“Thy Spirit Lift Another Throng . . .”

Hello on an early morning from my office,

The past week I have been in my office to work by 6:30 most mornings, but it still feels like there is more to do than the time to do it. That is a normal part of a semester as we zoom toward a finish and it seems to be the rule for the day as we move into the last 10 days before finals. As I have been working with my students, I have wondered who else from that little school on the bluffs of the Missouri continued on into academia. While I have had some classmates tell me they were not surprised I ended up in this role, I was. It was not what I had planned. As I have noted in many of my blogs, I am not sure I knew much of what I would become. Of course, my perchance introduction to Dana College was also not something planned. In fact, even though I only grew up about 80 miles away, I had never heard of Dana College, but a visit while traveling on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team, Daybreak, and meeting people like Merle Brockhoff, Gary Beltz, Mary Rowland, and a few others left a lasting impression that had me applying to return following my year of peregrinating the Midwest. While we traveled 48,000 miles in that 9 months, meeting more people and eating more church potlucks than I could still even try to count, the visits (and I believe there were two) to Dana stood out.

What was amazing about the Dana community, even as someone who was only there for a couple of days, and initially not interested in becoming a student – either there or anywhere for that matter – was the care and camaraderie that I saw among the students and the student groups. Surprisingly, and more important at the time, was their care was extended to my teammates and me. That interest and care would continue after we left that hilltop campus in that little town of Blair, and when we returned during the spring semester I had a very different perception of Dana College as well as what it might become. During that visit I had the opportunity to visit two professors and articulate my ideas about returning the following year, but as a student. I must admit, in the spirit of total transparency, that one professor was not very welcoming, but the other professor would become one of my advisors and the people in admissions worked tirelessly with me as I traveled from place to place, the wandering and itinerant youth ministry minstrel. Admissions George, as I would come to know him (whose real name was Rick Schuler) was wonderful in making my move back to being a college student a reality.

While those experiences made my decision to come to Dana much more of a sort of no-brainer for this somewhat non-traditional student, what would follow in the years I spent there was beyond any inkling of what I would or could imagine. Because I was that anomaly: a pre-seminary, former Marine Corps Drill Instructor, 24 year old freshman student, I struggled to figure out how being back with people who were in 7th grade when I was a senior would work. Blair was a long way from MCRD and Viet Nam. Fortunately individuals like Tom Kendall, Kim Nielsen, Merle Brockhoff, Mary Rowland, Sandra Barnum, Lynn Hohneke, Barbara Kalal, and others kept me sane and I learned how to fit into the little campus that initially seemed too small. At the same time, it was the close-knit student community that helped me realize I could fit in. There were certainly the men on Fourth Floor on the North side of Holling Hall who made daily living worth coming to my room each day. Working as one of the leaders of campus ministry teams and the weekly bonfires at the cross were integral to believing Dana was both socially stimulating and worth hanging on to.

What really inspired and motivated me was my class work and being in the college choir of Dr. Paul Neve. Each of my classes challenged both my thought and my energy. That went for every single class. I had King Rich for composition (yes, you read that correctly), and I believe it was the only semester he ever taught it. I had Intro to Religion with the Pope. By the end of that year they would both become my academic advisors. It is not often you can say you have a King and a Pope to offer you counsel. I also had an Introduction to Business class (from Dr. Donald Baack) and I think I can say up to this very day, and four degrees later, those take-home, multiple choice exams were the most difficult “objective” exams I have ever attempted. During my time as a student, professors with the name of Nielsen (and there were multiple), Jorgensen, Olsen, and Johnson, the sons of others as their name indicates, as well as Warman, Lemon, Brandes, Stone, Neve, and Hutton would push me beyond anything I knew possible, but they changed my life for the better. How? It was not what they taught me, but rather how they taught me to think and to analyze. None of them were regurgitation, memory-bank professors. That is without a doubt what the humanities sequence did for anyone willing to take it seriously. It was impossible to not be stunned by the connectivity of science, language and architecture, of poetry, music, and politics. The important skill learned was to think, evaluate, and most importantly to synthesize. To this day, I have all my humanities study guides and notes in my office where I now teach. The picture above for those unsure is part of the Memorial to Michael Kirk, who was one of my freshman students when I was an RA. He passed suddenly, tragically, and unexpectedly. It has been a bit beyond 35 years since I left and 40 since I stepped on campus.

