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Danny Heitman.

Turning 30 is often considered a big birthday — a time when maturity ripens and, with any luck, a little more wisdom arrives along with it.

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I’ve been thinking about this because my “At Random” column, which began in October of 1991, has its 30th anniversary this month. Although I don’t feel much wiser than when I started this weekly column, I hope I’ve learned the occasional benefits of not ending up where you intended.

As my wife can tell you, I’ve always had a poor sense of direction. My work as a columnist also grew from a turn that took me off-course.

As a college student, I envisioned a newspaper career covering politics in Washington, D.C. In my sophomore year, I accepted an internship on Capitol Hill to burnish my résumé. The old house I rented that Washington summer with a few other students was hot and un-air-conditioned, which made it hard to sleep. I found a copy of “Walden,” which seemed like the perfect thing to help me nod off. Henry David Thoreau’s classic chronicle of keeping a cabin in the woods looked, at first glance, like the world’s most boring book. For a young person like me who yearned to be at the center of things, the story of a man alone in the woods promised to be a real yawner.

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Reading “Walden” didn’t convince me to go live in a shack by a pond, which wasn’t really Thoreau’s aim. But his larger message — that a person can find meaning by paying close attention to matters of home — pointed me to the possibility that politics might not be exclusively or even primarily what life is about. Maybe there was also merit in writing about the world right in front of me — the family I had, the neighborhood I walked, the familiar walls that sheltered me.

Life after college brought a rewarding career that included, among other assignments, a good bit of writing about politics and public policy. I know the importance of that work and am glad I had the chance to do it. But my Washington summer persuaded me to find a place for more personal reflection on what it means to be a son, husband, father, and neighbor.

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“At Random” started as an answer to that modest calling. From the beginning, I’ve tried to remember journalist Harold Martin’s insistence that the only reason to write a personal column is to touch the universal.

I don’t write about my life because I think it’s more interesting than anyone else’s. When I write about my family, I’m trying to write about your family, too. I hope you see your own garden in what I say about mine. To find such a connection with readers is a wonderful blessing.

The best gift has been the willingness of readers to spend a few moments with me here each weekend. Thank you, and I’ll see you next week.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.