Imagining the Other

20140530-043633-16593534.jpg  Good Morning,

I am often amazed at the body’s ability to rejuvenate itself. By the time I went to sleep last night, I think I was both brain-dead and physically exhausted. I did not wake up the entire night and I think it was around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. , but I woke at 5:20 and I was up and on the road before 6:00. I am sitting at the Bloomsburg Diner counter on the “group w” stool (for those who get the reference, awesome).

It was an interesting week, but a good one. I have made it three nights without a fever. That is only the second time since the middle of May. It astounds me how our perspective on what matters and what can make us happy changes as our life situation changes. As I have gotten to know my Dominican family, and they have so graciously included me in their family, I have learned some valuable things by observing and listening to them. It is very interesting to see how families interact and manage their lives (and that includes their individual actions as well as their corporate actions). Both from having Melissa as a summer guest and from listening to each of them, I have learned how another family, and in this case (and I do believe it is both) another culture communicates. It was last night that a number of pieces seemed to fall into place in my mind.

Earlier this week, their version of “the family meeting” occurred at Martin’s Acre. While it might not have held a candle as far as duration, I do believe it was as productive as one occurring on Peace Street. I just realized another irony as I noted the street name. Hmmmmm. After my last posting, and while some of it related in a singular manner, more of it was about my frailties or habits, the conversation that ensued was perhaps one of the more productive to which I have ever been a party. The consequence was a renewed faith in what two people can accomplish if there is honest and open communication. A second consequence was a significantly lowered stress level.

I did not plan to be gone last night, but the remainder of the weekend should be pretty low key. I actually appreciate that quietness and that is certainly a difference from earlier in my life. On the other hand, the coming week will be anything, but quiet. Between birthdays, a really long day of driving Tuesday and a trip to the Philadelphia airport on Friday, the beginning of two very hectic weeks is upon me. I still want to go to Spain and I am not sure how to manage that. However, it does appear that a trip to the Dominican Republic in August is beginning to become more likely. Though a small conversation with Jordan and his mother causes me some pause because I feel badly about a larger more significant issue. Sometimes not knowing enough gets us in trouble; on the other hand, knowing too much can also be troublesome. I am still working studiously on my Spanish, but I feel like I am not progressing as quickly as I was. I want to listen and comprehend, but I feel like a pain if I ask for clarification. I just wish I knew more yesterday. There is my struggle with patience. Today, I need to just do some significant time with Rosetta Stone and with vocabulary cards. I think that is a way to manage the drive on Tuesday also. I think I will be keeping Jordan busy as he navigates.

It is now 24 hours later; I am still writing. I began the morning by cleaning up the kitchen, which I actually left unfinished last night. That is not typical, but I was tired. This morning I am cleaning and stripping beds and painting and mopping and all the other things needed. I actually enjoy most of it because I feel better when it is all completed. I am amazed how dusty things can get in only a day or two. I also have some things to pick up and get managed before I have people in the house this week. Melissa has been scanning almost 40 years worth the photographs for me to digitize them. I have also realized I have another project for her along the same line, but I have to go back to Wisconsin to get it all. I think that could keep her busy for the entire next year she is here, that is assuming she will want to do it.

