The Power of Choice

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Good evening,

While I would desperately like to be sleeping right now, my mind is racing. I hope hoping the clearing of my mind through my fingertips will result in my getting to sleep, but I guess it was actually creating a list of the myriad of things I need to accomplish in the 28 days before fall semester. How in the world did this happen? It seems way too little time has passed since I was at an Art Garfunkel concert and the last academic year was only a week or two past. Melissa drove her car into the yard and we unloaded things into her room for the summer. Now in a couple weeks she returns home and we will load the car for a return trip.

The weekend was an interesting lesson about choices. About four months ago I made some significant changes in my life. I changed what I eat and what I drink and how much of those foods or beverages I will consume. I also began to teach myself Spanish. In the terms of diet, vitamins and such, the result has been substantial weight loss (over 30 pounds). I was not obese or even overly “engordo“. The weight loss has created a number of positive changes. On the other hand, what amounted to simple choices and, in this case, poor choices had profound consequences today. The consumption of two beverages (both primarily coffee) resulted in my being pretty violently ill. For someone who has lived on coffee for the last 19 years such a change is life-altering. I must admit I got both the infamous look and a stern admonishment for that poor behavior, for which I was not particularly receptive. Furthermore, I have to admit she (and her brother) was (were) right and I was wrong. It also elicited a promise of “no more coffee.” This will be difficult, but a promise is a promise. More importantly, it is about my survival. I am not being melodramatic here, just honest .

However, it brings me to the idea of choice? What are choices? Merely options? Merely a fork in the road? Merely something to ponder? What does it mean to make a choice? What sort of power do we actually have over our choices? Certainly we could go down the path of free will and all of that, but that is not really about what I am concerned in this post. Perhaps what I am trying to determine is the particular process we might use when making our choices. I do think personality and circumstances have some effect on our decisions (e.g. choices). I think our experiences, or more specifically, past experiences, also affect what we might decide. But ultimately, our choices are exactly that “ours”. We do what we do. No one hops into our head and decides or directs our choices. It might be nice if that were the case because then we could blame someone. Lord knows, we need no help in blaming, we are more than ready to blame others. We have created a society of blamers, from one individual to another to the political climate in this country to the entire “el mundo de loco“. Read the headlines of any news source today and reflect honestly on all the finger-pointing. It is outrageous. And then we wonder why so many things are so screwed up? As one of my childhood friends always said, “I am the rocket scientist you don’t need.” To which I can only reply, NO SHIT? I do not curse in my blog as a general rule, but I cannot come up with a more emphatic way to write it at the moment.

Over the weekend, I was provided the profound opportunity to experience a family gathering. I learned so much by observing. I learned again about choices and consequences. I abhor stereo-types. I have spoken to students regularly about the problems that occur when we employ these stereotypes. First of all, let me state simply; “all stereotypes are negative”; even when, on the surface,they might seem to be employed in a positive manner. They are negative because they limit or they marginalize. On the other hand, stereotypes exist because there is a modicum of truth in them somewhere. However, it is precisely because the image is based on only a kernel and often not much more that we need to realize the problem with using them.

That being said, it is much more telling when the person using the stereotype to describe a group or situation is part of that group or situation. Much like a black person employing a particular term. It is viewed very differently. I think of some of the things Bill Cosby has lamented the past few years. He had some credibility not merely because he is Bill Cosby, but rather he spoke as an insider. I would also note his income and stature could also work against him. Again, we have a choice on how we might listen to him. The point is that we always have a choice. Even when things are decided for us, we have a choice in how we will respond. I think people are too ready to abdicate their choices. Is it because they are not willing to do some critical thinking or thorough analysis? It is simply because we feel too busy or harried? Being too busy is a cop-out; if we are going to be honest about that option. We have the time to do whatever we choose to do . . . choices again. It is really about what we value.