That is two generations of students ago. Some of those incredible mentors, the men and women who professed their love of knowledge and their specific discipline to us are no longer with us. Some are elderly, but still here. When is the last time you reached out to them to tell them thank you for what they provided? I can tell you from my own experience as a professor for the last 20 years that those notes or cards are worth more than any paycheck I will ever receive. I have spoken to a couple of them recently and I am honored now to be considered by them as one student who followed their steps and on my more brilliant days perhaps a colleague. When I was at Dana the thought of a doctorate flashed through the recesses of my brain once or twice, but I seldom felt either smart or disciplined enough. Yet, somehow it happened. While the road was neither straight nor the path simple, that is often the way with things that matter and those goals which take more than a bit of time. As I would move through my M.Div and beyond, the number of times I realized how the rigor of the work I did at Dana prepared me for both the academy and life is exponential. Whether it was taking Physiology and Anatomy as a history major and being told by Dr. Larrie Stone (both with care and discipline) I would need to manage this med school weed-out class or drop, when it was being pushed to write incredible papers in my Christian Thought class by Dr. John W. or finally to the hard and creative work with Dixie Frisk and Kristi Swenson as we transformed into Marie Antoinette, a peasant woman and Rousseau for our version of “Meeting the Minds” in Dr. Jorgensen’s European Civ class, we were encouraged and supported to become more than students. More than students? What does that mean? I regularly tell my students to consider the concept of “claiming their education.” This is the basis of an address given by the feminist poet, Adrienne Rich, to the students at Rutgers University. Long before she tendered this advice, our professors at Dana were already embodying this. They provided us access to a scholarly community and they were partners with us as we explored what it meant to be citizens and scholars in a world so much larger than Blair, NE. They prepared us to think, analyze, and synthesize what we learned in a manner that would serve us in whatever profession or place, onto whatever deep sea we might venture. People on my floors became actuarial experts, pharmacists, medical doctors, clergy, teachers, and, yes, even professors.

While the halls of the C. A. Dana Science building, Old and then new Old Main, Pioneer Memorial, or Borup are no longer turning out students, the sons and daughters of all of us have something of that Viking spirit within them. What you learned and the people you have become did not happen only in Blair on a hill and below a cross on yet another hill. The parents and grandparents, the professionals and leaders of your communities or churches are part and parcel of what happened while you were moving from teen to adult. The connections you made and continue to make in the world are things that you can and do offer your own. The change I see in my students from when they first step foot on campus to those who are graduating in barely two more weeks is astonishing, and yet that is only the beginning. How they move forward in the world is something that I have some input into. That is both an honor and a responsibility. Again, as Dr. Rich noted in her address, we all have a “response-ability.” What is that response we can provide as Vikings, as members of a student body from a very small, but academically large, western Nebraska town? As I consider some of my classmates from the time I spent in Blair (1979-1983), I am foremost proud to be numbered among them. If allowed, I am proud and humbled by their accomplishments. The spirit lives on and while the throng we raise might not call Dana its home, it is in their heritage; it is in their D(a)NA. I offer this video of that song that still gives me chills and fills me with pride.

