I wonder if a period of plenty and ease was ever correctly identified, except in retrospect.
We always think that times are tough, but are hopeful that they will improve. If they do not, and, instead, deteriorate, we are appalled, and declare the now-passed time a Golden Age. We thought we were working too hard for too little reward, and discover that we must now work even harder for even less.
What I find amazing in myself, and in other people, is our ability to forget selectively. Our minds are always looking for stories, neat arcs with heroes and villains, such that we forget all aspects of the past that do not suit the plot we currently hold to be the truth.
We do not really forget that much, of course, because as soon as we want to change the plot – when one of our heroes ‘betrays’ us, for example, and becomes a villain, we are very quick to rewrite history, recast and reshaped, where the betrayal is foreshadowed by signs and portents. ‘You may remember, my dear’, my grandmother would say, ‘I always said there was something suspicious about him.’ I never could remember her saying anything of the sort, but there is always a pressure to join with the groupthink in these matters, and go with the flow.
The only solution, I suspect, is to proactively declare every moment that we are alive to be a Golden Age. I think that is a pretty good summary of ‘Walden’ by Thoreau, which, as I concluded elsewhere, is not really a book about getting back to nature, but instead about savouring every day of life, whichever path one chooses.
I once had a dream, which I remember very fondly. I dreamed that I was sitting at our kitchen table, in the early morning, and suddenly became aware that I was dead, and that I would be doomed to sit at that table for eternity. Then, I saw my young son’s face look around the corner, and he came in to join me. It became obvious to me, in a second, that I was in heaven. That I had been in heaven all along. That I was living in paradise, and had never realised it. That the real horror of the moment – I realised on waking – was that these moments of sitting in a kitchen with my lovely boy would not last forever, but would soon slip away into the past, would one day be a Golden Age of precious memory.
The task of understanding this needs to be performed anew every day. Otherwise, all the days just run away, unmarked, unnoticed, into oblivion, to be yearned after, far too late.