What I have come to realize in a most profound or vast way is that we need to take control of our choices versus merely be subjected to them. I must note that while I have always known this, I am not sure I have lived it as well as I might. However, in observing a couple of specific individuals, I must say I have had a strong visual lesson in what it means to do so. I will be forever grateful for that learning opportunity. If we will slow down, ponder, question and consider our options or our responses maybe the outcomes will be more along the lines of what we might expect. Maybe our lives might be more fulfilled. Maybe we might finally understand ourselves . Maybe our world, whether it is that space we are immediately affected by or the larger and more indirectly affected, will seem less ridiculous. Maybe we will be fundamentally happier. Just my thoughts for the moment. Now it is time to sleep and begin to tackle the list in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Learning Experiences

Hello late afternoon from NYC,

I am waiting to meet someone and have dinner and thought I should be productive rather than merely sit and surf or do nothing. It also makes time pass more rapidly. This week had been full of activity. My close friends and former colleagues came for a visit and it was wonderful to see them and have them meet people I care about here. Last Sunday, when they arrived, I had a cookout at the house and invited the Deckers and the Galáns. Unfortunately as I took my cousin to the airport the previous Wednesday, it seems I was being actually with bacterial pneumonia. I am still trying to beat it. The primary malady, at the moment, is a persistent and annoying cough. When everyone arrived last Sunday, I was not doing particularly well. In fact, I was fading pretty quickly. However, everyone stepped up and things turned out every nicely. The learning moment for me was to “let go” and allow others to take over. Things can go well without me being in charge. Rationally, I certainly realize such things, but “letting go” is not something that comes naturally to or easily for me. I already know some who really know me are rolling their eyes and probably responding “really??” (The rhetorically correct version). It was actually a wonderful evening and I was pretty laid back during it.

There was an interesting turn of events at one point during the week. Simon had a rather normal 13 year old learning moment. It was also a learning moment for his parents. One that many have gone through, but one that catches one off guard nonetheless. It reminded me of when I was a parish pastor working with confirmation students and some of the things they did won’t little understanding of consequence. Thanks to the generosity of some adults, the difficulty was minimized on one hand. The long-term consequences could, however, be really positive for a number of people. I am hoping so. More to come. I meant to draft not publish. Off to my meeting.

So it is early on Monday morning now ( actually about 2:00 a.m., but I went to bed early and now I am awake. Much like the initial part of this post. If I am going to be awake, I might as well be productive. Another learning experience of the day happened when I managed to get a parking ticket for being a bit over a line. I got the ticket when I got back to my car (it is the most expensive parking ticket I have ever gotten-$115.00). Welcome to NYC. I also decided to catch up with a student over there, so by the time I got back to Bloomsburg on Saturday morning. I was 3:00 a.m., and I was still up before 8:00. Sometimes I wish I could sleep more. Saturday, Nate, another former student from WI and a person in his 18th year in the USCG , came to visit. He drove his new Beemer up and yesterday we spent a couple hours out riding. It was enjoyable. Yesterday morning, I did my best to imitate a Dominican “desayuno” for him . . . . I did not finish writing again, but I probably will mow. The last two weeks, I have been fighting pneumonia, and while I think I am making progress it is pitifully slow. Last night was brutal as far as a fever and tonight (this morning) seems even more so. It is not quite 2:30 and this is the second time I have been up. Everything is in the washing machine and I am lying in the recliner in the study. I will actually be going to the laundromat this morning to wash my comforter too. Oh well.

This week has been let another level of experience growth. On Monday I went to see a Certified Nutritional Counselor. I found out that most of what I am doing is good, in fact, outstanding, but she added a couple things, as well as heightened in degree or extreme some of the things I am already doing. I am also on more vitamins or supplements. In some ways, ironically, I think I am healthier than I have ever been.

