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Tomorrow’s my birthday (#1292)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, rambly

Tomorrow’s my birthday! For reasons I no longer remember, it’s a common phrase in the Rebelsky household. Rarely is it accurate. But Michelle and I say it with some regularity. I think the kids do, too.

Today is June 16, 2024. Tomorrow is June 17, Bunker Hill Day [1]. Also my birthday. So, today is the one day a year that I can say, Tomorrow’s my birthday! and be truthful [2]. I will turn 60. I get to spend my 60th birthday with Michelle, which is an amazing gift.

Since I’m turning a multiple of 10 [3], it seems appropriate to step back and reflect.

In some ways, I don’t feel like I’m changing; I’m much the same person I was a decade ago, perhaps even two decades ago. My circumstances have changed: My kids are grown and (mostly) on their own; Michelle is ill; and I suffered a heart attack three years ago. But my personality is not all that much different.

’Strike that. My personality is different. I am much less prone to extreme anger, particularly at things out of my control. I’m much better at applying some variant of the serenity prayer to the things in my professional life. I’m also a bit better at forgiving myself for the things I don’t get done or the things I wish I hadn’t done. Yay therapy! I’ve also embraced more of my Jewish identity. That may be something else to discuss with my therapist.

There are days I feel my age. I’m in less good shape than I was a decade ago. I feel my joints more. I need more sleep [4]. I can’t carry boxes of books for long periods of time [5].

I certainly felt old at the last Grinnell reunion. At that reunion, I saw many alumni from the class of 2004, including some of my early post-tenure research students.. They are now in their forties. How did that happen?

Way too many alums at reunion asked me whether I’m still teaching. I didn’t think I was old enough to stop teaching. It turns out some thought I might have decided to stop because of the heart attack. But no, I had the heart attack right before spring break of 2021, and I resumed teaching immediately after spring break [6].

Many friends ask a similar question: Sam, when are you going on SFS? [7].

Here’s the thing. I love teaching. I still seem to teach well. And teaching gives my life meaning; helping awesome young people grow is my gift to the world. Perhaps I even help some of them develop their moral sense [9].

What should I plan for the next year of my life? Probably the things I always try to plan and never completely succeed at. I should spend more time with Michelle. I should work on my weight and stamina. I should try to ameliorate my attachment to stuff. I might consider trying to have some positive influence in my institution. I should support my kids. I expect to accomplish the first and last. The rest? I’m not as sure.

I wish I had deeper thoughts about being sixty. Or perhaps I don’t. I have an amazing wife. I have awesome kids. I have a job that lets me make positive contributions to the world, that compensates me well, and that provides excellent health benefits. I’m so very fortunate.

Tomorrow’s my (sixtieth) birthday! I look forward to it.

[1] Should that be Bunker-Hill Day?

[2] The statement may no longer be truthful when you read this.

[3] Also a multiple of 12.

[4] I think I’ve gone from needing eight hours per night to needing ten hours per night. My kids say I’ve gone from getting five hours per night to getting nine hours per night.

[5] Yes, that’s relevant.

[6] The Dean even offered me the opportunity to drop the Spring 2 course. It appears that I was either too much of a workaholic or have too much of a sense of responsibility to say yes to an offer like that. In any case, I enjoyed teaching the course and the students seemed to enjoy taking it.

[7] SFS is our TLA for Senior-Faculty Status. The SFS program encourages faculty to retire. You work 55% time for four years (and get paid 55% of your salary) and agree to become emeritus at the end of it. Why don’t they just force faculty to retire? Because SCOTUS ruled that tenure at private colleges means they can’t force you to retire. At least one former Dean tells me that SFS ends up being effectively zero-cost to the institution; half a senior faculty member’s salary plus a new faculty member’s salary is about the same as a senior faculty member’s salary [8].

[8] Unfortunately, our past president didn’t understand this math and tried to get the Trustees to eliminate the SFS program. I am so grateful to Elaine Marzluff for getting the full analysis done and showing the Trustees the alue of SFS.

[9] Mom, you were right that faculty can serve as moral models. Sorry I didn’t realize it when you first suggested studying the topic. I hope I remembered to tell you when I came to the same conclusion you did.

Version 1.0 of 2024-06-16.