The last three days or maybe four, I have felt pretty good. I am learning to appreciate those times, and I know I cannot take anything for granted, not that any of us really can. When I was in graduate school I took a class called “Rhetoric of Alterity”. It was a wonderful class taught by Dieter Adolphs and it considered the group of intellectuals that left Germany in the 20s and 30s as Germany was reeling under the weight of the war reparations and as Hitler came to power. As I was writing my dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this made a lot of sense to me and it was profoundly interesting. While this might be a stretch for some of you to see how I get from that to what comes next, please bear with me. I wonder if when we are fighting within our bodies with an auto-immune syndrome if we are in someways similar to the refugees who chose to leave Germany in the 30s and struggled to understand who they were or where they belonged. When our body becomes the other, who are we? Where do we belong? These earthy shells in which we reside are amazing, complex, and miraculous, but they are merely a shell. As I noted a few posts ago, I have been doing some reading and I have also done some listening. I am sad I had other engagements and missed an event last night that would have addressed some of this again. I am still not comfortable with the idea that we are inside God. I think it sets up a situation where we have the ability to blame or shirk responsibility for that which we do, not necessarily  to the other person, but certainly to God. I believe if we are all deities, we have merely taken on a different form of pantheism and that is a problem for me. There is, of course, the other extreme that there is no God and then we are merely walking about in our temporal way until we become compost. Perhaps, in reference to my last post, that would be safer. When I was speaking with Melissa’s father about his next event, he showed me a few of his slides. He noted that God is experimenting. He asked me what I thought about such a statement, and I asked what he meant by “experimenting”? He said Melissa needed to be around to help with translation. That will have to be another event in an of itself because my immediate reaction to being experimented upon is not a positive one, and if it is God doing it, I am really not happy. Again, my immediate response is this makes “God capricious”. I want no part of such a God, but it would certainly make present circumstances easier to explain. Where in the midst of God experimenting does free will fit, and is it really free or merely a guise of freedom? If we are inside God, as argued, then are we merely in a bubble like a hamster? I do not write this to be smug or simplistic, but if God is not outside of us, there is no real compass or direction in which we are actually aware or required to go, it is all temporal. It really does not matter in the big picture. There is no “other”.  It reminds me of another one of Melissa’s writing characteristics. First let me say that she (and Jordan) are outstanding writers. Much better than most any student I have ever met, but she, almost always, writes “God” with a lower-case “g”. I am wondering now if this is intentional and part of her religious position or belief? Hmmmmm. As you can see my brain is spinning around inside my head as if often does. So am I spinning around inside or outside of God? This is my question and the thought of being inside of God still is not something I find easily digestible. Of course, with my Crohn’s there are lots of things I do not digest well.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Unexpected – Safe Harbors

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Good early morning,

I began this last night on my iPad, but it seems that each device has something unique to it and until I put together a post on it and figure out some things, I will invariably erase what I have written. Fortunately last night it was only a paragraph or so. I think it was a good paragraph, but nonetheless, it has been transformed into anti-matter and I must begin again. I do know that what I began with last night was “I must not listen as attentively as I think I do or that my comprehension skills are certainly much less adept that I realized.” I came to realize that I made a serious mistake in the use of my hermeneutical abilities or perhaps much like things can be reassessed or reconsidered, there has been a change in plans or intentions. It is always interesting in how we come to perceive a particular situation and then there is the “really understanding it”. What I know about myself is that I have this, perhaps unfortunate, problem of believing that other people’s intentions are honorable or admirable. In spite of being proven wrong time and time again, I seem to fall into that trap.

I think it is because I did not want to live my life suspicious and unhappy. I did not want to believe that everything had a price tag and that nothing was ever done without some ulterior motive. I grew up around that and it was toxic. I believe it is toxic. When we spend our entire lives making sure no one gets the best of us, that is precisely what happens. No one ever sees what is best in us because we hide it away afraid to show it because of the potential hurt. As a consequence we miss opportunities to really shine and we allow the real goodness in us to be swept away or shoved into a closet never to be found, until like some dusty artifact or remembrance, someone stumbles across it. However, much like a corroded penny in a junk drawer, there is no luster and it appears to be less valuable than it really is.

It is even more amazing to see how that sort of mindset robs us of our potential and keeps us from accomplishing that of which we might actually be capable. I might go as far as to say I am stunned as I ponder how, in spite of this fundamental lack of trust, one appears to manage things with such a sense of grace, decorum, and beauty. I wonder if there is any limit to what one is capable when such giftedness seems to be merely common place for them. I want to believe the good intentions, but my logical side scream out for me to remember the humanness in all of us, that we are not altruistic; we are certainly not unconditional. Is being safe selfish? Probably not . . . at least when one is trying to maintain safety out of fear. But when being safe is a conscious mindset or lifestyle does it become selfish? Again, perhaps not, but the consequences of it can most assuredly seem selfish or appear so. When words are measured and ambiguity under the guise of trying to be fair or see both sides happens, it seems what we have created is a convenient way out of any situation. I am reminded of a quote by William G.T. Shedd. He said, A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” It is such a true statement, but we as humans are so frightened to take chances, or important chances. We will take chances on foolish things or spur of the moment things, but when it comes to something of substance or importance, we shy away. In fact, perhaps we run away.

