In Response to Paul

Posted: May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

After Paul’s last post, I would like to give him another perspective on his thirty years. I am going to show him how I perceive time zooming past in my idiosyncratic, historian’s style in the hope that it will allow him to view his years from another angle.

Simply put, I ‘relativize’ the time that has passed by comparing the years I have lived to what came before. This probably doesn’t make much sense, so let me give you an example.  Last year was the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal album, “Nevermind”.  Twenty years is a long time, but it feels like only yesterday that I heard the newly released songs of “Nevermind” on the radio.  How long has it really been? In order to give me a sense, I calculate what music was on the radio 20 years before “Nevermind” was released.  1971 was five years before I was born.  In that year, John Lennon released “Imagine”; Marvin Gaye put out “What’s Going On?”, and The Rolling Stones produced “Sticky Fingers.”   Those albums might as well be Mozart, in the sense that they are part of the distant past in my mind.  But, to a freshman in my Western Civilization class, this same remote, untouchable aura surrounds Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” (If they even know of the album.) In other words, I am old; my students are young; time flies.

Let me provide some other examples:

  1. I began working at RMU a decade ago. This is nothing.  But, ten years before 2002 was 1992.  Babies born in that year are already Juniors at RMU. (Yikes)
  2. I was born in 1976; 36 years ago.  I don’t feel old, but someone who was 36 in 1976 was born in 1940.  They lived through the Second World War for goodness sake!
  3. RMU was founded in 1913.  Granted, 99 years seems like a long time, but the world was recognizable then. There were cars, planes, and Chicago was a booming metropolis. 99 years before 1913 was 1814: Napoleon was yet to be defeated at Waterloo; Thomas Jefferson and John Adams still had over a decade to live; Chicago was not in existence, and the United States was fighting the War of 1812 against Great Britain.

This is how my mind works.  I have no idea when I started to do this, but it is now a habit.  This way of looking at time puts into perspective how fast history moves, and also how fleeting certain things we take as absolutes actually are.  For instance, most people think America will always be, but history proves otherwise.  America as a nation has been in existence for roughly 240 years.  Rome was a Republic for twice as long. Christianity has existed for 2000 years, but people lived on this earth for roughly 200,000 years before Christ was born.  And on, and on.

There you go Paul Gaszak; perhaps you now feel older; or younger; or, perhaps you just think I’m weird.

  1. PG says:

    Great post, MSJ!

    A touch of a historical perspective was lurking in the back of my mind while writing my post, but I decided not to touch it, because when I started thinking about how infinitely small 30 years is from a big picture perspective, I got so depressed that I started eating Beefaroni straight from the can and while washing it down with chilled vodka.

    But then, that’s my normal off-quarter lunch.

    While writing my post, I came to the point where I realized, paradoxically, that time seems to be both slowing down and speeding up. On one hand, ten years ago seems like yesterday. I can remember such minute details about my life down to which hat I used to wear all the time (a Chicago Rush hat when the team was brand new). That perspective makes it seem like time has flown to the point that I blinked and suddenly I’m turning 30.

    On the other hand, part of what I was trying to get at with my list of items from the past ten years is that ten years from an individual perspective (not a historical perspective) is a long time. It wasn’t “yesterday” that I turned 20; I’ve done and been through so much in the past ten years. So, there are these conflicting feelings. When I hit 40, it will probably seem like just yesterday that I was turning 30, but just think of how much stuff I (or any of us) will be up to in the next ten years.

    Like, for example, how I’ll be running for President in 2020, my first year eligible. (Pauly G. in 2020!)

    I like your historical perspective on it. And I feel that my reply is not as remotely as intelligent or well thought out as your post. Dang. Where’d I put my Beefaroni?

  2. s13stephens says:

    Very provacative way to put time in perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Trish says:

    I like to think what the world was like when a piece of literature I am reading was written (see the awesomely awesome Oscar-baiting scene from “Sideways”, sorry about the piracy When I teach “Loveliest of Trees,” by Housman (1896), I remind our RMU students that the building in which we are studying (Leiter II Building 1891) is older than the poem!

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