of agreement and common need, stagnation or worse begins to destroy a country and upset global harmony. On so many issues America seems to be at a stalemate, but as Churchill so memorably proclaimed to students at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
For modern America facing the future this seems to translate: Stick to your guns, don’t give in to petty challenges. If, however, your country is at stake, work like heck to preserve democracy, just like Lincoln worked to preserve the Union, and Churchill sweat blood to protect England from the Nazi horde.