To return to the idea of experiences. I wonder if experience provides or instills wisdom in us as humans or it merely offers opportunities for wisdom to develop or grow? Or is it a combination of the two? For instance, what is occurring, or perhaps notoccurring, when a person continues to make decisions that seem contrary to common sense or doing the prudent thing? I would understand that free will is part of that process. It matters not the circumstance because generally there is a choice made somewhere along the line and there is a subsequent consequence. Where does the learning come in? Is wisdom a consequence? It it the by-product of reflection or something we all have and some merely fail to use it? It is sort of like a muscle and the more we use or employ it the stronger it becomes or the more it grows? I am pretty sure some have thoughts about this. You are welcome to write a response, or if you see me in person, on a semi-daily basis, perhaps we might chat in person. It sounds like garlic peeling conversation. This is one of those mornings, it is probably good that someone is close by. I feel like I am fading a bit, but perhaps it is a combination of humidity and still trying to kick this stupid pneumonia.

One of most favorite experiences is merely conversing with another person who makes me think. I mean really think, a conversation that pulls me out of my comfort zone and forces me to reconsider that which I have held as something fundamental or core to my understanding. I only know a couple people who seem to have that power or ability. It is interesting to me that generally he or she is a peer at least in terms of age. Then there is the one who continually amazes me. Perhaps not completely human? Certainly not typically human. I can already here the question, “what is typical?” I guess you will have to come up with your own definition. The point here is, I merely like thinks that force me to think or ponder. I think, as I passing the 3:00 a.m. time marker, that is part of the reason language is so important to me. Thinking and pondering require words . . . and to begin to understand another more completely, you need to be able to understand what he or she thinks. What I have learned in the past 6 months is culture affects our thought processes more than we might realize. What we take for granted or what we find suspect is heavily influenced by our cultural mores too. I think I have known this, but I am not experiencing it in a more complete way.

I, more than most, I believe look at my own country with a pretty decent balance of gratitude and concern. Both because of age and experience, I have found that reflecting on both our practices and course identity as a country is a good thing to do. I spoke of this experience with Nate over the weekend. One of the very few times I have gotten in someone’s face was when he (who had dual citizenship) was bashing the United States both unrealistically and quite vulgarly. Long story, short: I told him rather emphatically he should pack and go to his other country and quit receiving financial aid or attending American universities. I do realize the cost of the university is exorbitant, but people still attend, and I will say foolishly because they have swallowed lock, stock, and barrel the myth that it will fix everything or give one everything. Simply, not true. While I do not mind the questioning of the country or even a certain skepticism, what I do find difficult is when someone seems to have a fundamental disdain for the country, but is willing to use it’s opportunities. I guess that is how my patriotism now manifests itself. I have probably opened up all sorts of thoughts because of this. What I think I am tying to get at this moment is there is no Valhalla (except in Rasmussen Hall-those who understand this reference veritas vicit.). I am both more universalist in my faith and my acceptance of culture than I was when I walked the bluffs of Blair, Nebraska.

Again, it gets back to experience. I am grateful for every experience that has provided learning – that would be all of them. It would be my life. It is your life too. Embrace it! Experience it.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Wondering what she really thinks?

IMG_0060Good morning from the study of my house,

It is a beautiful morning and I am here in the quietness and the solitude with the sun shining in the windows. I do hope to get some things accomplished today. I want to finish moving my office. I got a lot done yesterday and should finish most everything today. I was fortunate to have a couple people help yesterday so I did not have to move everything down the hall by myself. I do appreciate when people are willing to help out of the goodness of their hearts and not out of some sense of obligation. That actually gets back to my last post about freedom.

I have promised that I would write an entry to my mother. I thought about waiting until the first week of August, but I think I will do it today. It is hard to believe that she passed away 25 years ago on that early August day. What I do remember about that day most vividly is that my father signed the necessary documents to remove her from life-support (she had been on a ventilator for about 48 hours) and I remember thinking he had spent 2/3s of his life with her. He could not stand to watch her struggle after that removal, so we left the room for a cup of coffee. My younger sister chose to stay with her. When we returned in 10 or 15 minutes, she had passed away. It also makes me wonder about the reality of being the only one of that family still alive. Not what I expected, not that I know what I expected to be honest, but I am pretty sure it was not where everything is at this moment.

