The Golden Age Is Now?

At the risk of sounding pretentious or nerdy (or both), my story begins at the High Museum of Atlanta, where I was attending a member preview of two exhibits last week. One exhibit was art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden, and the other was art of the American frontier. There’s something about seeing art in person that doesn’t happen when you see it online or in a book, and as I walked around the museum, I was captivated.


Maybe I was experiencing what the pedantic guy in Midnight in Paris blathered about: Golden Age Syndrome. I didn’t want to just view the paintings. I wanted to be in them, or at least in the world they portrayed. You’ve probably experienced the I-wish-I-lived-back-then sentiment too, right? You watch a movie or look at old photos and imagine how much different (and more interesting) life would be somewhere or sometime else.

I indulged my imagination. As I wandered through the exhibits, my mind wandered into Paris of centuries past and the American West of the 1800s.

First my Paris wanderings: How cool would it be for an American like me to essentially become French? It isn’t cool for a French person; it’s normal. But for me, it would be a great adventure. I can easily imagine myself hanging out in Tuileries all day every day. And the way I picture it, I would be able to speak French fluently, so I’d feel right at home. Even if I couldn’t speak French very well, I could ask a nearby painter or someone floating a toy boat in the fountain to translate for me. I’m sure plenty of nice French people other than mimes would be glad to help out. It would be one big, happy cultural experience.

After the Tuileries exhibit, I time-traveled into the old West in the next building—pioneer and Native American themes from the 1800s and early 1900s. I didn’t expect to enjoy that exhibit very much since I’ve never really been into Western movies or books, but it was fascinating. It was easy to imagine myself tagging along with Lewis and Clark or sitting around a campfire in the desert with the wagons circled around. Or maybe even assimilating with natives like in Dances with Wolves.

And in my vision, of course, I’d get along just fine with trappers, explorers, cowboys, the Sioux, buffaloes and bears, and salty old miners as we spent our evenings laughing about the zany misadventures of a pioneer lifestyle. The way I envision life back then, that’s totally possible.

The common desire in both of these pictures was to be in the moment, to appreciate every aspect of my surroundings, not taking anything for granted like the people who lived there. I would savor the culture. It would be something like a vacation that doesn’t end.

tuileriesOf course, in both of these pictures, I wouldn’t have deadlines looming, bills to pay, repairs on the house or car to deal with, or any other big issues with people or myself. And the ideal positive me would be there, but the actual conflicted me wouldn’t. I’d have everything I need and be content if that wasn’t very much. The main thing is I would be carefree, and that would allow me to be intensely focused on the people and places around me.

Now at this point in the blog, I could insert a moral of the story—how my imagination isn’t realistic, and life just isn’t like I pictured it.

But I’m going to go in a happier direction here, because it occurred to me that the people who lived in 18th-century Paris or the 19th-century West didn’t enjoy their surroundings as much as I would have because they were weighed down then with the same kinds of things that weigh me down now. But they should have. And if I joined them then and there, I would probably bring those heavy things with me and not be nearly as carefree as I imagine. And I shouldn’t.

So instead of lamenting about my imagination not being realistic, I drew a different conclusion. How about realizing the opportunity before me? Why not choose to enjoy my surroundings, the people and culture and sights and smells and everything else that’s fascinating about life in the here and now? Why not go ahead and be carefree and content and just celebrate this era in my part of the world?

If I don’t, I run a terrible risk. Someone a hundred years from now might one day look at artifacts from today in a museum and think, “If I lived back then, I wouldn’t take a moment of it for granted. What an amazing time to be alive! I wouldn’t be like the shortsighted people there, so oblivious to such a fascinating time in history.” And they would be talking about me.

I can't let that happen. Maybe our vision of living in other times or places is actually more realistic than the worries and concerns that burden us here and now. Perhaps we take on more weight than we should. Maybe it really is possible to savor our surroundings and enjoy the people in them. And maybe, just maybe, the Golden Age is now.

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©2013-present by chris tiegreen