There’s no way I’d have enjoyed living in Paris in the early 1800s.
The depiction of the people in that place in those days, though done as a rip-roaring operetta, has led me to believe times then were really tough.
You’ve heard the story: steal a loaf of bread, get years of hard labor. Lose your job, lose your child, lose your freedom.
No rights, no reasonable rules, no fairness.
I’d have rebelled.
And from what I learned of post-World War II Germany in 1948, I wouldn’t have wanted to live there or then either.
Not after listening to the stories of the man who brought candy to the children hungry for freedom. Not after seeing the pictures of building after building destroyed by bombs.
To read about life in the American colonies around the late 1700s is to read about unrest, division, uncertainty.
Surely those who lived then had decisions to make about loyalty, responsibility, individuality, freedom. It would have been tough for individuals, for families, for communities.
Even more recently, even in my lifetime, a book that depicts the prejudices and the injustices in the American south through a young child’s eyes, makes me glad I didn’t live then and there.
And right this very minute, in far away lands, those who are different, who are women or who are standing up for something, are living lives filled with fear and repression.
I think we don’t realize what we have right now and right here.
I think we get carried away worrying about which candidate is really going to create jobs out of a thin economy and when our favorite tax loophole is going to get closed.
And it’s because we’ve lived so long with freedom and with the rule of law and because we’ve grown so far as we’ve worked out the bugs in our thinking and our prejudices, that we have the luxury of those kinds of worries.
Atticus Finch would probably get Tom Robinson cleared today. Jean Valjean might never have gone to jail in the first place. Maybe he’d just have been slapped with a misdemeanor and given 100 hours of community service. Fantine and her child could have found refuge at a homeless shelter or food from a community pantry.
History has been filled with difficult times: wars even, that needed to be fought to win independence, to keep freedom, to help others return to freedom. Difficult things have needed to be done: rebuilding, rethinking, redoing.
Times are maybe hard now. But maybe not as hard as we think they are. Or maybe not as hard as they have been.
Maybe there are still things to complain about.
But maybe we shouldn’t.