For many years, to be honest, I either feared or despised my mother. She was not a happy person, for many understandable reasons, but it made life difficult. That relationship has also caused me to mistrust women in general. That is a hard admission for me to make and one that I have realized from time to time, but probably never really deal with. That is why I probably struggle with some situations now. I have learned that it is easiest to be around females with whom there is no chance for a relationship. It is safer. The trust issue really raised its head last night through a particular situation and I am still not sure what I am thinking or feeling. However, I do know now, in terms of my mother, I am not angry or bitter at her. If I feel something, and when I dig deep, I know I do feel, I think I am mostly sad or melancholy. However, I did promise to write this blog, so here is my honest and somewhat-frightened attempt.

Mom,

I wonder what you would think of where I am now? I wonder if we would even be speaking since the last three years of your life we tolerated each other at best? I wonder if you would still believe I came to your house at the amazing age of 4 to cause you trouble and pain? I wonder if you struggle with the fact that the last words you uttered were angry words at the person who spent 2/3s of his life with you? I understand he was not perfect in this situation either, but I think he struggled with how to love you when you were so angry all of the time.

If you are able to watch, did you see my response to the conversation I had with Mr. Galán, which ironically occurred on Father’s Day, and what he said God had told him about you and how you hurt and why you hurt? He actually made me think about and look at you in a new light. As you know, we both cried that morning. I do know that growing up I think we were pretty strapped and you did most of what you did as a single parent. I did not realize how hard that must have been, particularly, if dad worked out of town because he had spoken up to the union BA. You were collateral damage and so were we. All I knew is that it was frightening to be there with you alone because you were not happy. I am sorry I could not see your side of things.

I know you worked hard to hold things together. Between coupons and sewing our clothes, from making sure we had private music lessons to allowing us to participate in Sioux City Community Theatre and the Sioux City Children’s Choir, we had opportunities that not every child had, and for that I am forever grateful. As you know, I do know my real mother, but that has not been a positive experience either, and I have little to do with my real siblings. I wonder where the second sister might be. Maybe that is something I should work on pretty soon.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be a single parent with an infant when you first had Sharon Kay and then tragically lost her, regardless the truth of whatever happened, as you know, there were stories. I cannot imagine losing a second child and then, at 25, being told you would never have children, especially in the middle of the baby-boomer generation. I do know that you worked hard to make sure things around the home were neat and taken care of, and I know that we were all part of that with our daily chores. I know that as I grew you struggled with my relationship with Grandma and I know that you probably feared her because she had been Kris’s and my mother at one point. She was an amazing lady;?perhaps the only one I have ever completely trusted. I do think she hoped good things for all of us, and would include you. I know she understood out situation well and she hurt because of it.

Much like a 5th step, let me offer some things that really caused me hurt and influenced how I reacted and responded to you. I remember being sick and at home on the couch (this was actually in the 900 LaPlante House) and I had an accident because of the flu. You whipped me for that, probably because I was afraid to tell you about the accident and I might have lied when you asked. I had welts from that whipping. Is this too much to tell in a blog, I am not sure? I remember when Dad had the heart attack and I was staying at Grandma’s house that summer because I worked two jobs. You called her and told her to keep me because you did not want me (at least that is how it was relayed to me) and then when I found out about the heart attack and Dad being in the hospital, you told me it was all my fault. I was 16 and that frightened me beyond words. It also hurt me. I remember coming home from college and, indeed, my hair was long and I had a beard. You told me, in front of people at church, that I was ugly. I was embarrassed and hurt. That created a confrontation at lunch that day and I lost my temper. I am sorry for that. In fact, you were the only person on whom I ever lost my temper growing up. Again, I am sorry. I responded out of hurt and what I know is while I do not lose my temper often now, it is usually because I have been hurt by someone, and that someone, whoever it is, is someone for whom I have great care. I remember the scene after Susan was hurt by your actions and I stuck up for her. Again, I apologize for my not handling it better. Perhaps the thing I remember most was your telling me that you believed that Kris and I came to your house to only create trouble. We were 3 and 4 years old. As I said then, and would even now, we did not understand why we had to come to a new house. We did not understand the new rules or expectations. I am sure you did not anticipate the difference having two new people in the house would create or that you would be doing it most of the time on your own. I think it must have been really tough and overwhelming. What I want you to know about the things I have just mentioned is that I forgive you. I hope from wherever you are you might forgive me.