I just had a great chat with my niece in Iowa. She is such an insightful and enjoyable person. She also has some first hand knowledge of the situation so it was helpful to hear her perspective on my last 18 hours. She helped me see it from a different perspective. It is a perspective that I know and, to some extent, I understand, but it is getting caught off guard by it. I think that is what overwhelms me at moments. I would like to believe that I am intelligent and insightful, but then moments like this last day occur and I find myself questioning if I understand or know anything. One of the things I have gotten better at it to write and wait a bit before I hit send. I wrote a pretty lengthy, what has become “ein typisch schrift”, but I will ponder it. The other thing I have learned is to become more protective of myself. While I am still not where my mother was, I think I am a bit more careful. In speaking with my niece, she reminded me of a number of things, but she sees it everyday in her own life, so it is commonplace for her. My being alone for so long has isolated me from some of that and my lack of experience in certain realms is certainly apparent to me, but I guess I cannot instinctively know everything about everything, but I sure wish I could. I noted in my last posting that some of the relatives and colleagues are coming to visit. When I wrote the last post, I did not have dates. Now I do. It seems July just got a lot busier. It will be nice to have them here.

I wonder how I was perceived when I was twenty-something? I do remember my older brother really laying into me one day when I had not done somethings I should have done around the house (I was just out of the service) and I had to be 20 or almost 21 because my brother was still alive and it was late summer. My father was out mowing the yard in the heat and humidity and I should have been doing it. I was taking my father for granted in a way, most likely without realizing it, but it was because I was pretty self-centered at the time. I had my agenda and I did not really consider how my actions affected the others around me. Unfortunately, if I am to be really honest in my assessment of myself then, I am not sure I really worried too much about it. On the other hand, later in my life, I think I worried too much about it. Now I am trying to moderate and find that happy medium. I am not sure I accomplish that as well as I would like, but I am making small steps.

What makes us safe? What keeps us safe? These are questions I will ponder for the next couple of days. Perhaps I might find an answer and write about it soon. The next blog will be to do what I promised Sr. Galán I would do. That one will take some thought and some soul-searching, but a promise is a promise.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Wondering How and When

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Good morning,

While I woke up at my usual early time, I did not get up as soon after awakening as I often do. I finished on night out on my porch and must have fallen asleep in one of the rocking chairs. It seems I must be one of the more elderly members of The Walton’s . When I came in I just crawled into bed and went to sleep. I was hoping for a restful night, but it seems my body had different plans. Between another round of fevers and an unhappy digestive system, it was not one of my more pleasant beginnings to a day. I am still quite sure that I detest vomiting (sorry) more than most anything.

Last weekend was one of the nicest three day periods I have had in a very long time. To celebrate the day in another way with the gifts offered by all of the Galán’s meant more than any words could begin to express. The PowerPoint created by Jordan and Melissa was both hilarious and meaningful; the wine-themed gifts for the house are awesome; and the simple, but profound words, both in speech and writing, still create a lump in my throat. I am blessed.

I think a morning earlier this week might be a preview of what is to come, but I am trying to figure out the balance. Balance is such an important thing and something to which we often pay too little heed. What gives one a sense of balance is ever-changing and for that reason it might be something that is all that more fleeting or hard to accomplish. In addition, I think it is even harder to maintain. I want to manage that balance the best I can in the given situation and that means trying to merely go on doing what I do, but it seems that my body and I are a odds. I am reminded of the Ghost of Christmas Future in The Christmas Carol when Scrooge exclaims, I fear you more than any specter I have yet seen.” I do not think it is the end of which I am afraid, it is more the not knowing exactly how and when. I imagine we all struggle with that idea.

This past week I have had the opportunity to speak with my cousin and I think she is coming to visit. That will be a wonderful thing. I am not sure on the dates, but I am sure that it might be sooner rather than later. That makes me happy. My former colleague, her husband, and son are supposed to come soon also. Though I have not heard the exact dates. There is a lot occurring in the next couple weeks between visits (hoped for) and yearly celebrations, I think there is a lot to prepare for. I think that might serve me well. I am also excited that all the Deckers will be back in town this coming week. I have missed all of them more than words might express. As is often the case, I might not really understand the depth of my missing of them all until they are here and I have a chance to catch up with them. I am still supposed to consider a trip to Spain, but I am not sure because of the larger picture how to manage that. Today is a day where I feel I could sleep most of the day, but that is not how I want to spend my days.

