Seasons Continued (pun intended)


Hello at 12 :50 a.m.,

I am awake probably because I went to bed at 8:40 last evening. I read blogs and commented for a while, but I hit a wall and decided to sleep. I have set the alarm for 5:00, but today looks like a bit of a blur, and my brain is racing, so I will write for a while and see if I can fall back to sleep. One of thing I have noticed since my last trip to the ER after a coughing sleep week before last is my eyes are struggling to focus and see as clearly as they were before that episode. Frustrating and perhaps it is time to get to an optometrist. I guess I will have to make time for some more appointments. Next week it is time for my 3 month check up also. Always something to manage. ” It is the life.” In the words of Sr. Galán.

In my last blog began to speak about seasons and how seasons might be used as a metaphor for my life. If you read that blog you know I spoke most about spring and then finished up with some words about summer. I have pondered the summer idea since then and I still believe that the happiest time of my life was when I was three or four years old. What made it so? I think it was that time in my life when I knew I was truly loved. My grandmother, of whom I have spoken before, was my mother at that point in time. My sister and I were no longer living with our parents for variety of reasons, primarily neglect. And while I have never really remembered that time in my life, I remember vividly living at my grandparents house. What I know now is that, in spite of my grandmother’s issues she loved me with her whole heart. She loved me unconditionally and she loved me for the remainder of her days on this earth. Unfortunately, I think it was a love that I took for granted all too often. Part of that was immaturity; part of that was selfishness; perhaps, most accurately, it was youthful stupidity She passed away shortly after my 22nd birthday. I think I have noted before that there were mannerisms that were replicated by Lydia. Maybe that’s why she found her way into my heart in a way that few ever have. Maybe the first two years I was living next-door to Lydia might be the other summer in my life. Things at Stout were going seemingly well, and I so loved the little house in which I lived. Living between the Lacksonens and Lydia was an ideal situation. Indeed, it was a time that I was more than content, I was happy. I enjoyed my job; I felt valued at that point. I actually loved cooking breakfast for Lydia every morning and sitting down to a glass of sherry in the evening before I would go back to my house to sleep. The little house was a wonderful habitat.The other thing that I’ve realized about myself is this. While I give my love to others quite freely, there are very few people in my life that I have loved deeply and completely. The first is my grandmother. The second was probably Theresa, my second wife. The third would be Lydia. While there is a fourth possibility, the jury is still out on that situation.

So how would I understand the fall of my life? First, I must admit that autumn is perhaps my favorite season. The majestic tapestry of colors makes it hard to doubt the existence of a creator. The crisp invigorating mornings followed by the warm hazy afternoons, for me, provide the best of both worlds. Perhaps my love affair with the fall is also related to the return of a new school year with new academic possibilities. I guess what I’m realizing is that I connect the fall and the spring because of their common connection to a time of learning. Some of my favorite falls include the first fall I was in college at Iowa State University. I was excited by the town, by the classes and I remember walking from the towers to campus. 30,000 students in town made for endless possibilities. I remember a girl that I met her name was Barb. She was smart and beautiful. Ironically, I would reacquaint with her six years later at the University of Iowa. She is still a person whom I appreciate and admire. Another fall that I remember was probably my first year at Luther seminary the fall of 1983. Perhaps it was an important fall because it was the last time I was well. Or at least perceived that I was well. It would be that coming winter when I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I had spent the entire previous summer crashing Greek, cramming two years of classes into 12 weeks. I was living in the dorm, a place we referred to finally as Bock-person Hall. I was the head resident of that dorm. A much different job than being such a person in an undergraduate dorm. Those persons with whom I had done summer Greek became my closest friends. Such an amazing group of people, good and brilliant. I loved the St. Anthony Park area where the seminary was located, the old houses, the huge old trees, and the crisp and clean Minnesota air. In the six years I have been back in Pennsylvania, I think there has been the potential for such falls, but I’m not sure that I’ve had such a memorable autumn experience yet. Ironically I might have the most ideal setting ever. I work on an amazing campus that looks out of the mountains and that majestic tapestry of which I wrote has never been more apparent. The same goes for where I live. Sitting either on the patio or on my front porch, I can look out and I’m always amazed at the wonder of the world in which I live. Perhaps it is because I live alone. Perhaps it’s because I feel I have no one with whom to share this. However before you think I’m sounding desperate, just don’t because I’m not.

Perhaps the fall metaphor, is the most appropriate for me at this point. The majestic tapestry of which I’ve spoken reminds us through its colors the plants in this creation have reached their peak and provide for us unparalleled beauty. Indeed the combination of sun rain and carbon dioxide create something that we as humans are incapable of doing. And yet the peak season of color is fleeting. As I’ve driven across interstate 80 through the valleys in the mountains of this upper Susquehanna area, I’m continually astonished at how quickly, sometimes within 24 hours, things change. Yet, that seems to be how my life has gone, particularly this past year. If there’s ever been a year that epitomized the Tale of Two Cities, 2014 was that year. It was the year to expect the unexpected. It was the year that I could not have predicted no matter how good my crystal ball might’ve been. Some of the successes were significant. Some of the changes profound. If you have read my blog with any consistency, you’re well aware that some of the most precious things that I had are gone, or changed. Much like the colors of the fall the year reminded me that there is nothing permanent, everything is fleeting. Such a statement might sound cynical, but I do not mean it to be such.