Thank you as always for reading,

Dr. Martin (aka: Michael)

 

When Customer Service Isn’t

Hello on a Thursday afternoon,

It is a bit overcast and a little breezy, but still feels like we have finally put a winter season away. It was neither a cold nor a bitter winter, but it was nonetheless long and taxing. There were no significant snowstorms nor did we see any bone-chilling-hide-indoors sort of temperatures, but it seemed to be a season of interminable length. I am not sure if it was the incessant humidity that penetrates anyone or anything foolish enough to stay outside, or if was the uninterrupted cloudiness that would make SAD sufferer beg for a sun lamp and be required to do 100,000 units of Vitamin D a week. Regardless the consequences of the winter without end, the change has occurred both in the calendar and now in the air. As we heard into an Easter Weekend, I am reminded of the years I was a parish pastor and how by the end of Easter I was so tired I could barely think. I am back on my porch merely enjoying the breeze and the chance to let my brain decompress. It is that time of the semester where there is something to do in every waking moment and it is probably the time to not think about trying to get any extra sleep. It is like the sprint of the 800 meter race. Can you pace and push yourself to the limit the entire race? Part of the craziness is as students are getting ready for their own pushing through the race, graduation, the end of the semester or another option might (and usually does) cause come stress, but there is that sense of accomplishment. While there is always some degree of making it through another academic calendar, there is stuff to do immediately following the semester (grading), but there are other things that need to be managed the next week. I remember getting in trouble once for telling someone that a doctoral degree (and the same is for any terminal degree) it is not something you merely do with your degree, but it is who you are. It can consume you more than many realize. That is not a complaint, though some might believe it sounds like such, it is merely a continuing and deepening realization of how truthful that statement was. I remember when I was a parish pastor sending Susan home to South Dakota for a vacation around this time of year. It was easier for all involved because the number of services during that Holy Week were enough to take up almost all my fingers. I barely got more than a shower in and a lot of coffee at the time.

I remember at the end of 1991’s Lenten season I would be heading to Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ for the second and third of what would be more abdominal surgeries. I would fly from Allentown to Phoenix to meet with a colo-rectal surgeon who was considered one of the best in the country. Dr. Robert Beart, now of the Colo-rectal Surgery Institute was my surgeon and considered one of the best surgeons for those needing surgery because of IBDs in the country. It was a frightening time for me, but I was existing on steroids and Azulfadine, which was the first level treatment for UC and Crohn’s in the past. It is a drug also used for treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. What I am realizing as I do more research because of some of my own issues, that both the steroids and the Azulfadine can have consequences for the liver. Seems that is my situation on both accounts. The liver is an amazing organ, and so much complex than I realized, but again that seems to be the case for most of what has occurred and how our body manages things. As I read things about my liver and the various things I have done to manage Crohn’s for 35 years, it is a bit frightening, but as I often note, I am still here and I have options that I can manage. I guess that makes me a pretty normal individual. I am actually excited to see what we might do to manage things and I am fortunate to work with some incredible people yet today, so bring it on.

The last few days I have gotten some walking in, and while I am supposed to be doing that, I have received some unexpected assistance in my daily regimen. Last Tuesday, after being told my regular auto maintenance people could not work on my car, I was required to take it to a BMW in the Wilkes Barre Area. I have an extended warranty, which I purchased when I got the car, but trying to get them to cover any of the repairs was more vexing than one might have expected (or should have expected). They did not want to cover anything because I was at an auto-repair place less than 40 miles from where I purchased the car (38 to be exact). Somehow it did not seem to matter that my dealer sent me there or that I was not told that I could only take it to the dealer where I purchased the car. That was the first snafu. The repairs needed were expensive, and after doing some checking, along with the BMW service people telling me they were not allowed to work on it, they told me what my bumper-to-bumper warranty did not cover (a strange understanding of bumper-to bumper). On Wednesday and Thursday morning I spent a significant amount of time on the phone between Scott Township and Wilkes getting things squared away. I was told  by my BMW dealer that the car should be done on Thursday late, but certainly by Friday afternoon. So I planned Friday. I have called the dealership more than 10 times (and the times I actually spoke to the service person was less than half that number). On Friday afternoon, I was informed that the car would not be finished until Monday and there was no communication from my local dealer to the Wilkes service people. Thus, they we telling me I would have to pay for the entire repair (which is to be almost $2,500.00). Suffice it to say I was not impressed. I knew the car had been released to the BMW for warranty work. I knew there had been communication about this (at least with me). When I noted this with the service person at the BMW dealer, he told me he had no idea, and gave me no particularly thoughtful rationale as to why my car would not be done until Monday. So I was back on the phone and I know the service and warranty people here have left a message for them in Wilkes. So . . .  the saga continues. My frustration goes back to basic organizational communication (hmmmmmm . . . . one of my doctoral areas). I see scholarly article coming out of this. On a second front, I took my snow blower into the place I purchased it because it had a significant issue after the last major snowstorm. It was taken in the 2nd week of March. I received a call asking for my permission to purchase a part (around 150.00, which is still significantly cheaper than the 700.00 the snow blower cost new). I returned their call and gave them permission. I received a second call and so I went to the facility and again provided permission. Last Thursday as I was in the throes of my wonderful car experience from the snow blower facility asking for my permission. I noted that I had provided permission twice, including in person. The response was I need to speak to a specific person. Really? I message from co-workers does not count? I even told him the cost of the part, which he noted was correct. Then as if I needed a cherry on the top of this sundae, he let me know he would be leaving the next day for 6 weeks paternity leave so he would have to send it out. Oh my . . . I am trying to figure out the rationale for such lamentable customer service. So . . . hard to say what I will hear next.

