So, I turn 41 years old this week, Friday as a matter of fact, the day this paper is dated.
When I was 21, if you had asked me where I saw myself at this advanced age, I would have likely responded with a fairly accurate reply.
Just before I turned 22, my folks began publishing The Tri-County News, and Dad and I already had a plan at work that I would take over the family business years from then. It ended up being 10 years from then, rather than the 15 or 20 I expected, but it all worked out.
At that same age, I was finishing my teaching degree, and was student teaching at Maryville High School that April of 2000 when my parents began their publishing tenure at the TCN. Having earned the degree, I knew that I would have a teaching career in my future as well.
So, I guess it would be of little surprise to my 21-year-old self to hear that at 41 I would be teaching and publishing newspapers. I wonder at times: does that mean I succeeded, or does it mean I followed the plan more predictably than most people? Or is it some of each?
I guess it doesn’t matter. To be content is a blessing that the masses are crying to receive. If you find the people, occupation(s) and activities that make you feel like you’re living in the right place at the right time, then you possess several of the keys to happiness.
Even in my approaching-middle-age contentment, I still think it’s useful to reflect on what I’ve accomplished at times. I’m at the age where you start to wonder: if someone wrote my life’s story, how would it go? Would anyone read it? Often, the answer to the latter questions seems to be a resounding No.
But that’s not especially important. Good musicians don’t sing for the critics or to gain accolades: they perform the music that they simply cannot contain within their own hearts and minds, music they must share.
And so, it goes with all of us. If I can live and be what my wife, my kids, my other family members and dear ones need me to be, then I’ve sung my song. I write columns that other folks read, some of whom I know very well, and others whom I have never met. But when I think about that collective group of readers, my intent is to talk to them weekly about my perspectives and the lessons I have learned.
I can’t write what everybody is thinking, because everybody doesn’t think the same way as everybody else.
I used to read my dad’s column, A Wondering Mind, and consider the notion that one day, those column inches on Page 2 of his newspaper would belong to me. It happened before I was ready for it, but his lessons remain with me today. He was adamant that a column in our small-town weekly paper should be catered toward every reader, not aimed at a certain group, or toward folks of a certain level of education, or at a particular political party.
Good writing, he taught me, is something that people should want to read. He had his share of critics, as have I, but by-and-large, people are pretty kind. The folks I know in rural America seem so often ready to find common ground, to understand each other. We have our die-hards here, same as everywhere else, and there are some minds I’ll never change about certain issues.
If it helps to know it, I’m not really trying to change minds. It has benefitted me to open my own mind, learn what the different perspectives are, apply my own values and form an opinion. If I can help others do the same, then that’s perhaps the noblest goal I could claim to have in writing these 600+ words each week.
Turning 41 hasn’t held many surprises for me, perhaps, but I am certain that many more of life’s adventures await me. I hope I can share them with you for years to come
Matt Pearl owns and operates newspapers in King City, Albany and Grant City.