So where am I? If I am correct, and seasons are not chronological, where do I honestly believe I am? In which season do I reside at the present? If I look outside my window there is little doubt that I am in the winter. I have spent three of the last four mornings with the snow blower; there can be little doubt that it is January and I live somewhere where snow is at least a semi-common occurrence. I do not mind the snow and, in fact, I rather enjoy it. I enjoy it for its beauty and serenity, and I enjoy it for its solitude. I enjoy it for the starkness, perhaps for even the harsh reality it brings to our existence. It is with a certain sense of gratitude that I ponder is pureness and its simple beauty. Take the time some late night or early morning to look out at the freshly fallen snow in the moonlight. I learned to do this in the Upper Peninsula when I was in graduate school. An average of 270 inches of snow each winter made it a little difficult to not come face-to-face with the stark reality of winter. I remember when I first moved there and someone asked me if I liked snow. I responded in the affirmative. And they repeated, “No, do you LIKE snow?” What I realized was if you didn’t like it or learn to like it you would not survive. The pristine beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula in winter is unparalleled. And Lake Superior provides two things: a boat-load (a really large boat) of snow and actually moderate temperatures. However, for most of us, winter reminds us of the death of anything’s plants, buildings, and, yes, even people. If the metaphor is to continue does winter mean death in my understanding of the seasons? To say so seems rather cliché, and I don’t particularly like clichés. Perhaps rather than death, it might be reasonable to see winter from his actual dates 21 December for the 21st or 22nd of March. Winter moves us from one calendar year to the next, from an ending to a beginning. In my previous life is a pastor I’m reminded of the words that occur in the committal service spoken over an open grave. “This is the gate to eternal life”. It is only in our ending, that we have any hope for a new beginning. I’ve experienced those new beginnings throughout my life because of changes, moves, and new opportunities. Those times were winters, if you will. But somehow this time winter seems different, it seems more permanent. But I’m okay with that. Perhaps I am in the winter. I refuse to fear it; instead I will embrace it. I will embrace it for its beauty or the preparation it allows me. There’s no need for angst or desperation. I’m reminded of the words of Paul. And yet in the fullness of time, it came to me the least of all. I have things yet to do and I will embrace those opportunities as I always have. I will work to make sure that I complete the things to which I am obligated, to keep my word to those people to whom I’ve made promises. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience the four seasons both literally and virtually. Indeed I have been blessed.

As always thank you for reading. It’s now 2:30 in the morning. I believe I can go to sleep. I should note it is the next day and when I wrote this (actually spoke it), I found there were many more issues with it than I could have anticipated. I think I have edited out most of the issues. Thanks for bearing with me.

Dr. Martin


bucket list

Good early morning,

I am finally making some notable progress against this pneumonia, but I think I have been In bed more hours in the last two weeks than I have usually been in six. I was in bed before 9:00 p.m. Last night. While I have been productive during the days, there is more to do than the hours I have been awake, so if you think about that I am working my way backwards. That is a problem. The weekend will require some significant work. My niece will be here this weekend and I am looking forward to seeing her. I have not seen her since last Spring. Even though we speak regularly, it is a long way back to Iowa.

If you live in Bloomsburg, you might think my blog title is referring to a restaurant here in town. While I appreciate that establishment a great deal, it is not the topic or focus of my blog. I will put in an unabashed plug for this restaurant gastronomique. Others might think I am referring to Antonio Vivaldi’s amazingly well-known, and, in my opinion, over-played composition, which is actually titled le Quattro staglioni.. While this might be actually closer, it again is not really what I am rying to strictly consider as I write this blog. And, btw, if you want to cosines some different musical compositions that are more than concertos, not to take away from Vivaldi, look up Fresh Aire I-IV by Mannheim Steamroller for another take on the quadratic divi on of our calendar year. Most of you know their Christmas music, but this precedes it. In fact, I am listening to the second album (download) about Spring as I write this. The metaphor of seasons and understanding or illustrating our lives is quite common, and that is more what I have been thinking about this past few weeks. Again, knowing that I have been working with requirements of being the trustee for Lydia might provide some context, and rightly so, but I think it is my own life and reflection upon that life that is more the impetus for this posting. It is the fact that my best friend in life is now in a care facility suffering the devastation of ALS and I am here and can do little to help or visit him that is hurting me profoundly. It is perhaps that I have another set of freshmen who have barely begun their lives and I know that I have lived most of mine. I know that I have worked against odds to make it this far, and while I plan to go father yet, there are things that want to keep that from happening. It does not really sadden me, but it does make me wonder how best to use this period of time, this final season if you will.

If I would try to imagine my life as those four seasons, how might I show the parallels? Where are those divisions and why do I see them as I do? Is each season the same length, as a normal yearly cycle we follow or do they vary? What are the significant moments or events within those seasons? Those are all Fragen daran zu denken . However, it is almost 5:00, so there other priorities for me, and it is time to rise and shine, or, at least rise.
. . . As is often the case, the week got away from me and other priorities with the first week of classes came to the fore. So it is almost midnight on Friday and my niece, Jennifer, just arrived and she will be here until Sunday sometime. It is good to see her. I have not been able to get together since she was in Bloomsburg last Spring around the end of March. I am not sure what all we will do tomorrow, but it is wonderful to have her here.