I do have some things I want to get accomplished today, including cleaning the house, cleaning the refrigerator, and I need to go over to the other house and do a little work. I think it is again a question of balance. I need to get somethings done and while I have probably been the most laid-back I have been in years for the last month, I also struggle with that sense of guilt for being lazy. Again, it is always interesting how the head and the heart are not always on the same page (for me it seems they are seldom there). I have so much I still want to accomplish yet this summer, but how much of it will make a difference in the long term? That is always a question for me: what ultimately makes a difference for another person? What might profoundly affect him or her in a manner that their life is significantly (and hopefully positively) changed? I was reflecting on the conversation I had with Sr. Galán yesterday and what he shared about his life and what he thinks about life at this point. It is always interesting to listen to another perspective (and particularly when the person has such passion about life and truth). He has so much to consider. I feel like my life is pretty simple. I merely have to go about my work and my life. Sure, others are affected by me, but not in the same way. Much like when I left Wisconsin, there was one person in particular whose life was profoundly affected, but otherwise, that town is not really any different. I think it is the reality be ultimately being a single person and a person who never had children. While I am sure that a few people might lament my absence, in the long-term or the larger picture, life will continue and I am not so arrogant or prideful to believe that other’s lives will be profoundly altered by my presence or absence. Perhaps that is the most important gift that I or anyone can offer in a profound way. I merely hope that people can go on with their lives.

There is one person in particular that I wonder what it might have been like had she lived longer and that is my grandmother, Louise. I wonder what we might have thought of each other later in life of how we might have interacted. What I do know is that I did not visit her the last time I promised to do so. I remember calling her from a phone booth on Highway 71 (I think that is the highway going into Atlantic, IA). It was next to a Hardee’s Fast Food Restaurant and I called an apologized for not coming to see her. That was the last time I actually ever spoke with her I think. I still have a sweater that she bought me the last Christmas she was alive. I have never been able to part with it. What I know is that I loved her as much as I have ever loved someone, a relative and someone who actually made a profound difference in my life. I wish I still had all the letters she wrote to me in the service. I remember one in particular where she apologized for having to give my sister and me up for adoption. She knew of the abuse we endured and she felt terrifically guilty for subjecting us to that. I am not sure I have ever said this, but Grandma, I forgive you. I love you. What I know now and this is through a pretty amazing conversation I had last week, that I need to forgive more and try to understand more. That will be in a forthcoming post.

While there is certainly more on this version of a “convoluted mind”, I think I will pause.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

La atención a los detalles

Buenas días de Hazleton,

Last night I had an opportunity, thanks to the gift of a ticket, to see the USAF jazz band at the old senior high school in Hazleton, PA. I went with Señor y Señora Galán y Melissa. The ticket was a gift from their other daughter, Mery. The venue was simply outstanding. The music was superb and they played to a full-house. At the end of the event they called attention to veterans of the various services and we were asked to stand when our particular branch’s song was played. It was quite moving as a veteran to be among other veterans. Most of us, myself included, do not really call attention to our service on a regular basis. It is something I did when, as I have previously noted and for all practical purposes, I was still a boy. I sometimes do reflect both on what I did during that time (the same time most young people are now in college) and how it affected me. I would like to say I was an amazing Marine, and while I did do some important things and was even meritoriously promoted, for the most part, I merely did my job. I think of my friend who lost his life, in fact, right next to me. He was a hero, and yes, a19 year old boy like me. I have from time to time felt guilty that I am still here almost 40 years later and he is not. Then I am reminded of a refrain that now rings through my ears on a regular basis: everything happens for a reason. There is only one problem with that statement. I WANT to KNOW the reason and I want to know NOW.

