In Dashiell Hammett’s 1934 novel “The Thin Man,” his leading characters, Nick and Nora Charles are in one of their debonaire conversations when Nora says, “Those were the good old days.” Nick counters, as so often he did with Nora, saying, “These are the good old days.”
Most of us at one time or another have voiced Nora’s thought. That all the good days are gone. The good times were back in some other time frame. Like the Gay Nineties (1890s) or the Roaring Twenties, or the wild and crazy 1960s.
Back then you could shake a man’s hand sealing a business deal. In days gone by a man’s word was as good as gold. Roses smelled better and home-made bread was to die for. The past gets a revision as we get older.
Dashiell Hammett created characters and dialogue that is still common today. He is supposed to be the first to create the hard-boiled detective stories. Critics have called his writing cynical and complex, but it has brought lasting impressions to the readers for 80 years. Hammett created “The Maltese Falcon,” “Red Harvest,” and “The Glass Key,” and the tough guy Sam Spade, who made the term “private eye” a part of our vocabulary.
Nora’s opinion that the days gone by are the “good old days,” Nick’s reply resonates better. These days, right now, in the beginning of a new century, are the best days. Nick made his remark during the Great Depression. Granted, he was a fictional character living in a fictional world. But his readers were out of work and did not see any rainbows in the darkened skies.
Today it looks like a recession is coming. (Whatever that is?) There are many nay-sayers on any subject. Doom and gloom stand on center stage. In spite of all the claims of the past being so glorious, these are the good old days. A couple of reasons.
First, today is the only Friday, Nov. 30, 2007, we will ever have. Why not see the good in it. Yes, you may have to scrounge around for some sunlight, or strain for a glimpse of something good — but don’t give up — this is a good day. And since it is all we have, let’s not abuse it or ignore it.
As the beautiful old King James Version of the Bible puts it: “What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14).
Second, by looking either back or forward you miss the pleasure of the present. Someone has said that the Christian faith should be lived in the present tense, not in the past or future tense.
It is better to see the good in the NOW — today — than look back on it 10 or 20 years and remember how good it was back in 2007.
Browning Ware, friend and long-time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Austin, wrote in his “Diary of a Modern Pilgrim” something of living in the present tense, especially for the older generation:
Walk slower — observe more
Eat less — savor more
Chatter less - teach more
Criticize less - praise more
Spend less - give more
Worry less — pray more
Demand less — enjoy more
With no more doubt, in pain or with health, with comfort or without, these are the best days of our lives.
Britt Towery, fair former pastor and poor layman, writes for Viewpoints every Friday. His e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.