So what happened or when was there a time that I would consider there a
springtime in my life, that place or time of growth, of hope, of believing the best was yet to come? What I am realizing as I start to ponder this, it is likely that neither my life can be seen in an orderly manner nor would my seasons follow the expected chronological pattern. For instance, you might consider the spring to be the time when you were younger, when things are or were, new, things are, or were, changing, when there’s wonderment about what you are and where you will or would go. I’m not sure I had such a time throwing up. At least I don’t remember feeling that way at any time as a child. I think that time for me might’ve been when I was in college, at Dana College. I was 24 years old shortly after arriving in Blair. Granted there were times growing up but I had that wonderment. As I noted in previous blogs,, Christmas times at my grandma’s house; or times on my great aunt’s farm. If I use the concept of being amazed the idea of extreme wonderment, I imagine the time that I was in the Marine Corps might be such a time. Was for me wide-eyed and gently boggled by everything that occurred around me. And without a doubt, it was one of the times in my life I grew the most. Yet, looking back, I don’t remember it as a time of time of happiness or a time where I felt good about myself. Again there were moments but I felt those things, but nothing sustained. As I ponder all of this what I realize are the times that I was most happy were the times I was learning something. I imagine that’s why am happy even now. Though I must admit some of the learning is now more difficult or more significant. Some of the most significant learning has actually been outside the classroom. I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s reasonable to ask when was my most significant learning moment. Within the realm of school I believe it was the first time I went to Europe. Outside of school I think it’s actually been that during the last year. Simply put I guess spring time for me is the time of growth, both growth in my mind and growth in who I am as a person.

How might I describe the season of summer and when did that season occur in my life? As the next thing for me to ponder, when did I feel the warmth of the summer, a sort of caliente capable of radiance through your entire being; creating a warmth than affects your very soul? Has I wonder about this the only time I can think I felt such warmth and happiness was as a small child with my grandparents. I remember laying in the yard in the grass on a summer day and gazing out the sky, pondering the art and the figures in the clouds. I remember once gazing a crossed and I could see what we’re grain elevators. I didn’t know that’s what they were and I thought I was gazing at heaven. I was so happy and content. I liked where I lived; I knew I liked that I was loved. I believed life was wonderful. What I know now that would last much longer and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that since. On one level, that’s an incredibly sad statement. On another level, I think it addresses the actual complexity of what it means to be truly happy. I do believe there are times of my life where I’ve been content. In fact, I would say now is one of those times. I am content because I have everything I need and certainly most anything I have wanted. Yet none of that really makes me happy. For me, happiness goes beyond contentment. That statement is probably worth an entry on its own.

I think for the time being I will just continue to ponder. I will say something about the two additional seasons in my next post. However most of the rest of the day I should do it work on school things and be prepared for the coming week. I owe that to myself; I owe that to my students. Perhaps a century will make you ponder your own life and those times or seasons when you felt the best? What where the contributing factors to those seasons of growth? those seasons of happiness?

As always thank you for reading. I hope you have a great week.

Dr. Martin



Hello from my room where I should be sleeping, but . . .

Earlier this evening I was fortunate to be able to go to the movie theatre, not something I would normally mention. While I enjoy movies, and particularly ones that force me to think or ponder, seldom to I leave a movie speechless or so amazed there are simply no words to adequately portray what I am thinking or feeling. The last movie to come close to doing that was A Beautiful Mind, which up until this evening, was the movie I have referred to as my favorite. After seeing Selma this evening that designation for the amazing movie about John Nash may have changed. What an astounding movie this look at our country 100 years after the end of the Civil War is painted (pun intended). Poignant, risky, and one that forces all Americans to face our racism, both in our unbelievably saturated history, but also in our lingering overt and covert continued practice of marginalizing those we deem different. I am still processing the movie on a number of levels and will probably see it a time or two more. I have some other thoughts about how I might use it in my classes this semester. I was particularly struck by the way the federal, state and local levels of politics and law enforcement managed the issue of voting. What an eye opening thing for me. I was only 10 years old when most of this was happening, and growing up in an almost totally white NW Iowa, I had very little awareness of these issues. What is amazing to me is how in a time of our national history when we claimed or perhaps appeared to be such a beacon of democracy and equality, we were actually not listening to the nation-wide cries of injustice and our image was barely a veneer of any such place.

As mentioned, I grew up in an almost totally white town, even though there were around 100,000 inhabitants, there were very few blacks and probably more Native Americans. I grew up knowing that the “N-word” was not to be spoken, but I do not think I met a black person until I was a senior in high school. Seriously. The re-proportioning of high schools in my senior year meant that most of the black students, which were not many, went to my school. I honestly do not remember thinking they were really any different than I was, but I think that was because I was pretty easy going. The very fact that I might say do not think they were different, however, raises the issue. Why might I consider them different? Why am I even prompted to consider such a question? Going into the Marine Corps was an eye-opening experience because of the racial exposure I would receive. While they argued that everyone was Olive Drab, as I look back that was not true. I have some very painful experiences in the service because of a particular situation with a Black Marine, but that experience was because of who he was as a person and had nothing to do with his race. However, all of this, I believe, forces me to admit, to see as a revelation, the reality of my white bias. It forces me to realize I was raised in a society that saw, and continues to see, “the other” as different, and too often different means less than or somehow problematic. Perhaps this is what Melissa was trying to get me to see more clearly than I was able way back in September when I wrote about privilege. Perhaps I need to give her more credit than I was willing to give. Perhaps it was, because this white bias, I could not see through her words or understand her clearly. Perhaps it is because my emotions got in the way of my brain. That happens more often than I would like to admit. Going to the movie last night I saw things I could’ve never imagined. I thought things I did not anticipate. I thought things the touched my very soul. For me, ultimately, that’s what makes the movie successful. The analytical side causes me to wonder how much directorial license was taken? How much of the script is fictional? Regardless the answer, what I know is it the movie was moving, compelling, and phenomenally effective. I must know it was not until I was lying in bed last night at the irony of seeing this movie on Martin Luther King Day hit me. What an unbelievably apropos thing to do, but I must know that I did it unwittingly and unknowingly. I am never been against a holiday, I must also must admit that I’ve never done much to celebrate it.

