Days Gone By

Yesterday night, a friend of mine posted on my Facebook page a photograph of a mildly embarrassing poem I had written as a teenager.  Despite the fact that I found the poem to be slightly cringy, I had to admit that the work was my own, and reading it gave me a deep feeling of melancholy that the sentiments expressed were so quintessentially Nathanish.  Although I would not phrase the poem the same way had I written it older in life, and it likely would have been far less direct and covered in far more layers of misdirection, the sentiments expressed in them could have been said at thirty-six as they were when I wrote them around the age of sixteen.  I wonder if, had I been able to communicate with my younger self [1], if I would have given in to despair if my younger self had known that two decades later I would be wrestling with the same fundamental ambivalence about love and relationships with no end in sight, creating some kind of temporal paradox that would threaten the stability of some small and insignificant part of the universe.

I suppose my feelings about this matter are not my own alone.  Sometimes the gap between our hopes and expectations and their reality can cross over the line from mere melodrama as my life has been into the realm of the genuinely tragic.  In 1960, for example, the nation of Somaliland, after only five days as an independent state [2], joined in a union with its larger neighbor Somalia with great hopes of a unified and free nation.  Those hopes would not only not be realized but Somaliland itself would suffer decades of misrule before an immensely destructive war of independence [3], only to be forgotten and ignored by the outside world for decades in a refusal to give them back the independence that they so foolishly gave away in a burst of naive idealism that they have repented of many times over in the succeeding decades.  I am sure that if they could go back and do it again, the Somaliland people would want nothing to do with a union with Somalia under any circumstances, and would take their places as a free nation determined to go it alone as best as they are able.  But one cannot go back and reverse the mistakes of the past, or know how badly one’s hopes and longings will be betrayed by the cruel world in which we live.

At times, history reminds us that we are our own worst enemies.  There are still many people in the United States who view the antebellum period with a sense of nostalgia, gloomily worried about what was lost in the aftermath of the Civil War, and longing again for power by unreconstructed Southerners against the liberalizing tendencies of d*****d Yankees.  Yet that world was destroyed by the behavior of fire-eating Southerners themselves.  After the election of Abraham Lincoln, before he could even take office, the seven states of the deep South were pushed into a preemptive rebellion against their impending political impotence.  In the social experiment as to whether somewhat exploitative free labor regimes and extremely exploitative plantation slavery was a bigger draw to internal migration and external immigration, the rules of apportionment had determined the North to be a winner similarly to the way that the difference between high levels of taxation and regulation in some states at present in the United States and low levels of both in others has made the latter the clear winners in contemporary apportionment with the invention of air conditioning and increased transportation infrastructure.  Yet instead of choosing a gradual and consensual loss of power nationally or adopting strategies to reverse that decline by making their region more appealing to upwardly mobile migrants seeking economic opportunity, they choose to rebel and were crushed.

As human beings, we are limited beings in terms of both what we can understand from the past as well as what we are able to discern about the future.  Our memory plays tricks on us, and our attempts to understand the past on its own terms is often sabotaged by the fact that we know how things turn out and the people making the decisions did not.  We can say, knowing what we know in the present, that the rebellion of the Confederate States of America against the United States was a horrible idea, that Somaliland had no business joining greater Somalia and that it would only lead to tragedy, and that the love life of even a young Nathan was too unsuccessfully and too publicly so to be ignored, but had to be dealt with in the face of unfriendly attention by others.  We make our decisions in ignorance of how things will turn out.  It may be somewhat mature of someone as a teenager to wish happiness even for a young woman who is not interested in him despite his interest in her, but it is tragic when the same thing is going on twenty years later with little improvement.  It may be idealistic for a nation to join in a union with a neighbor of similar ethnic origin but different colonial history but it is tragic when that idealism is crushed by dictators and viewed by the international community that one is unworthy of having one’s separate nationhood back.  It is all well and good for one to place one’s lives and sacred honor and one’s corrupt social institutions at risk in order to win a war for independence until the God of Battles decides to reject one’s appeal to heaven and leaves one’s homeland and evil civilization in ruins, with only one’s stubborn pride to keep going in the face of disaster.  Days gone by will not return again, and one cannot undo the mistakes of the past.  The melancholy course of human history makes fools out of most of us in time, if we have long enough to watch it happen.

[1] See, for example:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, History, Musings, Somaliland and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s