It is now Monday morning. There are 11 days of classes left. The sprint is in full stride. I got to my office about 6:30 this morning and there are a couple pressing things to manage and a number of things I need to just get them completed. Nothing difficult, but time consuming. It is amazing what I can get done before 8:00 a.m. when no one is in the building. I love those times when I can merely dive in and work. There is so much more I would like to say about so many things, but because time is fleeting and there is little I can do, just keep the head down and manage my breathing. My time of running distance in the service is coming back to me. Yesterday, which is 420 has more significance to me than what has become the tradition understanding of Munchie Day. It was my parents anniversary and they would have been married 79 years yesterday. Those who have a marriage that lasts that long because of longevity and unfailing love are splendid people to me. It is an unparalleled thing to realize that the other is so important that you will compromise and keep doing it to maintain that bond that initially caused you to believe the other was worth spending the remainder of your life with them. I have people still ask me (which I find a bit stunning because I failed to maintain two marriages) what I believe it is that keeps people together. I think my answer has been fundamentally the same, but I think my response is a bit more articulate at this point. I think it is the underlying capability to remember you love someone beyond compare on the days you do not like them at all. That is the foundation of being able to compromise.

Today it is three years since Prince Rogers Nelson passed away. I remember first hearing his music. He was quite the notable artist for a number of reasons, but his popularity (at least while alive) was probably at its height when I was in seminary in the mid-eighties. The fact that I was in St. Paul and he was from the Twin Cities area made it possible to run into him in spite of his sort of exclusivity (in a reclusive manner). I remember being in downtown Minneapolis one day having lunch and he was coming out of the restaurant as I was going in. His white Rolls Royce with the purple top was there waiting for him. I remember being shocked by how slight his stature was, especially when his music persona was so incredibly large.  It is with that memory in mind that I offer the following video. Somehow that too leisurely part of the song fits my idea of customer service. To all who are managing the end of the semester, I wish you the best as you finish up. To both colleagues and students, hang in there and keep working at it.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

