Sandford | Days of Future Past

About ten years ago, Matthew McConaughey gave a speech accepting an Oscar for Best Actor. As he was concluding the usual platitudes that actors give when they receive their awards, he turned his speech in a more philosophical direction. He dedicated his award to his hero. Who was this mysterious hero of his? Why, it was  McConaughey himself. Now, I know that sounds vain and conceited, and it’s Hollywood, where everyone is a narcissist. But he wasn’t talking about the version of himself that stood up on that stage holding his award. The hero that he is chasing is himself ten years from now. Ironically enough, Matthew McConaughey from 2014 was looking up to Matthew McConoaughey from 2024. And that’s because he didn’t exist yet. He was an abstract idea, a goal to work towards instead of an actual person. In his own words, “I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”

I have admired many people, both real and fictitious, over the years: My parents, grandparents, Batman, Alfred the Great, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Captain America, Alexander Polyhistor, J.R.R Tolkein, William Marshal. There are some names you know, some you don’t, some you might want to research after you finish reading this article. While I admire all of these people, none of them fit the heroic model outlined by Mr. McConaughey. In college, you are supposed to find yourself. So who am I on May 13, 2024? I’m a man about to graduate Cornell University cum laude with two majors and four minors. I’m a New York’s Strongest Man winner. I’m a happy person in a loving, stable relationship. I’m a professionally published author. I’m the hero that my 12 year old self dreamed of being. And I’m hopefully nothing compared to who I’ll be on May 13, 2034. That person will be better read, a clearer orator, more linguistically proficient, stronger in every way and probably won’t have any hair left. And the two of us will never meet. I’ll never stop chasing this Tom or Thom or Thomas or Tommy, or whichever version of me exists in 2034. In ten years, the race to 2044 will begin, with goals I can’t even imagine yet.

I am a historian by trade, borne back ceaselessly into the past. As such, various professors have beaten into me the fact that my writing needs what we in the industry call a “So What Question.” The question that I’ve had on my mind since the beginning of this year is what comes next? What happens after they hand me that nice piece of paper and send me on my way? I have always been scared of the future. Maybe that’s why I spend so much time hiding in the past. But history, as I’ve learned, is not just about understanding what happened in the past. It also shapes the future. Patterns tend to repeat, empires rise and fall, etc., etc. If there’s one thing that Mr. McConaughey has taught me, it’s that the future isn’t some yawning chasm. It’s a reflection of the past. It’s just you. And there is no secret ingredient.