Pages and Chapters . . . How do we Measure?

Hello from the corner chair,

I have a lovely chair in the corner of my room. I think I should probably spend more time here than I do. It is a comfortable place and it has wonderful lighting, especially in the morning when the sun comes streaming into the bedroom windows. It is a chair I can sit and rest and ponder in. My room, while the largest of the three upstairs rooms is not in anywhere really huge, but it is a decent size to not feel confined or cluttered. The walls are a sort of medium dark sage color and the color makes the space quite welcoming. The chair is a padded somewhat high back chair with just enough space to sort of lean back. There are times I believe a small footstool might make things more comfortable, but I am not sure if I want to add anymore pieces to the room. Perhaps you ask why I might focus such energy on a simple corner chair in my room, but it is about realizing what makes us feel comfortable or safe.

One of the things I have spent a lot of time trying to do with my spaces is make them comfortable, inviting, or safe. I think there are many reasons for that, but most of all it was because I struggled for a sense of safety as I grew up. I have spoken (or more accurately written) about that in various posts, but even in my office at school students, colleagues, and others have commented that walking into my office is like walking into someone’s living room. As I look at some of the various artifacts, coffee cups from various countries, books from various times in my life, art pieces from places I have lived or collected, each thing tells a story. From travels to places lived, every item has meaning and significance. Each time I look at a particular item adorning my office space or my home I am taken back to that page. Sometimes the memory is about a brief moment or merely a day. Other times it is about a year or more, a significant time of growth and change in who I was and would become.

I think perhaps the most interesting think I now realize is I am not sure I have ever had a sense of who I would become. It has more often been about who I am in the moment, and how might I become something more, something better, someone more helpful, more able to make a difference. I am trying to imagine what the past four or five years have accomplished. I know I have seemed to finally catch up with what I imagine life is for someone my age and where I have imagined (for whatever that is worth) should be. The where here is not about location as much as it is about a sort of proverbial having my ducks-in-a-row. One may ask, and rightly so I might add, why it took me so long. I tease on one level that I am a slow learner. I have also noted, and my good friends, Lee and Judy, can attest to this, that I am not one to go about things in the generally regular manner. Those two things have made my life interesting to say the least. In addition, there are two other things that created a somewhat different trajectory for my getting from point A to B. I think having no children of my own certainly keep me from needing to assume that mindset or responsibility that someone else’s life took priority over mine. There are both the evident and not so evident consequences of that for me. The second is managing the health concerns that seem now to have been part of my entire life. I certainly had symptoms as a child, but did not know that my seemingly ever present canker sores in elementary school or before were the harbinger of something much more serious. Along with being profoundly premature, underweight, I imagine bordering on being a probable victim of malnutrition my first two years of life all played a significant part in my underdeveloped immune system and being a poster child for developing an IBD, or in my case Crohn’s.

While I have attempted in the past to measure my life and experience by decade, I think there is a different way, a sort of episodic division. Yet, that requires a sort of recollection that tries to make sense of a life that often seems nonsensical. Yet, here is my attempt. The nonsensical part of my life begins at birth. How and why am I still here? Weighing a mere 17 ounces at birth is extraordinary even now in a world of NICs and of advanced medicine. When I was born there were incubators. There was little understanding of things like prenatal vitamins, fetal alcohol syndrome, or the consequence of smoking during pregnancy. In fact, I was born when thalidomide was used for morning sickness, so I am fortunate to have avoided that possibility. A mother who was 15 at conception had little understanding of what she was in for, and probably little understanding of the consequence of multiple pregnancies before she was 19. This was following by cross-country treks and an eventual removal from the birth home for my sister and me before I was 2. The next three years included the death of my paternal grandfather, who served as my surrogate father, shortly before I was three and the alcoholism of my grandmother who now had two small children, a business, and facing all of it as a widow in her mid 40s. That would lead to another home before I was 5, albeit to a distant relative, and that new home would have even more consequence for the person I would become.

I believe my life with the Martin household has had more profound denouement and import than I am capable of understanding even today. While that might sound a bit ominous, and there are certainly elements of that ominicity, not all the results of growing up in the two houses in Riverside were negative. In fact, let me begin with the positive. I know that Harry and Bernice, the Martins wanted my sister and I to feel safe. They wanted us to have an expectation, some guarantee, of a place that would be there daily, monthly, yearly. This was important because up to that point we did not have that experience, and whether we could articulate such a need as a four and three year old, I am sure there was more apparent in our actions and responses than we realized. As noted in other blogs, receiving private music lessons, singing in various choirs and other options like attending summer and winter children’s theatre workshops offered me both socialization, but an appreciation for the arts that continues to this day. While some of my struggles with my upbringing have been written about at length, I would like to focus on the positive things that have come out of my being adopted. While I also do want to disparage my younger half siblings, I know my adoption offered me opportunities they did not have, from everyday schooling to going beyond. Certainly my parents did not understand what it meant to prepare me for going to college, at least they understood and encouraged its relevance for a contributing to a better or more opportunity-filled life. I am quite sure I have not always pictured my growing years in this way.