I should note that it is early Tuesday morning and I’m up and ready for a new semester. I think I will start with breakfast at the diner. Two eggs, hot tea, a half order of potatoes should do it. While I had gained some weight back during the fall have managed to lose all of that in the last 10 to 12 days. That does not really hurt my feelings and, in fact, I would like to lose another 15. That would put me in the 170s. Not a bad thing especially as I’m getting older even as I write.

Back to the issue at hand. The movie forced me to think about where our country comes from and what we value. What we say we value corporately or nationally and what we seem to do individually is too often at odds. The portrayal of Lyndon Baines Johnson and his willingness to create a law to ensure voters rights was quite interesting. At least in the movie, up till his very announcement before Congress, he was unwilling to do the right thing because it was not politically expedient. Again how true that might be is probably open to debate, but I also know that he was a political pragmatist and he was from Texas. Even though that is my birth state, it is not a place known for being compromising nor willing to work with another. Hence the billboards “don’t mess with Texas.” I might again reveal a political bias here, but Bush 43 seems to prove that assertion. Again I do not want to be a spoiler in case you want to go and see the movie. All I can say is regardless of script or directing, I believe the movie provides an unparalleled picture of our world a mere 50 years ago.

While it forces me to consider the past, more importantly, it requires me to ponder our present circumstances. Well I’m well aware of the argument that will be made regarding legalities and voting for the black person in the 1960s, I cannot help but see parallels between then and how we now treat Latinos and other minorities in our present immigration debate. Not that long ago, in our own history black people were only counted as 3/5s of a person. What the hell? They were brought here, many against their will and we abused and marginalized them. Too often I believe we still do. I’m not sure that every Latino, Asian or other immigrant child wants to come to the United States, but in order to stay with their family and, often in the hopes and dreams of parents providing a better life, they come. In the big picture, not that long ago, my ancestors did the same. As I noted in the previous blog, we are all immigrants. It does not matter the color, the gender, the creed or faith, is a fundamental human given to hope for good life. If not for ourselves at the very least for our children. It is the very reason I will see many faces, new faces, today in my classes. They are hoping to somehow this investment of tens of thousands of dollars will provide an opportunity for them to be more successful, to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of those they love. How do we value them as a student? How do they value themselves? Too often their backgrounds cause them to believe they are capable of less than they are. On the other hand, it is not our job to merely hold their hands. It is such an interesting balancing act, and there is no recipe card.

However, as I noted, where am I now as I ponder my own personal baggage and where I stand regarding issues of equality and justice? Perhaps the most important thing to occur in the approximately-a-year I’ve been accepted as a member of the Galán family is foundational because it has provided an indescribable opportunity for me to consider my racial bias, a bias that it pains me to admit, but one I must confront if I am to understand it and then change it. It is something that I am working on. It is something that being opened to has forced me to finally recognize how deep-seated it is. I am grateful to be learning this. I pray that I can continue to learn to accept people for who they are and the gifts they bring rather than for what I expect or hope from them. Melissa and José, thank you for coming to see me Sunday morning. José, thank you for your words. Melissa, thank you for your presence.

Off to the office to start a new semester; to my various surrogates, I wish you a successful semester. If it is your last one, hang in there; you’re almost there. For those who made Dean’s list last semester, I only have one thing to say. Do it again. To the rest of you, good luck with your semester, be it here in Bloom or somewhere else. If you have not seen the movie Selma, do yourself a favor and go see it. To everyone else, thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin


Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Hello from the Detroit airport,

I am quite sure that this post might be a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, and memories. As I sit in the airport my mind seems to be a conundrum of possibilities and requirements, opportunities and necessities, remembering the past and imagining the future. I have my earbuds in and ironically the song from Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer titled “America” is playing. I will write more about irony later in this post. I am remembering the first time I heard that song, I was in then what was West Germany and traveling as a student with Dr. Nielsen on the interim titled Auguries of Loneliness. As I sit here lonely among the people crowding around me gathering for the last leg of a cross-country flight, I am content in my solitude. It is always sort of a game to try to imagine what the stories are of the people around me. While someone told me this week I am an academic and I seem like one (not sure if that is a compliment), I most often see myself as an Iowa kid who grew up blue collar and worked hard. I have been fortunate to have people who cared and loved me step up along the way. Without their help I certainly would not be where I am. One of the things that I believe makes me a bit different than most is I do not forget people, and I reach out to them from time to time to help them know they still matter and that their assistance was neither forgotten nor expected. I think that is my grandmother’s admonishment to be a gentleman put into action.

