I want to stand resolute, appear smart, say something deep, meaningful and extremely erudite. But then that wouldn’t be me.

I board a plane in a few hours that will take me from my native California, fly me an ocean and a rock away (Lisa Hannigan reference), to land me in London. A quick train ride to Bristol, and the dissertation defense adventure begins. The actual defense, not until the 25th.

That's me on the left, and the amazing Richard Sheldon on the right, October of 2012.

That’s me on the left, and the amazing Richard Sheldon on the right, October of 2012.

I have this one photograph – me with my supervisor, the amazing Dr. Richard Sheldon. It was taken in the catacombs of the Woodland complex at the University of Bristol. Staring at the photo I am reminded how much has changed. Richard has a beard, for one. I think I’ve added some weight, too.

But there’s something else, something intangible, unspoken, not quite able to communicate. Wisdom? No, I don’t think that’s quite it. Panache? Certainly not. Three years older? Well, there is that. Maybe it comes down to an old cliche: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Perhaps what I am feeling can be found in a Bruce Cockburn line, “You get bigger as you go,” like “bails of memory like boats in tow…”

What certainly is bigger is my appreciation of the past. I did not think it possible that I could love History any more than I did when I started this pursuit. And I can’t tell you why. It’s buried. It’s gone. But it’s there, also – written and scrawled from someone’s hand, quill to parchment, unclear as it is occasionally blotched. History exists in these eighteenth-century texts, the printed page, the errors in type-setting, the sometimes found marginalia. You realize these people lived – and for some reason – some preposterous calling – I am pulled to their concerns, their worries, their hopes and dreams that, somehow, often go unrealized.

I tell my students in the early parts of any semester about the inert gas, argon. For all of the history of the earth, there has been exactly the same number of argon atoms in our earth’s atmosphere. Inert means no mixing, no combining, no chemical adhesion with any other substance. Thus argon, which is one-percent of every breath we take, attaches us to the past. I could be breathing in the argon that had entered and exited the lungs of dinosaurs, or Ghengis Khan, or Admiral John Byng.

Am I any smarter? Am I any more erudite than when I first arrived? A little, perhaps, maybe. I’m humbled by the process. I am but a speck in the ions of time. I just hope humility and evidence-pointing will get me through.

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