The next episode is probably a relatively short one in the picture of a three score plus soon to be three years, but it was a time of gut-wrenching reality checks. It was the period that includes my time in the service and my floundering around afterwards until I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team and then enrolled as a student at Dana College. During that time I was a poster boy for impressive success and astounding failure. There was little in between. I listened to very few and ignored the wise counsel of most. I drank too much; I smoked an unbelievable amount of pot; and I ignored people who had been my foundation for all my life, most importantly my grandmother. I went to and dropped out (got kicked out) of college. I should have or could have ended up dead more than once, and most importantly, I was forced to face the loss of people I loved, and for which I was totally unprepared. I did well in the military, but came to understand that military life was too regimented, not because of the routine, but because I saw too many Staff NCOs who could not seem to think for themselves. I wanted to use my brain more than what I deemed possible as an enlisted Marine. Do not get me wrong; I do not regret being in the service and it still serves me well to this day. Yet, I needed more. Yet out of the service, I had no structure and seemed to discard most of the discipline I had learned. I must give credit to a few people for seeing me through that time. First, it was my sister-in-law, Carolyn, who had her own struggles of trying to parent three small children as a 25 year old widow. To this day I am grateful to her. Second is a family, and each of them played a significant role in my survival, though they did not realize it at the time. The Peters family had come to Riverside from Germany, though there were NW Iowa roots. Fred was called to be the pastor of my home congregation. He ended up being called upon in more ways than one to be my surrogate father, and he did that task marvelously. Ruth, his wife, was a force to be reckoned within her own right, and she probably did me more good than I ever realized. She had more of my respect than perhaps anyone I ever met. David become an important friend and even though I was older, his ability and intelligence inspired me. His friendship sustained me then and his presence remains in my life until this day. Barb is the one I was the closest to in terms of personality and demeanor. I am not sure I always realized that. She was smart, funny, talented, and simply gorgeous. She was the first person I ever loved, but I had no idea how to be a boyfriend. Much happened, though not as much as some might have believed, but I know that to this very day she will always be that first-love person. I have been richly blessed that we are Facebook friends after all of these years. The third person is actually a second cousin, Diane, who had a profound effect on my making a choice to clean up my life. They were in Sioux City and a Sunday meal which turned into an amazing friendship and spending time with all of the Wiggs that would change my life in many ways. If it were not for Carolyn and the Peters family and Diane, only God knows what might have happened.

A year of travel and the meeting of four others and the staying with amazing host families still influences me today (the mention of Lee and Judy above).

I think the next episode would have to be my formal post-secondary education that has gone beyond what I ever expected, but it has both changed and become my life. I think I will save that. As I write this I am in Kraków, Poland taking an intensive four-week Polish course and I need to study for the remainder of the day. So I will sign off and pick up again soon. There is so much it seems as I reflect on even the significant things.

As always, thank you for reading.


Sent from my iPad

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

One thought on “Pages and Chapters . . . How do we Measure?

  1. Dr. Martin,

    I’m always in awe of your ability to be open and authentic. Even during today’s lecture, your enthusiasm over Paul the Apostle and willingness to share your health journey (and I wanted to say, I am glad your appointments yesterday went well), are evidence of the brightness of your spirit.
    I can relate to the idea of an episodic division of life experiences, as things were chaotic for me growing up. I was born the fourth of six children on Long Island, NY, but my first memories are of Tacoma, WA. I started school back on LI, and the first episode of life consisted of moving houses often, sometimes in the night with what we could fit in bags. My siblings and I grew close, because we were all we had (sometimes literally). Pennsylvania became its own journey when I was nine or ten, a place the family ended up for reasons that feed my propensity to hide to this day.
    The next chapter consists of time in Shamokin. Even being in the same place for a while, we still managed to live in five different houses around town. Holidays were spent at grandma’s as often as we could (grandma stayed on LI, visiting was hard sometimes). I was 5’10 by age eleven, and my joints still have issues from having to keep up. High school was a mix of loving to learn but not liking school. I dabbled in some college courses at 17, then had to stop because of cost (and a lot of anxiety). I chalked it up to fate and figured I wasn’t cut from the kind of cloth that could handle it.

    Sundays were spent in a Lutheran church that taught me how to be faithful and how to serve. One of the congregants, Syd Tharp, steadied my life more than I realized with a kind of grace I didn’t know was possible. A self-imposed exile of sorts at eighteen would shape the sad saint that sits in the back of the classroom in Bible as Lit.

    The next episode of life after high school was a lot of working different retail jobs, a lot of falling down and getting back up (I rode a skateboard back when I had a personality), a lot of writing and believing I was no good at it. But it was also a time of learning what I wanted, learning how to solve problems, appreciating the ways in which I was blessed, and finding my way back to college. All the help I received along the way has made Gal. 6:2 a verse I try to live out as best I can, although my less-than-ideal coping strategies cause me to fall short more often than I can stand. It’s that failure to communicate gratitude, to isolate, and failure to connect that keeps me up at night, spinning my wheels over what I could have said/done differently in a day.

    Thank you again for your words.


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