The temporality of our individual human experience is something I have been pushed to consider these past weeks. It is not quite a month ago that I needed to fly home for Lydia and to help make decisions on whether the quality of life she had been reduced to from the long-term consequences of dementia was the life she wanted. When is mere existence no longer life? Sitting with her family physician, a man I respect beyond words, said, “Michael, it makes no sense to try to prolong her life.” Those were both difficult and freeing words at the same time. This brilliant woman, strong-willed and yet loving, determined and yet fragile, had lived an amazing life. She was no longer living, she was marginally existing. To move toward palliative care was a change that was done out of love and not out of selfishness. “Another day goes by and I thank God that I am alive” (Nico and Vinz). I am not sure Lydia could say this any longer. While her temporality saw much more than many in her 90 years, 4 months and 27 days, I am forced to see her and myself as temporal.

Before you read what follows as fatalist, let me tell you simply, please don’t. I know I am temporary. At one point I chose to ignore, perhaps even foolishly argue against, such a notion. I wonder why do we struggle so desperately to hang on to this life? I think I have realized that life has a quality and maintaining that quality is not always an easy thing to do. That does not suppose that we should merely disregard what we can do, but what really matters when we hold onto our existence, even somewhat dramatically or even more sadly desperately. Is it because we believe we must still accomplish something? It is because we foolishly believe that we make such a profound difference? Again, I am not saying that those things do not have value, but are they such astounding things that our lack of physical presence will cause them to totally disappear. Lydia is no longer physically here, and while I cannot actually hear her voice or see her amazing eyes, I can say unequivocally they are still present and they affect me. I can see both her smile of approval and her scowl of the opposite as if she were still here. What I am pondering more carefully and thoughtfully is what is my purpose from this point forward? Again, please do not see me as falling of the cliff of sanity, but I know that much of my purpose this past decade was to care for and follow through on the promise I made to her.

It is certainly a good thing that I have my position at Bloomsburg and a program to continue to grow. It is a good thing that I have the Decker family. Tenure removes some of the temporality of that position and provides some security. Having the continuity with the Deckers from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania is more profound to me than they probably realize. To watch their family grow, evolve and to be treated with the respect and love they have given me again has affected my life beyond measure and in a way that is indescribable. In addition some of my other colleagues have become treasured people in my life. My former chair and present chair are astounding people. The colleague with whom I started in the department is more of a friend that I am sure he realizes. The person who was my acting chair my first semester and his wife are such a blessings to me. The English Department at Bloomsburg University is really a wonderful position to be placed in at this point in my life. Then there are the students. Speaking about temporality, they come and they go more quickly than we can even seem to manage. I have watched two sets of students complete their studies and watched them mature from wide-eyed freshmen to young professionals, still wide-eyed, but in a different way. Every once in a while I find that what I have done has had some profound positive effect. Those moments are fleeting, but they are precious. I have also learned that not everyone is as genuine as I might have hoped, but those are important life lessons too because they remind me that I have really very little control of anything but myself. Those moments are equally precious. They remind one of what is true and upon what or in whom we can believe and trust. There are very few in whom we can actually trust and perhaps even fewer in whom we can hope to believe. That brings me to a different concept. It is the concept of giving my word. Following through on to my promise to Lydia to care for her to the best of my ability was something I felt strongly about, and I still do. My word to someone, regardless who they are, needs to be trusted, to be believed. I know there are times I could be more comprehensive in making this happen, and those times affect me more than most might realize. I think this comes from my father. I know that his word to someone was almost sacred. I tried to care for Lydia as I watched him care for others, without a sense of reward, and during this time I have continued to give to others like I believed she would. What I know is the help we offer others is temporal in more than one aspect or manner than we might think.

I remember once writing a practice sermon for a preaching class in seminary. The text was the poisonous serpent text in Numbers and I titled the sermon “temporarily faithful.” That seems to be predominately who we are as humans. We hold on to things that we either value or things we believe benefit us. When the value is deemed minimal or we believe we might need to put more into something that we receive, it is easier to discard it. There have been moments in my life I am guilty of this practice, and for those times I must humbly ask for forgiveness. There is one person, a person I have loved beyond measure most of my life, I have run away from because I was frightened and felt guilty. I am not sure if I can repair this situation or not, but ignoring it is not the right thing to do. It is amazing how we can decide things or believe things that are perhaps not accurate,  but we do it and we box ourselves into something less than ideal. Over the weekend, I did have the opportunity to speak with one of the people to whom I have referred from time to time. It was an interesting, and helpful, conversation, but there are still things that do not make sense to me. As hard as I try, I cannot wrap my head around that fundamental concept or the manner in which he (and my extension, they) use this concept, word, or philosophy. I wonder what that particular word means and the two synonyms used do not connect for me. Again, I am not arguing against that position,  but I cannot see it as possible, either logically or emotionally and therefore I cannot see how it is actually practiced, particularly when the actions taken do not seem consistent with what I understand that term to be. I guess I will continue to struggle to understand. More importantly, I will continue. I know that the value and joy brought to my life far outweighs anything negative. I am not sure that is always portrayed as well as I might and for those times, again, I must ask for forgiveness.

