When or How did it (or What Just) Happen(ed)?

Hello from the acre,

Today I spent some significant time at Starbucks in a neighboring town working on a couple of important things. It was a bit of a long weekend as my wonderful fragment of a GI track seemed to demand more attention than I was prepared to provide, but it won out as it usually does. It is shortly after 9:00 p.m. and I am already in bed for the night. I am quite the exciting person, let me tell you. It seems after finally getting grades turned in, and letting up a little, my body noted a reprieve and went into shutdown mode. This was a common occurrence, especially when I was an undergraduate. I remember how my mother would be so angry that I was ill most every time I came home for break. She could not comprehend that I had actually worked that hard at college, or that college could be so stressful and exhausting. She had no idea what cramming 164 credits into four years did or managing to double-major and double-minor with a 3.7 grade point required. This past year it was not the GPA or majoring or minoring, it was chairing committees and revising a complete program. It was serving on statewide committees and union events that took time. It was reimagining courses and just basic life that made things more exhausting. It is the reality that all those things first mentioned happened in my twenties and I am no longer in that decade.

That is the first part of the title coming to roost. When did those decades from 20-something to 60-something happen? Where did that time go? It is hard to believe it will be 30 years ago in a month or two that I flew to Allentown, PA to be driven to a little borough called Lehighton, Pennsylvania to interview to become one of their two pastors. I remember being told by a stately woman on the call committee I did not look my age. I remember clearly going back to graduate school at 40 to begin another Masters and eventually roll into a doctoral program. I remember being in Wisconsin and having a 50th birthday where I celebrated both a decade and a dissertation. How did it happen that I am an age where retirement is a reasonable conversation? Well, I guess it is all the things above. Certainly some of that aging is because of the Crohn’s and the substantial and frequent complications that have necessitated more surgeries and other care I would rather forget than remember.

Along the way there have been people come in and out of my life, much as anyone else’s life, some by choice (both mine and theirs), some by change of location, and some because circumstances change and the reasons for holding on seemed too much of an effort to exert. There is another group who have taught me a difficult but important, lesson in trust, and that consequence has made my life somewhat difficult, but I am hoping to overcome that difficulty as quickly as possible. It has taught me an unequalled understanding of too many people’s commitment to their word. The lesson has been painful on a number of levels, but I will figure it out. Some of that will require sacrifice on my part, but again, it’s manageable. As I move into a sort of new phase of my life, I am reminded daily of how blessed I am.

Over the past almost 20 years, I have found that being single has had a number of benefits. Being single and never having my own children has also had benefits, and some sense of loss from time to time also. As I move into this new phase of imagining something new on a number of levels, there is both excitement and fear. I think that is always how it goes. I have spent a good part of my life, and long before these last two decades, trying to control the variables. I have been successful at times and failed miserably at perhaps as many moments. I am reminded of the words of a counselor I had all through graduate school at MTU. I owe my life to him. He was probably the one single person who did more to keep me going than any other person in my entire life. He and I spoke often about the seeming unending tension between my personal and professional lives. I use the plural intentionally. It is hard to believe I left Houghton 15 years ago and how much has happened in that time.

What stuns me even more at this point is how a happen-chance meeting on a sidewalk has so profoundly affected my life now. That is the third part of my question in the title? What just happened, or more accurately, what is happening? While I have mentioned being married (and it is twice for those counting), and I have at times noted some interactions with them as a sort of tangential topic from time to time, I say very little about them. While there are a myriad of reasons for that, suffice it to say, I learned a lot from those times in my life. In addition, I must surely shoulder some blame for the failure in each relationship. I think what I have learned most profoundly is what I could or should have done differently as well as taking accountability for my part in those failures. What I also know is I have tried my best, for a great deal of this 18 year period, to take as few chances as possible. The one chance taken was not a mistake and I learned some valuable lessons yet again. I think the past 18 years have provided an opportunity for me to learn a great deal as I have watched others. It has provided me an opportunity to reflect and analyze both who I am and what I value in a significant other, if you will. I think I would be a much better pastoral counselor today than I was 30 years ago. I think I would be a much better spouse than I could have hoped to be earlier in my life . . . and it is not rocket science . . . in fact far from it. Communicate with the other, trust the other, and never ever lie, even little white lies, to the other. I know I failed at all three of these things in my previous marriages. That is nothing of which I am proud, but I need to be honest. I have always struggled to admit my failures and my mistakes because they so devastated me. I was both embarrassed and felt unworthy, regardless the degree or level of failure. I was too afraid to lay it all out there, which is so foolish. During the last 6 months or so, I have been blessed to be able to change that. During the fall, I made a decision to let a number of situations that caused me a lot of stress to go by the wayside. There is certainly a consequence in making that decision, but my heart feels better by doing so. I have to thank another perchance meeting of a colleague on a Friday afternoon for helping me achieve that. While her conversation was about one specific mutual former student, I did it for all who had the same situation. It will prompt some other changes this coming week, but again, it is all good.

What has been most amazing is how helping another has created a gift in my life that I never anticipated. Through texts, conversations, phone calls, and some driving, it seems I have stumbled upon both an academic and personality soulmate. Through sharing thoughts about assignments, readings, classes, and even food (all things that geek me out) I find myself more joyful, more content, and more capable than I have felt for many years. I am not sure what has happened, or even what is happening, but I am more able to merely take each day for what it is than I have been in anytime of my life. I have learned more about myself through the daily pondering of topics and conversations than I ever remember doing. What just happened? has been a question crossing the internal screen in my head more times than I have fingers. And , uncharacteristically, I do not need an answer. I do not need to know where or why. I am not concerned or afraid that I do not have it all figured out. The most important thing that seems to be happening is I am content with my life on a grander scale than I have been for years. Are there still issues or irritations with things I wish I could control? Yes, but they have to do with other circumstances, specifically ones alluded to in the earlier portion of this post. Most of them will be managed if I can sell the Harley. Those of you who know me, know that is a difficult pill to swallow, but that is the consequence of my deciding to let some other things go. I will survive that and it will save me both significant money each month and I will be a little safer. Almost 900 pounds cruising down the road it a lot of weight. There are some health things that make this decision more palatable also.

So as always, there is a lot happening. I will be beginning my 10th year in Bloomsburg later this summer, and so much has happened. The picture that is at the beginning of the post is a testament to some of that time. Two former students, who were once in my freshman writing classes graduated with advanced degrees over the past couple weeks. One stayed with me last fall during her pharmacy rotations, and she received her PharmD from Shenandoah University. The second, who also lived with me for a summer, received her MS in Instructional Technology. I was honored to be invited to the hooding of one and to actually hood the other. This summer I am not teaching for only the second time since arriving at the university. I plan to spend the summer working on writing articles (hopefully three), learning Polish (in an intensive language program) and spending significant time seeing where my life might go next. I am excited about all three things. I am richly blessed and I know that I can only do it all one day at a time.

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael

Author:

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into 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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