I wish that circumstances would have been better for you. I wish you might have had a situation where you knew you were loved and cared for. I think that Dad loved you, but he did not like you very much. I have thought about that often because I never really saw any signs of real affection for you. In fact, I have said at times, I think he was abusive in a sort of neglectful way. Sure, he worked hard and you had money to pay the bills, but I do not think you had a partner in that marriage. That had to be terrifically difficult. You were also put in the place of having to always be the disciplinarian, and face it, that is neither enjoyable or appreciated from those receiving the discipline. What I have been pushed to realize is that you wanted people to love you and care for you, but no one really did. I am so sorry for that. If I could offer anything to you now it is simply this. Thank you for all you did to try to parent us. Thank you for the opportunities you gave us, often going without yourself. Thank you for never really giving up on us. Please forgive me for the times I hurt you, ignored you, and mistreated you. I wonder what you would tell me now? I wonder what you have told Bob or Dad or Kris? Do you see them wherever you all are? Are you waiting for the last one of the family to get there? I am trying to write through the tears at this point. Please know that I am still glad I grew up in the Martin house. Please know that I forgive you and I am not angry for anything. I am working through those difficulties yet today. Sometimes I do pretty well and sometimes I do not.

As you know I have two somewhat surrogate children now. It has been a growing experience and I am learning every day. I just want to do it well. No, more accurately, I want to do it perfectly. I know that is not reasonable, but they are both such amazing people. Jordan is kind and caring. He is handsome and loves his family deeply. I have learned so much from the Galán family in that way. Melissa is fiercely independent, to the point of my consternation at times, but she too is compassionate and caring. She is as beautiful as Jordan is handsome. I have learned so much from watching the two of them. As you can probably tell, I love them both deeply. In someways, I am like you, never allowed to have my own children (in my case, at all), did you worry about being a parent? I was afraid I would fail as a parent. I guess I do even as a surrogate, but I pick myself up and I keep trying.

I guess I hope you know that I am grateful and I hope you know that I really hope that you have found some sense of peace.

Thank you for listening to me and I do love you.

To everyone else, thanks for reading.

Michael

Freedom . . . from what? for whom?

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Good early afternoon (on the day after the 4th of July),

The fourth of July brings back many memories for me. The earliest, and reoccurring, memoryis that of going to McCook Lake, SD with the Goedes, our family’s closest friends (both of our parents were perhaps major amigos). The other reason we went to South Dakota, which was only 5 minutes away from where I grew up in Iowa, is they had much laxer fireworks laws. However, every 4th for many years were spent at the Izzak Walton Club on the lake, swimming, grilling out, and shooting off fireworks most of the day. That is one of my favorite memories as a child. As I write this I am thinking of my best life-long friend, who is also part of that same Goede family as he struggles with ALS. Hard to believe in our 50s so much as changed. Here is a picture of when I actually had color besides gray on my head and in my beard.

As you who read know, I have been distracted and I am now just finishing my blog posting. Today is a day to get a number of tasks completed and I will try to get back to the initial intentions for this blog, the idea of freedom from what? or for whom? On the 4th I actually drove to Philadelphia and picked up my cousin, Diane, who has come to visit for a few days. It was probably the easiest trip I have ever made to Philly as the traffic was almost non-existent. On Saturday we went on a pretty long ride on the Harley and it was a beautiful day to do that. Sunday included a trip to NYC and a venue called Small’s Jazz Club, where we had the opportunity to listen to some amazing music and a participate in a colleague’s book signing. Some amazing food, a ferry ride, and a really long walk would describe the day, but it was a good day. Monday and yesterday were spent just enjoying time together and listening and sharing. I might have created a dilemma for myself in allowing two of the most important people in my life the opportunity to compare notes, but that is a chance one takes I guess.