Tomorrow I begin another semester, so it is now Monday. I am still struggling with my health and it appears after another appointment that I might have coughed so hard that I had a minor stroke. I do know exactly when that occurred as the pain I had in my head was unbelievably intense. Perhaps, ironically, that coughing finally helped because I am actually feeling a bit better, though I must admit every time I go into a coughing spell, my head is very tender and it hurts pretty badly. Again, all of this reminds me pretty clearly that we have much less control over what happens than we might think. While I have worked hard for the better part of seven and a half months to improve my health, there are some things I cannot predict or change. I will admit, as I did yesterday that the last month has not been stellar as far as taking charge of my health, and I am changing that again, the work I have done this past 3/4 of a year has been pretty darn significant. As I look toward the semester and what is on my plate, there seems to be little doubt that it will be busy and continuous, but that is nothing different. What I need to do is be smarter and more intentional about each and every thing I do. This past year, and most of my life, I allowed people I believed cared to have more control than I should. That is because I have a tendency to put others before myself. Again, I know from where that comes and while I have made some progress in that realm, sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back. That is better than one step forward and two steps back, but I need to make sure that I do not go backwards at all. It is such a balancing act for me. I have heard from more than a handful of people that I need to take care of myself. I am sad that my time over break was influenced by illness as much as it was. That kept me from enjoying some things, places, and people, that, or who, are so important to me. Time is fleeting and I know that is cliché, but it is cliché because we note it and then too often ignore it. We allow things to affect and influence us, turn us upside down, and then we wonder on the other end “What the hell happened?” Sort of what the Green Bay Packers are wondering this morning. As a Packer fan, I must say, I am still in a state of shock. The point is, we have opportunities to make a difference. Even in the fleeting moment, we can positively influence another persons life. Sometimes what we might do could be significant or appear significant. Other times, it might be something very simple or even mundane, but the point is we affect, and are affected by, those around us. Each of these moments are opportunities, changes to change both our own life and the lives of others around us. Too often we are selfish, narcissistic, or just plain clueless. I am so fortunate because I am, through my position in the university given entrée into others lives. I am gifted to be able to share what little I have to offer to make a bit of a difference. What I am realizing again, it the temporal nature of that chance, of that opportunity. Ultimately, I hope in the coming weeks, both in the semester, and in my life, I can focus on the gifts I have and try to share them as unconditionally as I can humanly muster. I fail there too often, but as Lydia demonstrated in her life, one can still care. I have been asked a couple times lately about the purpose of my blog and why I write as I do. I noted that writing is always contextual. I am grateful for the questions and indeed, I do go back and edit at times. Sometimes those edits are for bad writing. Sometimes those edits are for poor practice. Sometimes those edits are simply editing and proofreading.

As I told one person, I hope in my writing I reveal my soul (if so, you might catch a glimpse of who I really am), but I also hope to protect my life. I am reminded of a seminary professor that once said, while it does note that the shepherd lays down his (and I would add “her”) life, and when I was a pastor the shepherd analogy was probably more apparent, no where does it say the sheep take his (her) life. What I have learned since is if we let people, they will take more from our lives that we can afford to give. Off to a new semester.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael (and tomorrow again, Dr. Martin)

Diversions, Dastardly Deeds, and Directions

Hello from another airport,

I can honestly say in 40 years of flying I had never had a pressurization issue in an airplane. That streak as now ended. We could not reach cruising attitude and they had to divert the plane. The most important thing is they managed the issue professionally and calmly, and while there is some inconvenience, we are all safe and sound. There is so little we actually have control of when we fly. Yet, most of us hop on the plane, walking down that jetway without a second thought. I have probably flown somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 in my life. I have only had two issues: this one and way back when I was only 18 and a tire blew out on landing. That was actually more frightening than today was for me. So now I am in a cab and they are actually taking us to another airport. I think I will be writing American Airlines a very long letter. I know that flying is still more efficient than other modes of travel, but my experience with American and its partners over the past two weeks has been anything but stellar.

As I sat in the various airports today, the continued unfolding of events around Paris and throughout France are mind-blowing to me. How does someone created such hatred within himself or herself that they deem it appropriate to kill another person because their opinions differ? I believe in principle, but how does that principle, or adherence to a particular set of beliefs, create the justification to kill another? I find this particularly egregious when we use our faith in any God or prophet as the rationale for such heinous actions. First, let me note that America has engaged in such behavior, both in the Civil War and in the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII, so we are not blameless. Furthermore, while I do believe in the importance of national security, some of our actions post-911 are currently problematic for me. I don’t care what Former Vice President Cheney says. I was speaking with Marco yesterday – it is now Monday, by the way – and we discussed the various manners in which countries seem to respond to actions such as what occurred in Paris, Boston, or other places. The manner in which governments are responding to terrorists incidences seems to be more strident. BTW, if you have not read Fareed Zakaria’s blog over the weekend, it is an outstanding read.