REO, Starship, Fleetwood Mac and Memories of Holling Hall

Hello from my front porch,

It is a beautiful day in North central PA, and after a morning of meetings with students and grading, I am taking a break to enjoy my porch. I did some initial flower planting of Hyacinth bulbs, and now I am waiting for the UPS delivery and for a former student to stop by. One of the requirements of this new issue with my liver is to continue to lose the necessary weight to provide my liver the best chance to regenerate. That means cutting back to approximately 1,700 calories a day and walking at least five miles a day. I am working on the calorie plan, mostly to understand what consuming only 1,700 calories entails, and then figuring out creative and tasty ways to do that. The walking element is not difficult, but it is time consuming. However, after about three hours of grading this morning, I did manage to get 7 laps in around the quad. That is almost 2 miles. With the other walking today, my trusty phone tells me I am up to almost 3 miles for the day. I really quite enjoy a rather pedestrian sort of walk. I do not try to speed walk or set any sort of amazing distance; it is to manage a steady and comfortable pace. Most of the time I wear my Wi-Fi earbuds in an just enjoy whatever I choose to listen to, be it classical, folk or classic rock, and even at times country. If it were not for the grey hair and white beard, I might pass for one of the students and their technologically saturated lives (at least I can hope that is the case). Over the years, I have added a pretty wide variety to my repertoire of listening. I have give Sarah (Hansen ) Jacobs a great deal of credit for my interest and continuing love for classical music. I remember as a sophomore in college how she would give me clues about a particular piece as push me to see who it was by understanding the style and characteristics of a particular piece. She would provide hints. I remember her offering me classical Greek passages also as I was struggling my way through Dr. Hutton’s first semester Greek course. She was a sort of precursor to Dr. Brandes and my music history classes and certainly a bit more personable and enjoyable that the Greek class. Over the past few days, spring as definitely sprung here and I have been working in my yard. BTW, it is a couple days later since I began this post. Today was a day of cleaning, moving things, rearranging, and organizing. I need to be much more intentional about this. As I cleaned and organized, the duplicates I found of things are beyond what one might imagine, and there is a level of ridiculousness in all of that the defies logic in more ways that I probably have fingers and toes.

One of the things that happened on my walk the other day was a playlist that sort of warped me back in my first couple of years as a student at Dana College. I knew of REO Speedwagon before I was a student there, and certainly owned their two albums, You Can Tune a Piano and Hi Infidelity. I remember two students my sophomore year who lived on the floor where I was an RA. Bret O’Reilly and Frank Polich. Frankie, as he liked to be called was a serious Kevin Cronin fan (one of the latter lead vocalists for REO). That group and the others in the title were part of my life as a student at Dana. I can remember my junior year roommate playing “Time for Me to Fly” out the window of my third floor Holling Room. I will not offer the reason, and while I found it amusing at the time, it was a bit brutal. To this day, however, my favorite REO tune is “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” A second song that morning kept me right back at that little Lutheran liberal arts college. Jefferson Starship (and yes, originally Airplane, but definitely more pop than the Airplane was) certainly covered a wide-range of genres from the psychedelic of the 60s, when Grace Slick epitomized the Haight-Ashbury scene, to their more pop sound of “Jane,” which was a song without either Slick or Balin. I think “Jane” managed to keep the group relevant as things were changing. Slick would come back and iterations of the band continue even now, but the 1985 release of “We Built this City,” provided the sound of Starship to an entire new generation of listeners. The next song to be offered as I walked the quad was from the group Fleetwood Mac and their Rumours album. I did not realize that was their 11th album, but I listened to this album so many times that first year I was on 4th Holling Hall with my roommate, Peter Bonde. I did not know nearly as much as I do now, but I sure did appreciate their music. To this day, I find Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar picking astounding. When I later learned about the drama in the group, it was even more (and still is) phenomenal they could put out such a significant group of songs with the stress they had to be living in. Perhaps that album epitomizes just how much passion their is in good music. Passion is such an important part of our humanity.

