I’m sitting in the Union on the University of Kansas campus. I’ll be here for most of the day tabling for Reasonfest. When I’m not telling students about the event this weekend or indulging them when they wonder why anybody would allocate their time to challenging religion, I’ll be thinking about my talk for Friday night.
But in the meantime I find myself looking ahead. I’m one class shy of finishing my music degree, and next semester I’m going to enroll to take that class. I’m 32 now, and even being on campus to table today I feel a bit like I’m trespassing. I’m surrounded by people younger and thinner than I. I want to feel like there’s something I can offer to justify my presence here, but there really isn’t. I don’t feel like I’m particularly wiser than college students. In fact, if there’s one thing that touring around the country giving talks for the last year has convinced me of, it’s that many are far brighter than I.
Even having been a professional performer, some of the voice students here are undoubtedly more talented than I (indeed, the skill of some of my peers in college is what convinced me that pursuing a singing career wouldn’t make me happy). I used to think I was an admirable activist, but even my perspective on that has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I was good in my day – but I’ve come to realize that “good” just means the willingness to do it. Activism, I think, is like falling in love. You can’t force it to be magic, but when you have the right people around you in the right circumstances, the chemistry just happens. If you want to be a “good” activist, just keep trying and shuffling up your teammates until it clicks. The rest will take care of itself.
When I was in college we wanted to change the world, and I think to and extent we managed big change. Of course, everybody in college wants to change the world and thinks they can. It was clear even in college that the spirit of change waned into complacency in adulthood. But as I get older I don’t think it does. I think with age comes the tendency to do what David Burger always said and change the little things. We exchange a megaphone for the intimate conversations with co-workers. We follow the news like a hound and take small opportunities to educate those around us. Organizing rallies gives way to subtlety.
This isn’t how it is for everybody, of course, but I can see the draw. I don’t think one is more valuable than the other, but being on this campus makes me aware of just how much I’ve changed. And if the younger me is the one who belonged in this environment, that makes me feel a bit like an alien. I know it shouldn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does.
Maybe I’ll get used to it. And, if not, it’s only for a semester. Thanks for listening.