As I sit and write this I am listening to elderly gentlemen speak about the concert. We began to chat about it. That was very cool. After the concert, I went grocery shopping and at this point I try to listen and comprehend what is being spoken (en Español) around me. Unfortunately both because of my (way too) limited vocabulary and limited experience of listening (and the speed of their spoken words) I miss much more than I catch. It is good experience for me nonetheless. I did get a chance to meet some other people last night that might offer more opportunities to work on this acquisition of yet another language. Perhaps I need to start putting in about 4-6 hours a day. That would be helpful. In addition, maybe I need to just take my chances and go to Spain like I had planned. Something to ponder. If I do not, I think I will regret that decision. On the other hand, there is a certain risk in traveling at the moment. As usual, no decision is made in a vacuum.

The paying attention to detail, the title of this post, it something that was a basic tenet of existence in the Marine Corps and something that has never really been far from how I practice my life ever since. It is that attention that might be why I am still alive. As I noted earlier, I still have moments where I remain with a sense of guilt or questioning why it was not me that was killed that day. It is both interesting to consider and then to talk about it a bit after not really thinking, and certainly not talking, about it for a long time. Sometimes I think my life has been merely ordinary, and then there are times I am not so sure. What is ordinary?

Hoy fue otro día en el que tengo la suerte de hacer más recuerdos. Fue un día de compartir con uno de mis hijos sustitutos. Fue un tiempo para hablar de cosas que son importantes y que dan cuenta de la realidad de nuestras vidas individuales. Pasamos todo el día (y la noche) a hablar de una amplia gama de temas. Él es más como una esponja que su hermana. Aunque desde luego empapa las cosas, yo creo que él guarda las cosas para un día de lluvia para reflexionar. Él es más tipo el Pablo Friere’banking ‘en la forma en que recoge y procesa las cosas. Es muy diferente de su hermana. Ella, por su parte, reflexionó y procesos inmediatamente (si es posible, que es el procesamiento antes de que incluso golpea el reino de la realidad). Mientras que él está dispuesto a dejar la mayor parte todo al azar, que es diametralmente de contrario. Sin embargo, hay otras maneras en que usted podría pensar que eran mellizos. Como señalé mucho más temprano en la primavera, su amor por los demás es realmente una alegría para experimentar.

It is now Sunday morning and I am up and out early. In spite of sitting up and chatting until after 1:00 a.m., I was awake at 5:35 a.m.. So I am up and running some errands. I have been asked to remain here today and it is Father’s Day, so I want to get something for Sr. Galán. I also need to reflect a moment, and then some, about my own father, Harry Martin. He would be 99 years old right now, is he were still with us. He was my adopting father, but he never once treated as anything less than his own. I was blessed, and have continued to be so, because he wanted to bring me into his home. Thank you, Dad. I still love you and I miss your indefatigable smile and love; I miss your wisdom and wit; I hope I have made you proud. I think I will stop because I am sitting in McDonalds with tears streaming down my face.

Jordan y Melissa, gracias por permitirme experimentar en cierto modo el don de ser un padre sustituto. Es el más cercano siempre vendré a la comprensión de este día desde el otro lado.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

41 Years and a Walking Oxymoron

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Good evening, good morning, good next day,

I am sitting in my study after a day of working on cars and bikes and doing some cleaning, a day of planting and working in the yard, and a day of washing clothes, some planned and some unplanned. While I was up pretty early, that is the norm for me. I cannot sleep the day away, but I have always been that way from the time I was a small child. When it is light, I am up; it matters not if I went to bed only a few hours before, I will be awake and the idea of falling back to sleep is not within the realm of possibility. I will admit to my usual 45 minute power-nap later in the day. I got most of what I wanted to get done in the yard and around the house completed, so that is a nice feeling. I have spent that last hour and a half working on my Spanish, both with the computer and with flashcards. I need to work harder than I have. I have a lot I want to learn in the next weeks.

