Good early morning,
It is about 3:00 a.m. and I have been awake for about an hour, so I decided I should probably be productive. It is early on Monday morning and we have one more day of classes before the elongated Thanksgiving break though a number of students have already left for the break, blowing off Monday classes and making the break more like a 10 day Spring break. I had a good weekend, a bit busy, but enjoyable. Yesterday (technically) I drove to Philadelphia and picked up Lee and Judy Swenson, two of the most amazing people I have ever been blessed to meet. They were my first host family when I was a member of “Daybreak”, a Lutheran Youth Encounter team, traveling around the Midwest in 1978-79. Through the years I have been fortunate enough to stay in contact with them. Seeing where we both are since that first time I met them as a 22 year old (and later, obviously, that year as a 23 year old), little did we now we would still be in contact, I imagine. Their daughter, Anne, was 4 and is now a professor also. That makes me feel really old.
It was also a weekend of ironies. As I was driving to Philly, I spoke with my sister-in-law, Carolyn, about her dissertation. She is trying to get it finished up and there is some work yet to do that is outside the realm of merely editing. I must admit, it seems that she is having one of the more nightmarish experiences that I have heard about, but was fortunate enough to not experience. The irony of her coming to me for assistance is she is a bit older than I and she was the person (and is the person) for whom I have had unbelievable admiration for from way back when she was married to my brother. Little did she know that she would become a widow at 25 and have three children. Little did I know that we would continue to be family in spite of those profound changes. The irony of having the conversation with her, while I was driving to pick up the Swensons, was more than a bit strange with its ironic implications. Carolyn is the person to whom I give a great deal of credit for standing by me when I was 21-22 years old and I was aimless and sad. I was depressed and had little idea where I was headed or why. I had dropped out of college and was bartending and drinking too much. She came into my room one day and made me get up, shower and she took me out to eat and we spoke for a long time. She was struggling as a widow with three small children, but she was determined. She also showed me that I had more positive things than what I was seeing or feeling. The irony of that is it was her chat that got me looking at options and how I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. It was on that team that I met the Swensons. They are another example in my life, one that demonstrates clearly to me how blessed I have been. What they did not realize was the impact they had on me the very first time I walked into their amazing house in Newton, IA and I stayed in the most amazing barn-boarded basement that was totally finished off and gorgeous. I was unlike any home I had ever visited. The décor, the warmth in their house, the family interaction, there was nothing in that experience I did not hope I might emulate someday in my life.
When we returned to the house last night, I was so proud to have them in my house to see what I have accomplished. I have wanted them to come and visit me for many years and we finally have made it happen. We went to dinner last night when we returned to Bloom around 5:00 and then spent the rest of the evening in the living room just talking and reminiscing about the 35+ years we have known each other. Coming back yesterday we spoke about so many things in the car, life, changes, Iowa, politics, what has happened in our lives. I have been at their house from time to time and they have attended graduations (more than one) and ordinations, and weddings for me. They are like the older brother and sister. They have so many amazing things. The irony of when I met them and what I was thinking about doing with my life and where I am now is certainly a bit of a departure. Please do not laugh, but I hoped or wanted to cut hair and be a male who did everyone’s hair. I am sure many of you are going: “Really?? Are you kidding me?” Well, when I told Judy that in June of 1978, her response was that I should probably think a bit beyond merely doing that. Not to say that being such was a bad thing, but she believed I had a bit more potential than that. At the time, I am not sure how seriously I took her suggestion, but I do know that the year of travels with John, Ruth, Susan and Gloria changed my life and put me on the path to Dana College and beyond. I had to smile last night as we sat in the living room and chatted. Judy was in there first and she noted that she might rearrange my living room. I told her to go ahead. She is the most amazing designer I have ever met and having her put her touch on my house is a treat and honor (This is an edit and addition. When I got home the living room was rearranged and looks very nice.).
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to go out with some faculty on Friday night, where we gathered and socialized. It was a wonderful gathering and I had the opportunity to spend time with a college colleague and her partner. It was such a wonderful time and chance to speak with them one-on-two for some time. They are both such outstanding individuals and I do not know of a couple that better compliments the strength of the other in my life. We made plans to get together for dinner and I am looking forward to that. On Saturday night I had three alums come for dinner and two of them ended up staying for the night. I gave them my room and slept in the guest room, which I still call Melissa’s room. I have been looking for the electric pump for the air mattress for a month, and I still have not found it. Even though I think the bed in Melissa’s room is the best bed in the house, I felt terrifically uncomfortable staying in that room . . . and now I am in there for a few more days. I actually have rearranged the room to make it seem less like I am invading someone’s space. It was so fun to have Emily, Anh, and Mariah over for dinner and listen to them speak about their jobs and life after college. It is always interesting to see how people change and mature, how they become their own person, if you will. In someways that is what this post is about. We become who we are because we are provided examples. Those examples could be positive or negative, but they do help us understand the world in which we live and how we hope to manage that world. In the case of Emily and Mariah, they are both such talented and capable young women. They are dedicated and focused, but they are also very human. They were both in my class as freshman, and in Emily’s case, from that second semester until she graduated, she was in a class of mine every semester. I think she has the record for the most “Dr. Martin classes”.
As I have been writing this post, it dawned on me that the age I noted in the beginning is the age of my “surrogate daughter”, or my God child, or my former house guest, or . . . I am not actually sure what where it all fits. What I do know is she certainly has things together at 22 much better than I did. During this semester there has been an evolution, but, generally, things are in a good space. I will be at their house on Thursday and it will be nice to spend some time with them. I have actually missed that connection, but that is the reality of a semester. Earlier this week I took the time to re-read some of the posts here in the blog and I am so grateful for what I have learned from the entire family. At some point that will probably be a topic of this blog. This past week the grading initiative has begun and it will continue now until it is finally completed. While I am doing that I am still planning for the holidays. As noted in the last post, things are still up in the air, but I am trying my best to be comfortable with not knowing specifics. Between now and the end of the semester I have a concert to go to in Bethlehem, a weekend in Jim Thorpe scheduled, and trying to make sense of the holiday break and beyond schedule. Somewhere in there I want to get to SLC, Poland, and the DR. If I end up in Europe I might try to do a bit of traveling to see Elena in Spain, Kirk in France, and maybe see Ireland and Scotland. Decisions . . . Even before that I have a concert to see featuring Mannheim Steamroller. I have not seen them since seminary days and I have a weekend getaway planned in Jim Thorpe the first weekend in December. Those things should be a great way to bring in the holidays.
Well, in my immediate future it is necessary to finish classes today and the the enjoyable time will be to spend time with Lee and Judy. I think I am taking them to Jim Thorpe on Wednesday. I will drop pies off at the Galans that morning. That would also give Lee and Judy a chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Galan. I am looking forward to the rest of the week. I have nothing planned next weekend and I think I am going to keep it that way so I can concentrate on my work. As you prepare for this coming week, I hope you find the time to reflect and time to express the gratitude you feel for those who matter. I am aware all too well that they are not permanent and that things change. Nevertheless, we are all blessed in our own ways to have others come into our lives. Some will stay and some will leave, but as I have been reminded this week and today, some we are fortunate enough to have around decades later. I am grateful for the example they have been and continue to be in my life.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Dr. Martin (Michael)