It is actually about 2:30 in the morning (on the 9th) and I have been awake for about an hour, so I figured I should be productive. I started to move offices yesterday and I hoped to have that completed by week’s end. They are finishing some work on the little house today, and I sat down yesterday and mapped out the remainder of my summer. It is time for me to get back to work. I have actually taken quite of bit of time to relax this summer. That is a first in many years. I do have colleagues from WI here next week. I am hoping to acquaint them with the group I am putting together to help me manage what is to come. Diane asked me a number of times, “who takes care of you?” Well, I think after meeting Deckers last night, she is feeling better. Last night we got a dancing demonstration from Carolyn and Rosie. It was quite amazing and endearing beyond words. I am cognizant of a reality that I have let people into my life in ways I haven’t for a long time, if ever. There are times I am glad, but there are consequences too. It has made me more vulnerable, and I find that more disconcerting than one might think. It forces me to give up some control of my existence, or at least it seems so. That does not make me entirely comfortable. However, going back to work will help me manage some of that.

I guess that brings me to the posting title? What is freedom? Is it something individual? Certainly, it is. Is it corporate? John Locke actually addressed this in his “Second Treatise on Civil Government”. Indeed, when we are a society, whether that be a small group, a few like-minded-people or a larger entity, we give up things by the fact that we “bind” ourselves together. I cannot help but see Mel Gibson in the movie, Braveheart screaming out “freedom!!” as his last word. A bit melodramatic, but profound. What really provides a sense of freedom? Is it knowing what is to come? It is accepting what is to come? Is it the realization of knowing in an individual way what ultimately matters? What I am beginning to believe is that it is more than merely acceptance, but it is a belief and a comfort in the phrase “well-done, good and faithful servant”. But to what or whom are we in service? I believe that the term “serve” is often misunderstood. I think it is in serving or caring for others we actually begin to understand freedom. It frees us from selfishness. It frees us from always wanting more. A server has more power when she or he is serving than realized. She or he has much more influence on the circumstances than one might believe. I have the ability, the power if you will, to make some difference in another’s life when I care for them. It certainly has some other more difficult attributes or characteristics, but I think the positive far outweighs the negative. As I eluded, I am quite sure this specific element of my being was scrutinized the other afternoon. I understand my propensity for this more than might be realized. I also realize that fear hampers the very freedom I have been pondering. I can name that fear. I could before the conversations of the last few days, but Diane’s visit has validated some of the things I have puzzled upon for many years of my life. My biggest fear is a simple word, but a profound concept in my life. It is abandonment. It can have other synonyms, but that is the most accurate and comprehensive of the options.

To be abandoned is to be given the message that you are unimportant, irrelevant, discardable. What I have realized is if I move, walk-away, hide before someone can do it to me, I keep from being hurt. If I give versus being given-to, I protect myself on one level, but I expose myself on another. Being exposed is frightening; it is something that has often crested pain. It might be that unexpected problem of taking a chance and allowing another into your life or space. To be given away or ignored has been a safety net at times, but then again, it has been hurtful at others. Am I in the midst of walking away in a more profound way in this present circumstance? What happens when we are required to move, perhaps like when I left Wisconsin? What happens when other things force us to prepare for the other? Have I lost my freedom or have I gained it? It is 3:40 and I have to drive to Philadelphia and back today, perhaps a bit more sleep is in order. As an afterthought, I did go back to sleep, but was up at out of the house by 5:50. Perhaps a nap later will be in order also.

Thanks for reading.

Michael