Kariotic Moments and Small Potent Gestures

Good early morning,

Over the last hour or so (it’s 4:30 a.m.), the first fall wind and rain storm blew through. It was windy enough to wake me, and not totally unexpected because it was breezy as I made my home after last night’s late class to a grown wind and latte summer humidity. It was warm enough to open windows upstairs before going to bed and I might have left a door or two open also. The wind for the even cooled the house nicely. I love fall storms because they remind me of my time in Houghton and up in the Keweenaw, where the power of the largest of the Great Lakes made it readily apparent how minuscule our human strength against the fury of nature was (and is). As I listened to the gusts this morning, which were quite evident, I tried to imagine what 170 mile winds of Hurricane Maria might be like. I cannot begin to fathom it . . . the minutes turn into hours, and the hours into days, and then to weeks . . . again, I am still hoping to work on this. It is about 48 hours later and a lot has been accomplished. I am about  95% caught up in my grading. I have a bit to do tomorrow, but one of those kairotic times is upon me. Promotion materials are due next Wednesday and I am not even close to being where I need to be, so the marathon begins this evening. I got some other things done and the few remaining will be breaks as I move forward in this process to move to the next level.

I remember doing this for tenure a few years ago and just wanting it all done. It is something I need to slog through and it is simple as that. So . . . in my typical fashion, I am clearing my head before I have to concentrate on this daunting task. I know that people do it. I know people are doing as I am. There are moments that stun us, moments that leave us speechless, and moments when we are confronted with the reality of our lives (or the lives of those around us), which force us to step back and realize what matters the most. I have had two of those events this past week. I am always sad when people are dealt a hand that seems overwhelming, certainly unfair, and can only elicit one response when we hear the news . . .  something like “Shit . . . are you kidding me?” and you know deep in your gut there are no words, no emotions and quite simply nothing that is adequate in any communicative response. That was what I heard from a student this morning. It is how I felt when I read about two of my former students who have faced either illness or accident that has changed the course of their lives. It is at those times, the voice of the Psalmist rings out most clearly to me, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It seems that if such words were adequate for Jesus on the cross, perhaps they are  the best I too can utter at such a time. As we need into the fall season, I am reminded through the longer enveloping darkness that there is a coldness that will come. There is both a sense of longing for the light, but, more generally for me the appreciation, of a sort of melancholy that accompanies a windy, autumn evening. As I noted the other night it was a sort of storm . . . gusty winds and rain, but a coldness and reminder of what is yet to come in these Northern climates.

It was a milder summer than I can remember here in Northcentral Pennsylvania. The grass is still quite green and that is months longer than usual. It has also cost me much more than usual to keep things on the acre looking reasonable. Actually the leaves are just beginning to change, but the colors seem a bit more muted than usual. I guess that is okay. What I am realizing with the hectic schedule of the fall, I have not made it to Jim Thorpe once, and my somewhat yearly tradition of the Elysburg Haunted House might be broken this year too. Why? The Kairos of Promotion as I will call it. What has happened in the almost 5 weeks since Shiama left is I have used home again as a place to sleep, shower, and collect mail. It is amazing how when someone is in my house, I feel much more balanced and healthy. Those who have been reading know I had some significant vitamin issues earlier this year. I am almost two months without a B12 shot and I can tell. I just took my first Vitamin D in over a month and again, I can tell. It just seems like my office, which I love, becomes a black hole that keeps me from getting as much done as I should. I think much of it is certainly my own fault in that I need to prioritize and do what many of the other faculty do . . . guard my time a bit more carefully, but I have not really figured out how to do that effectively. I still struggle to say I cannot do anymore. I do not think it is about letting people down, but rather it is about lifting people up and trying in some small way to make a difference for them as others have done for me. This is what Cynthia Selfe, the chair of the Humanities Department at Michigan Technological University when I was a graduate student there, called “small potent gestures.” They are those thing that occur at that kairotic moment which make a profound and noticeable difference in the life of “the other.” I have been so blessed to have people do those things for  me in my life, often when unexpected and most certainly mostly when undeserved.

