Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thirty Years On

This past Sunday, September 9, 2007, at 3:57PM, I officially turned thirty years of age.

At that exact moment, I was paying for a pizza...yeah, typical, I know.

How does it feel to be thirty? This seems to be a question that people like to ask others on their birthdays. I think it is kind of silly, but I'll try to answer it nonetheless.

On one level, I always knew this day was coming. This is based on the fact that I never figured that I would die before my thirtieth birthday.

On another (more meaningful, less smartassy) level, I feel no different at all. So, I'm thirty now. Great. How am I supposed to feel? Older? Wiser?

Some people think of thirty as a milestone and time for reflection on the road behind and the road ahead. I am not really one of those people, but it cannot be ignored that it gives one a bit of pause. I, confronted with this notion, think "much done, much more to do" and get back to it. I know it is funny for a historian to say this, but there is little use to dwelling on one's own past. Oh, it is fun for moments of nostalgia and wistful remembering, but not as a regular diet. If we do, we cease to move forward and evolve and, in a real meaningful way, we die.

Will things in my life ever be the same as they were when I was (fill in the "milestone birthday" here)? A little yes, but mostly no, and thankfully so. I like to think that I am a more complete, better informed, more engaging person that I was in the past and I hope to keep evolving.

Is the world a different place now than it was in 1977? As ever, the answer is yes and no. There is no longer a President Carter, a Soviet Union, double digit inflation or discos in every village and town. There are still idiotic, out of touch leaders, looming and misunderstood foreign enemies, national financial jitters and silly cultural obsessions. So, same as it ever was on that score.

Did I think I would be in a different place at thirty than I am now? Honestly, I couldn't tell you. I just, as I always have, get up, work hard and take my advantages when they come. I guess that's pretty much what we all do. I guess I could say "fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have never thought I would be teaching Irish history to undergrads and trying to learn Latin." What good does that do, really?

I don't believe that there was some special path for me, some personal Sonderweg, where I am driving to some great, preset goal that I have had since birth. I just try to do my best, keep my nose clean and enjoy myself wherever I can. I have responsibilites, but they are far from onerous; I have my fun, but it is nothing outlandish. For a guy with strong opinions about things, in my daily life, I am pretty dull.

I guess, then, that balance between a lively life of the mind and a (relatively) placid outer life is the sort of balance that I like and need. If this is where I was meant to be at thirty, I didn't know it ahead of time, but I must say I don't mind it at all.

So, as I move forward from thirty, I like where I'm at, I know it won't last and I am ever moving ahead...whether it is to the sunlit uplands of success, the gray middling ground of monotony or the dark depths of oblivion, I cannot tell for sure.

All I can do is be as ready as I can, learn to flinch and have fun along the way because life'll kill ya.

Bring it on.

(I realize I made two Warren Zevon references in that one sentence...I should apologize, but Warren never did and neither will I.)


Anonymous said...

Wow, my name is Will Shannon too but I turned 30 on 7/28. The extra month really doesn't add much flavor either.

mjenks said...

The Woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have sausages to eat,
And beers to drink before I sleep,
And beers to drink before I sleep.

Don't stand around thinking about what's in the woods, go find out. And have a bratwurst along the way.

erika said...

Happy Birthday, Will! Really interesting post - never thought of one having (or not having) a personal Sonderweg... anyway, I wish we were in Madison to buy you a beer and celebrate!

Frema said...

Happy (belated) Birthday, Will!

It sounds like you have a good attitude about growing older. I don't have any big goals for 30, though I do hope to have all my children by then. :)

Lost A Sock said...

Not sure how I missed this one. I like your 30 attitude - enjoy, and move forward. :o)