Today I turn 34. How to spend a birthday? Well, for the past four hours I've scored placement essays for our writing program. Now I've got two hours to eat my Lean Cuisine and comment on mini-papers from my Civic Literacy class. Then across campus for a Civic Engagement Project steering committee meeting. Then, go home, eat a quick dinner, and head to Auburn Hills to see Van Halen's big reunion show at the Palace. Cheesier evening? Impossible.
Just a few years ago, I used to get a lot of "You seem too young to be a professor." I hear that less and less. For the first few years out of grad school, colleagues thought it was okay to ask my age (and it WAS okay...I didn't, and don't, mind). I get that question less and less.
I wonder what year 34 will bring. At 4, I learned to read and, at least once that I remember, walked to Catone's fruit market up the street to watch my brother and sister get off the bus; the nuns at my pre-school had Italian accents so thick that I used to pronounce the sign of the cross "In a-da-name-a-da Father..." At 14, I left home to enter seminary; a lot of the priests were Italian but by then the white-kid-from-Ohio accent was in FULL effect. At 24, I got engaged, spent part of the summer in the U.K., bought a truck, and moved 2,000 miles away to get my Ph.D.
Old. Or, at least, older. And the list of things I'm thankful for is longer than that decade-old drive from Youngstown to Tucson. Glad to be in love. Glad my dog Hyatt is so cool. Glad to work a job that pays me to write. Glad to work, period. Glad to be less lonely than I was at 4, 14, or 24. Glad to have pretty good health care. Glad to have friends that like to do stuff like play cards and go see Van Halen that have abso-friggin-lutely nothing to do with their jobs. Glad to go to Gesu Church. Glad to teach. Glad to have ears that can hear rock and roll music. Glad to be a home-owner in four short days. Glad that Alice Sebold has a new novel out. Glad that George W. Bush only has another year in office.
Yesterday, downtown at Crossroads Soup Kitchen, I ate lunch with a woman with no legs who lives on the streets in a rickety wheelchair, and who took more joy from her bologna sandwich and her electronic yahtzee game than I've seen people take from sushi and lives of the comfiest comfort. I wish I'd had extra batteries to give to her. I hope I remember her for the next year. I hope I remember all the things on my list for the next year. Disclosure: I also kinda hope I get the "you seem too young to be a prof" line sometime during the next year.