Thinking About Age in History

Hey, readers– welcome to nearly-the-end-of-May!

The first proper installment of the Shrines series is taking a little while longer than anticipated. This is due to a variety of factors, most notably the fact that the landscape around the shrine has changed, which is necessitating my doing more digging. If i was there in person, it’d be easy to go there and see what’s up, but I have to do it from the other side of the world, so– it’s a challenge. That it is an especially small shrine makes this harder. This said, your patience is acknowledged, and appreciated. So.Thank you.

So in the meantime, gather round and let’s talk a bit about something that’s been on my mind.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of putting historical figures on a pedestal– forgetting that they were human like you and me, and that they were just as likely to complain of being bored, tired, or confused. I try to counter that by reading widely and not shying away from criticism of them.

But have you thought lately about age?

Let me give you an example.

Joshua Chamberlain, the 19th century scholar who began as a Bowdoin College professor and became a general, a college president, and Governor of Maine, has been turned into a “Maine Man of Steel” (to quote biographer Tom Desjardins) thanks to fictional depictions of his actions at Little Round Top. during the fighting at Gettysburg. He did not act alone, of course, and nobody else at Little Round Top got the Hollywood treatment, but the fact of the matter is, he was cool under fire and his leadership mattered.

How old was he, that July day in 1863? Just shy of 35.

How old am I, as I write these words? Just shy of 35.

There’s something humanizing about that– the thought that when Chamberlain had his moment at Little Round Top, he was my age, not this timeless, ageless dose of badass in human form.

He was my age.

And if he could figure out how to be an effective leader and how to hold his shit together under fire, then maybe I can face the things that scare me, eh?

So this is my invitation to you. Next time you’re thinking about your historical fave and something awesome they did– think a bit about how old they were when they did it. You might be surprised at the insight that offers.

That’s all from me for now. More soon. And never forget: who you are, and what lights your fire, is worth fighting for.

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