This past week, whether people imagine it as such, and there will certainly be discussion as to whether this address deserves such attention, but I believe it does. For a sitting Senator to question the leadership of the President of their own party in such a public way is unprecedented. I did some  research and the last time a Senator stood in such stark contrast to another within their own party was not about the President, but about another Senator. In 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (ME-R) took on Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) during the Communist Accusations, which led to the filing of what was called the “Declaration of Conscience.” While I am not a Senator Jeff Flake fan, and mostly because I do not fit the AZ conservative Republican mold . . . really, you ask?? 🙂 . . . I do think some of what he said about what we need to do in terms of our discourse and the urgent need to be more civil in what happens being it individually or nationally rings true for me. It pains me to see how we have become so uncaring, so self-centered, so unwilling to look beyond our own selfish hopes and desires. Whether it being something as simple as holding the door open for the other, offering someone a hand when their hands are full, or giving out of our simple having when the other does not have, it matters. It is that small potent gesture that might give another hope when they feel hopeless. What pains me is the willingness to attack the person with whom we have a disagreement rather than be willing to understand why they might see the issue differently than we do. This rude, callous, and despicable behavior, which I must agree does seem to emanate from the very person we have elected to represent us, does more than embarrass me. It has the ability at time to leave me disillusioned. I fight that daily, but there are times I find myself questioning if we have been debased to the degree there is no return. It is interesting that two Senators used that very work this past week, both Republicans.

At the very least, Senator Flake should cause us pause. What do we hope for ourselves as a nation? What sort of world do we leave for our children or our grandchildren? I might say, it does not matter because I have no children, and hence no grandchildren. I might say it does not matter because I have accomplished so much more than I ever imagined I could. I might be tempted to say I have done my work and as such, I can leave it up to those who will follow, but that is not how I roll, to use the vernacular. It brings be back to something that has found its way into my cranial pondering as of late. What do I have yet to accomplish that is not self-serving or perhaps selfish? More important in such a question is who decides? Again, I am reminded of how lives change and paths unpredicted become the norm. On Monday when began this blog, I can recollect, and perhaps pause in anniversial (is that a word???) manner. On the 23rd of October 1988, I was ordained a Lutheran pastor. As many know, much has happened since then, but today’s encounter with a student and health reminded me of that caring role and hope that often is such a part of pastoral care. It is 29 years since that ordination. That day I was so overwhelmed with the reality of the event and what or who I was, I was physically ill. Interestingly, the 31st, it will be 500 years ago that Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the Castle door at Wittenburg. I remember it was the 500 anniversary of his birth when I was in East Germany to visit that place. Luther knew his gesture was potent, but I doubt he understood just how potent it was. That Sunday in October of 1988, I remember clearly as my fellow classmates, already ordained, as well as the Rev. Frederich Peters and the Rev. Dr. Greg Witte laid their hands on my head and I listened to those words. I remember my best friend, who is no longer alive, singing John Michael Talbot’s “Prayer of St. Francis” and my listening to those words. The kairos of that moment is not something I will ever forget.  I am grateful for my friends, particularly Susan, who has always supported my identity, even after leaving the clergy roster, to see me as someone still called. More than a small gesture on her part, more than she might begin to fathom.

This past week as I walked around, I felt a certain loneliness. I felt a certain sadness in a sort of failing way. While the creating of the map assignment for my students was difficult for some of them, it allowed me to see just how many, in spite of their imperfect and perfectly human families, cared and loved their parents so deeply. Certainly there were families in which estrangements are occurring; certainly I heard some things that cause me to see how complicated their lives often are, especially outside the confines of my class. Yet, even for those who struggle with things, the love and care I felt in some of their words give me hope. Perhaps there is more to the world than the discord that seems to cover every inch of a news source, be it online or hardcopy. Perhaps people do think beyond the 140 characters that epitomizes the verbal capacity of our somewhat frightening leader . . . to those who support him (and I support and respect the office, but I am struggling to do the same because of some of what he has said and done) please accept my apology. What I know is in spite of all the good and less than, I have been blessed and amazed by the grace of that which I do not always understand. For the moment, that is good enough. With that, I leave this version of that amazing song for you to hear. This specific video of the song generally brings me to tears.

Again, as always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

Author:

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration. We are working on a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write or ponder through my words.

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