Music has this unparalleled ability to transport us back to the place we were when we first heard the song. As I listened to these songs, I remember names and faces, and ironically since I posted some of them have commented on the FB page, one of the places I posted this. What this means is I am editing. It seems again, I have done some of my best proofreading after posting. I remembered floor shirts and intramural football games; and I remembered how music was my saving grace as I worried about whether or not I was smart enough to be in college. I remember playing my guitar for weekly campfires for Campus Ministry teams. I remember being blessed to have friends who still reach out. I remember David, a person on our floor from Kansas who would hang out in our room as he tried to get his bearing about him in being a college student. I was so fortunate to have a roommate that first year even though I thought I did not want one. I remember being welcomed by some wonderful people. The memories of travels to Wahoo, NE for a concert, a 25th birthday party thrown in my honor and classmates who stunned me in so many ways. I am still blessed to be friends with and to maintain those friendships through various social media outlets as noted, but those friendships are so much more dear to me now.  I wish at times I could go back to that little campus on the hill. That is an entirely different story for another time. One of the nice things about being able to remember Dana for what it was is how the people there honestly changed lives, and that was not only because of the outstanding faculty, but it was the incredible classmates I had in my classes. There were so many capable and intelligent people in that little college. Yet, music was central to most of it. Between my stereo, my love for music that was more complicated than a 1/5/4 chord progression (and groups like Kansas would fall into that category), and then my opportunity to sing in the college choir for Dr. Paul Neve was something that affected my appreciation for the diversity and complexity of music in so many ways I had never known. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lubeck as I traveled during an interim and listening to the music of Buxtehude. This experience was heightened and more profound because Buxtehude had lived in that very town, the town known as the Queen of the Hanseatic  League, something that occurred with the rebuilding of Lubeck in the middle of the 12th century. I remember how I learned to appreciate Scandinavian chorale music from my time at Dana. It is something that gives me both pause and comfort to this day. I remember some incredible voices from my classmates from little towns like Fairbury, NE or from little Iowa towns. What I realize is the three semester class that was the highlight of my college career, and also the bane of the existence of others, was my Humanities course. What it taught be was to synthesize the world in which I lived. That is still the case today. As a child of working class parents, and please know that I am grateful beyond words for those parents – particularly when they adopted me, I knew very little about art, classical music, poetry, literature, or world history before the 20th century. I knew about going to church, working hard, basic meat, potatoes, and carrots, and jello salad or things at church potluck dinners. I knew about bakeries and working in a bakery and working summer jobs. I was exposed to some music between Sioux City Children’s Choir and church choirs, but I had little idea about how I would ever manage to go to college. In fact, I remember a serious argument my mother and I had because of the cost and her lack of knowledge of said costs. Yet, to this day, music, and practically any genre, is basic to my daily existence.

As I think about the first couple of years at Dana, my living space was in Holling Hall. The first year I lived on Four-North, the home of the Raiders. The second year I was on Two-North, where I was an RA. That was an experience of all experiences and my third year, I was on Four-South until I transferred to the University of Iowa. My last year, I would come back to Dana and stated out in Holling again, but would move to Rasmussen Hall, which to this day, I know it was a difficult, but necessary decision. That semester in Rasmussen was perhaps one of the best times of my life. Studying Physiology and Anatomy with two floor mates and another young woman was outstanding for a history and humanities major. My RA saving my life, probably literally when another young man had a breakdown is still appreciated. Living on campus was an important part of daily life at Dana, and I believe integral to understanding the culture of that small campus. It was always a bit different being an older student, even though the age was not tremendously older. Yet in an exceptionally traditional Nebraska place, being 24 as a freshman was outside the ordinary. I think that is why music was so important to me. It kept me both grounded in my past, but living in the present. When I was a freshman, there was a Navy veteran on my floor. He introduced me to Jimmy Buffet and Moosehead beer. I appreciate Jimmy Buffet more than the Moosehead these days, but that is no big issue. At the time, I found Moosehead beer quite stunning. It was so much better than domestic swill. Today, I consider and remember Dana with a certain wistfulness. What I received there as a student and what students received for 125 years is no longer available. It is ironic as I write this some of the things I learned in my Art History lectures comes flooding back to me as the Notre Dame Cathedral is burning in Paris. I remember being in Paris in January of 1981 and seeing this magnificent structure. I remember learning about flying buttresses. What a tragedy this is. I am reminded of a smaller fire, but nonetheless devastating to those who were fortunate enough be in Old Main, the central architectural building on the campus when I was a student. There are so many important memories and experiences that shaped the person I have become personally, intellectually, and professionally. Yesterday, my father would have turned 104 years old. Hard to believe he has been gone for more than two decades, but much like the memories that I noted here, it is as if he lives on also. When people tell me I am a lot like him that is a profound compliment.

