Now is our only time

PHOTO: Paul Aubin, via Hibbing Historical Society
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

The other day my son Doug asked me a question. If I could live in any time in history other than our current time, when would I want to live? Doug loves starting conversations with training seminar ice breakers, even though he’s never been to a training seminar. (We suspect he’s on a management track).

He assumed, quite understandably, that I would say early 20th Century Hibbing. After all, that’s the era I’ve been researching for the past four years as part of a book I’m writing. He sees me hunched in the basement reading off the grainy screen of the microfilm machine, piecing together details from stories both thrilling and mundane. 

It’s true, I wouldn’t mind having a week’s stay in old North Hibbing. I’d conduct some interviews. Document the sights, sounds and smells that don’t transmit through old newspapers. See if I could convince “Fightin’” Vic Power to drive me out to Stingy Lake in his Pierce Arrow.

But if I’ve learned anything from spending so much time in another time it’s that I don’t want to live there. If you dig beyond the nostalgic vainglory of your own memories and ancestry, you’ll find ample evidence that the past came with hardships most of us have been fortunate to avoid. 

Just one-hundred years ago, half the population couldn’t vote or develop property because they were women. It was considered scientific fact that your skin color determined your character. Children died horribly for myriad reasons at rates that would send our current communities into a catatonic state. Few lived into what we would today call old age, meaning that children who lived rarely got to know their grandparents.

And yet, as I read, I learned that people often found deep contentment. They spoke of joy, of love, of hope. They had adventures, enjoyed small pleasures, and laughed their way through adversity. It wasn’t that the horrors of inequality created these feelings; rather, it is evidence that such qualities can endure through all times.

Some day a person might find this column embedded in an old newspaper (digitized, of course). I would hope that they understand what I’m saying as clearly as I could understand Claude Atkinson, editor of the Mesaba Ore, as he wrote more than 100 years ago. Amid his fiery political editorials, Atkinson described the joys of nature, the love of family, and the pride of a job well done as well as anything I’ve read from the past year. 

The people of the past were not different, better, or stronger than we are now. This is probably the most important observation I’ve made in my attempt to reconstruct the past. The times influence people as much as people influence the times. We learn what’s normal, what we want, what we dream to achieve, from the world around us. If you’ve got a problem with the present, look in the mirror. There’s your solution. 

There are those, too, who seek refuge in some imagined future. Perhaps 60 years ago people dreamed of flying cars and robot servants. But today, even as those fantastical dreams near reality, people seem to imagine some horrible future instead. A number of my acquaintances seem to imagine peering out the window of a homemade guard tower, hands clutching an assault rifle, eyes peeled for bandits who seek their canned beans and fresh water. Few speak of this openly; rather, we live as though it is true.

So many of our troubles seem to be related to time displacement. Some people want to live in the past. Some want to live in the future. These groups can’t stand each other, but share an almost intolerable disappointment with nearly everything. 

How much time we waste obsessed with a past we can’t get back and a future we don’t control. The only time we have is now. Those who best use the time available to them seem to be the ones who wield the mystical power of fate. They are the ones we want to be, and who we could be.

Our eternal souls are needles that play the song as the turntable spins. If the record skips, the music suffers. So let’s play our part in our time. All that stands between now and the future is the melody of our lives well-lived in the present.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 14, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Excellent… not the time to return to the cave in fear. But the time to flourish in flowering moment.

  2. Elanne Palcich says

    This posting deserves an A+.

  3. Very good piece.

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