It seems lately that there is a new wave of violence in our schools, what with the recent shootings in Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, and Arizona. And the year is only two months old! While I won’t go to the length of calling these events an “epidemic,” it certainly shows that the times are changing even from when I was in school, which doesn’t seem to have been that long ago. But where for me it would have been foreign to think of kids bringing guns to school, unfortunately my kids will have to adopt a more vigilant and suspicious mindset when going to what should be the safest place in the world, the school room.
With terrorism on the news every night, violence in the schools, increasing population and poverty, and an apparently out-of-control government, it certainly looks as if the eras of our predecessors were so much better than we have it today. Sure we have the iPad and TiVo and laptops and George Clooney, but are we really better off than those who walked these same streets 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or even further back than that?
We have a tendency to look back with whimsy and fondness on the times of the past, romanticizing the era and maybe even wishing we could go back to a simpler, freer time. For me, the particular era in time is right at the end of the 19th century known as the Victorian Era in England and the Gilded Age in America.
Yes, those were perfect times. Everyone dressed so smartly, with ties and tails and top hats, going to balls and dining at the club, smoking a cigar and drinking a scotch, high tea, perusing the newspapers and opining on politics. Catching a hansom cab for a ride through Hyde Park, taking in the theater, and speaking in the Queen’s English, which always sounds so darn polite!
Ahh, the Victorian Age, when skyscrapers did not blight the architecture, when the smog and fumes came from factories and not from cars, and when everybody treated everybody else with dignity and respect- and more importantly, a time in which crime and violence were virtually unheard of.
Gosh, weren’t things so much better then? The time of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes and myriad others whose sole passion was literature and the creative arts. I think of those times and I can picture myself settled right in the middle, with top hat and tails, walking stick in my hand. Can you picture it? It’s… perfect. No worries about violence in schools or international conflicts (consider that World War I was still over 20 years away), the only concerns being of happiness and joie de vivre.
But then I come back to Earth from my pie in the sky fantasy. In the Victorian Age, medicine was still in its infancy, surgery was quite primitive, and education was unpredictable. The class system was in full force—you were either upper class or you were… what? Relegated to the working class, the manual laborers, the street-sweepers and the barkeeps? And where would I have fit in? Would I have been a successful attorney, the same as I am now? Or would I have been a struggling writer, running for stories to sell to the newspapers while I work on the great novel that may never be published? Or would it have been worse for me? A black cloud above my head, debts putting me in prison, and a family going hungry?
It seems that to romanticize the past is to short-change the present. Despite all of the struggles of the world, the frightening people and uncertain future, I still come back to this being the gilded age; this is the best time to be alive. Because our present is what we make of it and we have the power to make it great. The past has already happened and its history has already been recorded, but tomorrow is the blank slate. Tomorrow is the story that has not yet been told and we, each and every one of us, is the author of our own history.
Pretty darn exciting time to be alive, right?