The Past really is a foreign country, one that you can never go back to, because it doesn’t exist. Everything there is magical and better than it is now, except it isn’t. A dollar stretched further back then or so it seemed, people were better dressed and more polite except when they weren’t, the music was clever and fun and hokey and made of bubble-gum and corruption. There were no cell-phones. (Unless you were in jail, in which case you, I’m guessing probably don’t want to go back to the past.)
The thing is, there is no past but of course there is. Those things happened, it happened, all those sun-dappled days of your childhood, your schooling and your education, the hi-jinks and monkey-shines and prat-falls, that time you went to jail. There are days that exist now only in synaptic connections in your own mind and a cold, sterile, impotent number on a calendar as the only proof that they ever happened at all. And whatever it is your brain-juice is made of (mine personally is a combination of newsprint, alcohol and just enough hatred to strike a spark) will, inevitably, sand off the rough edges and sharp corners and make you remember the best and not the worst.
You remember the times you were happy, not the times you were in jail. (Look, it was a minor misunderstanding with 150 Mexican cops, alright. I paid the fine and left, okay? Gracias, senor.) You remember the day you did well in school or the day somebody that you liked smiled at you or the time you got that job you wanted or met the love of your life. But happiness is just that, those moments, small, simple, fragile and precious beyond all treasure. They belong to you and they only exist in the chemical soup sloshing around inside your brain-pan and as a bureaucratic stamp on a piece of paper.
Nostalgia is tricky but powerful. The Past wasn’t better. You just think it was. And you can never, ever go back there, no matter how much you long to because that country doesn’t exist anymore.
(Unless, like me, you have access to a Time Machine. And then you can go back whenever you want.)
Mad Men returns April 5. It makes me happy. For a minute, anyway.