Looking back on when I was a kid, life was so very much simpler in those good old days. Bucolic Greensboro was not dissimilar from most other hamlets spread all across this largest state east of the Mississippi River. And, most likely, it wasn't too different from little burgs all across the nation, either. The daily routine mostly revolved around school, Boy Scouts, church activities, daily chores - that sort of thing.
But it was a different time, for sure, with regards to technology. The pace of life was slower by default. There were only three television stations broadcasting grainy black-and-white images from Atlanta, and they signed off the air about midnight. There were no FM radio stations, as popular music was played on the AM band, along with news and sports programs. Telephones were land lines, hard-wired to a central location with a real, live operator plugging in wires on a switchboard to connect calls. There were no microwave ovens, no cell phones, no personal computers, no internet, and the rage among young people in the 1960s was a device which allowed you to take your music with you wherever you went - the transistor radio.
The national television news programs brought the outside world to us, along about supper time every day. We knew a war was springing up in a faraway land called Vietnam, and we knew the Russians had missiles in Cuba. We practiced emergency drills in case of a nuclear attack, and every town had a designated Civil Defense fallout shelter, although it could not possibly have held everyone in town. We weren't so isolated that we missed the invasion of The Beatles; we even saw their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on live TV.
But Americans turning toward wholesale drug use, the hippie culture, the sexual revolution, riots and demonstrations associated with the Civil Rights movement and anti-war protests just were not part of life in rural Georgia. Seeing and hearing of those events on TV and radio were mind-boggling to me as a youngster, growing up in my little town in those long-ago days.
And now, the irony of it all is that most folks my age, like me, wish we could find a place just like old Greensboro, where we can spend what time we have left on the planet in peace and quiet. We've seen the rat race, we've seen and in many cases become the ugly American, we've endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and we're ready to stop the madness and get off this train, just to spend time doing something that matters.
As a kid, I heard the electrifying words spoken by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." And along with my generation, I naively thought that we were all part of a great team, that we'd all move uniformly forward and make this world a better place. Along with my peers, I wanted to learn everything I could, to enhance whatever talents I'd been born with as much as possible, in order to get out there and do something meaningful with my life.
I couldn't wait to get away from bucolic Greensboro, where nothing ever happened. The lazy, hazy days of summer would seemingly never end. And there I sat, broiling in the Georgia heat and humidity, while the exciting world JFK had talked to me about turned on its axis without my participation.
I was not alone. We left, most of us, as soon as we could. We went off to war, or to college, or to politics, or to the world of private business to make our fortune. And now, on the few occasions when I've managed to gather with a few of my oldest, closest buddies from those days, it's so amazing to see how the game we all played in the intervening decades has shaped us.
Without exception, all of us want to go home.
And I'm not talking about a physical place like a house or retirement villa or even the actual town we grew up in when I say that, either. We just want to go home to a simpler time and place - the very time and place we couldn't wait to get away from when we were youngsters.
When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian family living in a faith-based Southern town in a faith-based United States, the celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus was a big deal, indeed.
And, as a boy, I looked forward with rapt anticipation to the annual visit from Santa Claus. Like everyone else I knew growing up, I made a list of things I hoped Santa would bring to me. And, yes, I tried really hard to be a good little boy, for Santa's elves somehow knew who was naughty or nice, and I didn't want to forfeit the one big shot I had each year for something new.
Funny what you ask for when you're a kid. Possessions of some sort usually comprised my list: stuff like clothes, toys, a bike or an electric train, a tennis racket or a watch. Maybe even a trumpet or a piano. Or maybe just whatever the hot item was that my peer group was excited about, so that I could be cool, and included amongst the popular, beautiful people.
But my wish list is much different now. I wonder if Santa remembers this verse from Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages," which undoubtedly impacts what I ask for as an adult:
Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth.
"Rip down all hate," I screamed.
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
Today I wish only for Santa to bring me a few simple gifts, things that I - as a little boy - would have thought to be pretty stupid things to put on any Christmas list.
Let's start with peace. I want a cessation of war, everywhere. I want people to stop hurting other people, themselves, animals and the good earth.
Next, I want folks to stop long enough to smell the roses, or the coffee, and to reassess what they're doing. People seem to be so angry, and so driven to outdo the next guy. They've got to have more stuff, live in a bigger house, drive a more expensive car, or display a more innovative electronic communication device. I want 'em to stop and think, even if it leads them back to a contemplation of mankind's wretchedness at being apart from God - which is why Pascal said that most of us fill our lives with diversions such as possessions to avoid too much thinking.
There are so many, many levels at which people on this globe experience life as we know it. The fabulously wealthy around the world do things like build snow ski emporiums in a Middle East desert, or create islands and cities in a gulf, while poor folks die young in Africa and Central America from simple things like not having clean water to drink. America's middle class ratchets up credit card debt in order to have more of everything, yet on the way to work drive under bridges where the homeless huddle under blankets or in cardboard boxes.
So I want Santa to peacefully make us all aware of how rare and precious is this thing given us called life, which exists in only one place in the vast, cold, unending void of the Universe.
And I'd like to hope that Santa will find room under my tree for this last gift: that every person will come to understand that the spiritual world does exist and will seek to find the greater truth as it is revealed, in different fashion, to each of us who takes the time to search from our different levels of existence.
So, in a lot of ways, all I really want from Santa is for us all to be able to just go back home. Home to a place and time when folks know what is important, and spend their time accordingly.
I'll leave you with this, friend, as we approach the celebration of Christmas, which is all about God's great gift of salvation - reaching out to the world in the personhood of Jesus Christ. I think C. S. Lewis said it best when he wrote:
"You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
May your soul, and mine, know peace at this Christmas time.
Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.