Having been in Auschwitz barely a week ago, there is little doubt in my mind the extreme consequence of the espousal of hate can be. As I am sitting and listening to NPR this morning a story about another form of human bombing was noted. In Nigeria, the terrorist organization had begun using adolescent girls as bombers. How do you convince a 10 year old that such an action is reasonable, acceptable, or appropriate. I find it incomprehensible that a 10 year old can develop such hate for another culture or group of people. I have written so much about our difference in cultures and how those cultures affect both our identity and our practices. Certainly there are times the difference in culture has to do with daily practice; sometimes those differences have to do with language and how we use words differently. I am pondering some of that even as I write this. My travels during this break and my experience with Lydia and language has once again reminded me how language can open doors, but it can also create barriers. As I sit here in a Starbucks drinking hot tea and trying to overcome what I have found is double pneumonia, I have been working on syllabi all morning,  but I have also been pondering what this coming semester will hold for me. Lydia’s presence in my life had more value than most might imagine. Taking care of her and making sure she was cared for in an appropriate manner was a significant part of who I had become. Lydia taught me important things. As I have noted in some previous blogs, she became my mother, and while she was a tough person at times, she had an incredible heart and a goodness to her. At some point, I will write a blog posting about the 10 years I have known her and how she has changed both my life and my perspective on life. She was the victim of, and experienced on a first-hand basis, some of the dastardly deeds that I noted in my title. The fact that her husband was a political prisoner of the Reich is one thing. The fact that she lost members of her immediate family because of the post-Czech issues of the Second World War, it is easier for me to understand why someone could grow to so dislike another that they might actually hate them. Lydia would use that work in her comments toward the Czechs, but her way of managing that extreme emotion was to eliminate them from her existence. I do not think she every again spoke Czech  in her lifetime. Is she entitled to such emotion? That is not an easy question. Are we entitled to either love or hate another? There is not entitlement. There is only our human response to our experiences. It seems the more extreme, or more affected we are by the experience, but more likely that experience will be grafted into our DNA if you will. While I am aware of what happened to Lydia’s parents, it is not something she spoke of often. In fact, she only told me of it once, and that was when we were standing in her room at Comforts of Home.

It is Wednesday of the last week of break and I have actually slept for more than 12 hours in three of the last five days. That is the most I have slept in years, but on the other hand, I think this is the worst I have felt since last spring at the end of school. While I am not generally one to jump on the Alka Seltzer or other sort of cold and flu bandwagon, I do not think I had a choice this time. I do not have time beginning next week to be sick. The last two nights I was in bed before 8:00 p.m. Last night it might have been barely 7:00. I am pretty sure that the travel schedule, which I am realizing had more wear and tear in it than I expected as well as the time I spent in Menomonie, took its toll on a body that already has its own issues. I can honestly say I do not think I have felt this badly since I had to go back into the hospital a little over two years ago because of surgical complications.

It is now Thursday early morning and my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., and even though I went to bed before 8:00 again last night I fix it sleep very well. I think the largest period of continuous sleep I got before the alarm going off, which I was awake to hear, was maybe an hour. The fog was ridiculous this morning. While I had hoped to get more work done, that did not happen. Even as I sit here on the flight this morning, waiting to depart, I am sweating. With only a t-shirt and sport coat, I feel like I am in a sauna. I guess my body is fighting to the best of its ability. It is amazing mechanism in spite of its current frailties.

As I begin a new semester and a life altered because of the events this past month, I find it necessary to imagine what it is I am called to do and how I will prioritize all I do. I think last year might be seen as an experiment – one with mixed results, but one nonetheless I am glad I tried or one in which I participated. It is also one that I can put away as I have put away other things in the past. I am realizing that I am perhaps more like Lydia than I might have imagined. While I might not be as reclusive and, in the past, I have not knowingly pushed people away as a practice, what I am realizing more clearly is I have too often believed the best in others, leaving myself open to hurt and disappointment. I believed I needed others in my life more significantly than I perhaps do. I will be much more discerning than I have had a penchant for doing. I can only ask as the liturgy notes “Kyrie, Eleison”. It is the name of a Mister Mister song and the only part of the liturgy that remained in Greek rather than moving to Latin. For those not sure of the meaning, it means “Lord, have mercy.” I know there will be things to manage in the coming weeks, in Pennsylvania, both at school and on the home front. There are significant things to manage between Wisconsin, North Carolina, Naperville, and Northern Minnesota. I will work my best to manage as I believe Lydia would have wanted. Ultimately, it is about her desires not what everyone else thinks. I am so grateful for the staff of Comforts of Home. They continue to work with me and help plan things. I did get some of the initial pieces completed this week and I need to work with the monument company this week. One piece at a time. That is moving in a direction and that is what life is about. Moving forward and managing what life throws at you. Lessons experienced and lessons learned are simply what life is. Well, I think I might try to close my eyes and beat my present fever.

Thanks as always for reading my thoughts.


Why I am not Charlie

What an amazing read – provoking and powerful

a paper bird

imagesThere is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it.  Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive; but they exist on a different plane from physical violence, whether you want to call that plane spirit or imagination or culture, and to meet them with violence is an offense against the spirit and imagination and culture that distinguish humans. Nothing mitigates this monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not…

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Trying to be Healthy

Good early morning,

It is about 6:00 a.m. MST and I have spent most of the night with the shakes and shivering in my motel room. I think the stress of these last three weeks, the battle of the last seven months and the travel has ganged up on my body. All of this led to a less than ideal sleeping night and though I seldom remember dreams, somehow I dreamt two or three times and the dreams, while related, were a bit bizarre. I keep dreaming about the Green Bay Packers, and the dreams are a bit goofy because they are about impossible scenarios. Perhaps the good part of feeling less than stellar will be i can lose some of this weight that I’ve gained over the last month. I managed to gain back about 15 pounds and it doesn’t make me particularly happy. Of course to be perfectly honest I have not been juicing as I should and I haven’t taken my vitamins as well as I should. Lack of healthy diet probably means lack of health.

