Last summer while working in Plymouth, Mass., I visited Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum set up as it would have been in the year 1629. I walked into one of the tiny Pilgrim cabins and saw the above, pretty much exactly as you see it here. I entered through the door just as the sun was pouring into the otherwise darkened cabin through the narrow chimney shaft, focusing the concentrated light on this small bottle of oil. So striking!
I’ve thought of this image many times over the last eight months or so since I took this picture. The thoughts generally focus on the question of gains and losses…since 1629, we’ve gained so much. A nation! Democracy! Medicine, technology, science…so much! I wonder why I keep returning to the other side of the coin (so to speak)–what have we lost?
We’ve lost the pace of peace, to be sure. All of our modernity, each item eagerly trumpeted as “the latest and greatest time-saving device” has not given us more time at all. As we have regulated all that used to regulate us–harvest, seasons, night and day–we’ve removed the natural barriers that kept us separate from the now constant-fast pace at which we hurtle through the days.
We’ve gained medicine, but lost health through our demand for processed foods and our unwillingness to unplug and slow down. Even when the doctor says to us specifically, “You have to reduce the stress in your life, or you will have a heart attack,” we don’t really believe him.
Nostalgia can be a dangerous drug. I want to be careful not to pine for what’s past as a retro-version of “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
In a sense, though, that IS what we do with our present and future–striving forward with technology and other “improvements.” Once I get a SmartPhone, I can keep up with email when I’m in the carpool line or waiting at the post office; once I get and iPad and subscribe to the newest airplane wireless technology, I can stay in contact with the office even while I’m in the air; once I get the new 2011 Ford, I won’t even have to parallel park by myself! Once I get…