Gongol.com Archives: May 2023
Life, as everyone knows, can only be lived in one direction: Moving forward. This, of course, deprives us of the ability to revisit past mistakes or to re-live glorious moments. That can make the former seem more painful but make the memories of the latter more treasured. ■ But the linearity of time doesn't deprive us entirely of something else. One of the great under-appreciated life skills is knowing how to recognize when you're in the midst of a golden age. It can be the golden age of a cultural wave, of a great institution, or of an economic cycle. It could be a personal golden age, a professional one, or a moment of sublime health. ■ The first step towards cultivating this life skill is to recognize that all human experiences are changing, and many, if not most, are fleeting. In the poetic words of Ecclesiastes, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens." Once we accept that most experiences come with an expiration date, we can develop the habit of appreciating them while they last. ■ For a healthy person, the right act may be to pause and soak in the sensation of a body that is fully well: The "mindfulness" practice of body-scan meditation may be the way to achieve that. For the appreciator of the arts, it may be to dwell on the "history until now" of a musical genre or a class of film. For the member of a team -- at work or at play -- it may be to consciously consider just how frictionless the efforts a good squad feel in the moment. ■ We rarely know when a change is coming, or how it might break a seemingly perfect status quo. It has been noted that nostalgia for the 1990s is fierce right now, and those who experienced that period the first time around may recall a world in which the economy was booming, the Internet was still mostly magical, and peace seemed to prevail. That was before the dot-com bubble burst, before anyone heard of ransomware or the "dark web", and before the nightmare of 9/11. If anyone had known at the time just how good they had it, surely they would have wanted to preserve that feeling forever. ■ That we cannot freeze those moments eternally ought to make us appreciate the good times while we experience them all the more. And if we're clever enough, we may begin to notice that it's almost always the golden age of something, even if it's rarely a golden age of everything. We can even measure it sometimes, like the golden age of scripted television happening now. ■ Like all skills, a person must practice recognizing the gift of a moment. But in recognizing that almost all such things come and go, we might grant ourselves the reward of not only living through the times for which we might someday later be nostalgic, but also of actually sensing the greatness of a gift while it is underway.