My daughter and I recently had a lively, fun debate. We were discussing the future, not the immediate future but the distant times ahead and the brightness they hint at. In that debate, we reflected on the feelings that there are dark and dangerous roads ahead for us all, with the brightness of a new era on the other side of troubled times. We summed it up with the old cliche’, “It is always darkest before the dawn.”
With a realistic look at the old cliche’, we came to realize that it is technically incorrect and it is the result of a human construct. The darkest part of the night must be that point where the body of the Earth is directly between the observer and the sun, that point in time when the diffusing quality of the atmosphere has the least effect and that effect is equal from all sides, or for clarity’s sake, the middle of the night. Dawn is when the sun begins to rise, when the first light of day appears. So a time just before dawn cannot be the darkest period of night. There must be some diffuse light bleeding through the eastern sky at that time just before the dawn.
We perceive things as darkest before the light only from the perspective of being in the light. We look backwards when we make that statement. In the dawn we feel that the time just prior to it was terribly dark, when in fact it was not the darkest time we experienced. The same is true for social events.
Humans are uncomfortable with and fear change. We can extrapolate ahead to great things, but in order for those great things to happen we must suffer change. We must suffer through the darkness in order to enter into the light. Once in that light, we think back to how dark things were just before. The truth must be that earlier times were even darker.
Many people today feel that the world is heading the wrong way. They feel we are in dark times. But we do not die as readily from simple diseases. We do not have slavery. We live in a time of amazing miracles of medicine, science and technology. As dark as our time might be, it is like the hour before dawn, with some light in it. There were far darker times much earlier in history. In fact, all human history is in an ever darkening time, with our ability to survive increasingly less certain as we go further back in time.
This brought to mind a Carly Simon song, “Anticipation.” The song came to mind not only because anticipation is the concept of looking forward, but also because of one of the song’s closing lines, “These are the good ol’ days.” In every generation, the elders perceive the previous generation as the good old days, as a time when things were easier and more harmonious. As children, they were not aware of the trials of politics, global peace, and other medical and social concerns. Not until they began to raise families of their own did they become aware of the waves of change that challenge the world as a whole, at which time they begin to fear the coming onslaught.
The truth is that the old days are always darker than the present. We perceive the past as good-times because we survived and now comprehend the changes presented, making that past feel like an easier, simpler life. Every current time will always be perceived as dark times, with the tempest of change hinting at things we cannot comprehend and may not survive. You will always believe that you are in dark times and that darker times lay ahead. That you are in the night and it will get darker before the dawn.
But the reality is that we always exist in the dawn. It is always lighter and brighter than it was, and it will continue to get lighter and brighter as time moves forward. These are the good old days, because each now is a dawning day.