I’m in Salt Lake City to meet with the founder and the main brain trust behind the company that my students worked with last semester. I’m not sure exactly when I can say about the company right now but I can’t say that I am learning a lot about how to start up companies work. Both Dr. Decker’s classes and my classes worked with the company and now I’m hoping interns and small groups of students will continue that work. I am particularly excited for two reasons. The opportunity for interns to work on the front lines and learn things is especially helpful. Second this might open up additional opportunities for students. While we often talk about preparing students for the real-world, this actually does it. Last night after dinner I have the opportunity to join in on the chat, Skype chat, as the primaries through that of the company work through various issues on their development. It was amazing to see how they used both language and technology to accomplish their tasks. The use of apps and software programming and other technology makes the turnaround time unbelievably fast compared to the past. We’re not talking days, nor talking hours, sometimes it’s minutes. That is the hard thing for students to understand. So over the next day I will be working on this and try to figure out the best way to both help the company and help my students. It might be one part of my position that I enjoy the most.

As I was speaking with my colleague on the way to the airport yesterday, he brought up something I have thought of over the last couple weeks. Is it really interesting and a coincidence or was it planned by Lydia that she would have gone in her battle against dementia, and pass away only a couple weeks after I was notified that I have been granted tenure. In spite of everything, did she somehow knows that yes I would be okay. Knowing her this would not surprise me a bit. Her attorney during our conversation the other day noted that she picked the perfect day as far as taxes to pass away. Again I don’t think I’m surprised. As I’ve noted over the last weeks, she was in charge to the very end. I am certainly fading as I write this: sneezing, coughing, shivering and sniffling; so it seems I have managed to do this full-blown. Hopefully, I can get back on track soon. I am getting some hot water for Emerg-C now and I will be chugging water like crazy to keep hydrated and adding some Chloraseptic spray on the side.  As I was thinking about Lydia’s strength, I am still amazed that she held on to her life for almost 13 days after she decided to go to bed. Again, she had one time when she got up (on the 26th) and about 8-10 ounces of water in that time. Yet, she maintained, and according to Nate and Carissa was pretty stable, though weak, until the last 36 hours or so. Our bodies are such astounding instruments. They endure so much and manage to function, serving us remarkably well, and yet they are still quite fragile, but we fail to realize it. I think what I am realizing, again perhaps because I am technically into the year that I begin another decade, that our bodies manage because they are so resilient, but they do not go unaffected. What we do throughout our lives has a consequence. If I were to graph my life in terms of healthy or unhealthy (or in between) habits, I think I might be shocked at what I have put my body through, sometimes knowingly, sometimes somewhat unknowingly, and even sometimes merely because I was subjected to it. I know that last category might seem a  bit sketchy, but hear me out. When I was very small, as I have noted, the first two years of my life were under less than idea circumstances, and I am pretty sure from what I have heard, my sister and I were malnutritioned. Add that to my being born at about 17 ounces, and I was fighting an uphill battle from the outset. The next three years with my grandmother, who I do adore, was probably like the Tale of Two Cities. I think there are times we ate very appropriately and nutritionally, but there were the other times because she worked all day and there were other health issues in her own life. When I came to the Martin household at almost 5, I think things probably improved on some level, but my adopted mother was not a good cook, nor did she enjoy it, so there were way too many starches, canned vegetables, and overcooked things. Overcooked can be both damaging to the nutrients, but more importantly, it tasted badly and so eating was not particularly enjoyable. I remember in high school already being diagnosed with ulcers and I had other intestinal issues, I now realize, that were precursors to the Crohn’s that would be an eventual diagnosis. In my twenties, I fluctuated between eating very well and eating fast food garbage. If it were a psychological diagnosis in terms of my eating it would probably be multiple personality disorder. I could go through the entire almost sixty years, but that is not that interesting. To be more concise, I have probably eaten in a honestly healthy manner in a combined total of less than 1/10 of my life. That is not to say there was nothing healthy in what I did the other times, but to be carefully and intentionally nutritious in a systematic way has not been something I have done nearly as carefully, especially as a IBD person, as I should have.

What is perhaps amazing to me now is how not being as intentional in the past month as already taken its toll on me. While I am not back in Bloomsburg until next Thursday, a week from now, I can still do some things while on the road to try to maintain and do a bit better than I have. I did do some of that last night when I had things boxed up and I was more careful about portion control. I guess one of the positives in my current health situation is my body tells me almost immediately if it is happy or not. It has forced me to pay attention and that is probably in my best interest.

It is now Thursday evening and I had a great day of meetings. On the other hand my conversation about health is so appropriate at this moment. To say that I feel rotten would be serious understatement. I had chicken noodle soup for a late lunch and I have been doing Emergen-C all day. I can only hope that it starts to make a difference soon. This is a case of where I’m sure that my traveling has taken it’s toll. There’s also been some stress in the day but that’s an entirely different story. None of that stress was unpredicted but dealing with it is an entirely different thing. People continue to amaze me, and yet I guess I shouldn’t be. There are persons who believe that my help that I have given Lydia for 10 years was based on what I would receive from it. Not surprisingly those persons are making themselves known at this point. While these things are stressful there’s little I can do about it. I was simply allow the attorney to do her job.

In the meanwhile to keep my stress down I need to do my schoolwork and prepare for second semester. I’m hoping just keeping a low profile and doing my work over the next few days will give me a chance to get healthy and lower my stress. Life is what it is. I think the people who really know me know that I am a giver not a taker. I guess I just have to let that story come out. In the meanwhile it’s time for more chicken soup.

Thank you as always for reading.