It is hard for me to believe that it was 44 years ago that I was confirmed at Riverside Lutheran Church by our interim pastor, the Reverend T. P. Solem and that it was 41 years ago today that I walked across the stage as a member of the first graduating class of West High School in Sioux City, Iowa. I was such a little boy at that time. Even though I had already enlisted in the Marine Corps, I was certainly not ready for what would come some 27 days later as I took my first flight from Omaha to Denver and Denver to San Diego. Amazing the changes I have undergone. I think the most significant change or realization is what I deem important. I have often said what I thought was important (and now I might say 41 years ago) at one point does not seem so very important now and things I thought were “not” so important have begun of the utmost importance. I have learned that you can have all the “stuff” in the world, but none of that really matters. In the 30 years that I have been fighting this Crohn’s issue, I have learned that when you do not feel good or when your health is not good, nothing else really matters because you are not able to enjoy those things, whatever they might be. There have been days and even some weeks where I was in so much pain or so ill that I merely existed. That is not really life; it is just going through motions of living. Again, all the stuff or money in the world will not change that. I often think of the way that life changed for the late Christopher Reeves because of a chance-accident. He was successful, wealthy, handsome (he was Superman), and in an instance, it all changed.

Okay, so as often the case, I started this post, but did not get it completed. So it is now Tuesday, and I was awake earlier than I wanted, but that might be the new norm. It might be good that I waited a few days before I finished this as I have a better perspective on a couple of things. Over the last couple days I did some work to help a student for whom I have some great appreciation. That situation has forced me to consider why people go to college and whether college (or at least the undergraduate aspect of it) should really be considered mandatory. Even as a college professor I cannot answer this query in the affirmative. When we allow under-prepared students for whom the university receives a lot of money, come with little chance of succeeding, I believe we are guilty of exploitation. It is wrong and it is unethical. That is the situation in which this student currently resides, if you will. Something better must happen or the student ends up 10s of thousands of dollars in debt with little chance of ever obtaining a degree. Furthermore, because of that debt, their chance of ever getting to return is minimal at best. It is my hope that we have come up with a better option.

People often lament that they wish they could know what they know at some point later in their life and go back and re-do or start over. I am not one of those people. If I would have known all that would happen to me, I am not completely sure I would have wanted to continue. In addition, and I do understand the following statement might make me sound even older than I am, I am certainly sure I would not want to be venturing out into the world as a “20-something” right now. As I write today I find myself trying to understand some new version of what or who God is. Nothing significant, right? I am imagining how Anselm must of struggled with that question. I am struggling with wanting to know what will happen in the next weeks, or hopefully months, and then not wanting to know anything at all. However, as I was reminded in a conversation again last night: “everything happens for a reason”, and their somewhat logical extension of that was ” then there are no miracles”. I see some truth in the progression of those two ideas, but perhaps the question is must we disregard, or do we then lose appreciation for that which appears miraculous, because we are unaware of the reason? If we jettison the miraculous, does that affect our ability to hope? I think that might be the next conversation. Or at least a starting point. As I pondered the two days of conversations, it seems to be another form (and I am not really comfortable with that word) of a sort of religious humanism, a different strain of rationalism, but one that demonstrates a more profound appreciation for the numinous. By the way, it is now Wednesday morning and I am still writing. That might be a new record for blog-procrastination. The picture is of me on my ordination day in my religious trappings, if you will.

I will say this, I am continually amazed by Melissa’s thought processes. Certainly not typical of someone her age, or at least of the overwhelming majority of people her age. I have teased that she is a 50 year old in a 22 year old body. After being around her the last few days, she also has a part of her that is about 70. I am sure she’ll appreciate that, but it is there. I also know she won’t ask me what I mean even though she does read this. Escucharle y reloj como su proceso de pensamiento trabaja es realmente una alegría. Si sólo una gente más tomara el tiempo para hacer lo que usted hace, creo que nuestra sociedad estaría en un mejor lugar. Gusta me realmente su postura que tenemos la capacidad, y estoy de acuerdo que hay un tiempo y un lugar cuando la gente podría entender finalmente esto. Lo que es milagroso es que usted lo ha hecho tan temprano en la vida. That is why I think she is a walking oxymoron. There are so many ways she is way beyond and seems to be an older soul, but when listening to her music or some of the other things she says and watching what she does or does not do, it is not logical to me. Of course, it is not her job, nor anyone’s for that matter, to be such. However, as she noted last night in her questioning, why does everything have to be logical? I guess she is right. Perhaps it is because I find comfort in logic. Maybe we all just walking oxymorons.

Thanks for reading.

Michael