As I move forward through another day, it is hard to tell what will spark a memory of the times that formed and molded the person I have become. What I know is I am the product of so many things: music, people, places, experiences. Each have contributed to the tapestry known as Michael Martin. Hard to tell what will create yet another design or layer. Yet, I am blessed to have time to create yet something that is a blend of the old and the new. That is the way things work. For the time being, here is a song from the past, and a shout out to my Navy classmate from my time at Dana. The picture above is from today and speaks to the fact that nothing is spared from the elements that create the world in which we live: fire, water, air, and earth. To those who have reached out in response to our mutual Dana memories . . .  to my Dyak friends, my college choir friends, and those who mean more than I have appropriate words, thank you!! Seems apropos that Jimmy Buffet grace this post, so to my Navy classmate, thanks for the introduction.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Becoming Norman . . . Pleased or Chagrined?

Hello on the weekend,

It has been an emotional couple weeks, and if you have been reading the blog, you have some sense of why that is, but I think there is more. There are times, and their frequency seems to be increasing at an alarming rate, that I feel like I am simply not as capable as I once was. While that might seem like a normal aging process ~ even if a reasonable explanation ~ I do not like it . . . and more so, I do not have to like it. While the GI tract stuff is a normal part of my life, some of the aches and pains logical, I have been often respected for how well I remember things, and that is where I am struggling. If I do not write it down and then follow it rather explicitly, it seems I am not as apt to remember it. Last week, and regardless the number of classes, committees, or other things, I found myself wandering around the parking lot looking for my car, for more than a half hour. In fact, in the spirit of total transparency, I wandered around two parking lots, and I could not find my car. I eventually remembered I had parked in a third possibility, but that scared me more than I have words.

The concern of some kind of memory loss concerns me more than most might realize. My father, while my adopted father, is a relative. He was a first cousin to my paternal grandmother, so that genetic tree is pretty strong. My father, each of his brothers and the daughter of a brother have all have significant difficulties with either dementia or Alzheimer’s. The number of times I have forgotten where I have placed my keys, my glasses, my phone is a number that would need an exponent. I wonder when it is time to question and if there is a reasonable way to ask about taking a benchmark level memory test. The fact that I have hydration issues, which seem to have negative outcomes for most of my body, might also exacerbate brain health. I remember going home once to check in on my father, after receiving a concerning phone call from my sister. My father was livid that I had come “to spy” on him as he angrily told me at lunch one day. Knowing what I know now because of his experience, as well as the progression of Lydia’s dementia, I have a much clearer understanding of some of the early symptoms, the markers, that might provide some earlier detection. While I certainly do not need another health battle, if I am going to battle something else, I want to take it on headfirst and with everything possible tool in my arsenal managing it the best way I can.

One of my favorite movies, certainly in my top 5, is the Academy Award winning On Golden Pond. It is an incredibly touching story of a retired professor (Henry Fonda) and his wife (Katharine Hepburn) who are spending the summer at their vacation home. They are visited by their daughter (Jane Fonda, who, of course, is the daughter of Henry). The struggle of grown adults managing their parents (as well as perhaps vice versa) and the portrayal of dementia before it was a common word as it is now is superbly done. Henry, as the cantankerous Norman Thayer Jr., is both heart-warming and frightening. I have often said to those who know me best here in Bloomsburg, that I want to be just like Norman when I get to that age. One of my former students actually refers to me as Norman because of this very movie. It is a term of endearment from her. There is hardly a time, and I have watched the movie multiple times, that I am not moved to tears as I watch it.

There are other ways I find myself becoming Norman. I seem to have less patience with absent-mindedness, or simple oblivion characterizing or plaguing some people. When something is forgotten once, I can generally find some graciousness. When it happens again and again, on a weekly (almost daily) basis, I find myself being less than charitable. That bothers me because I feel hypercritical and unfair. One of the things I have struggled with most of my life is boundaries. I know that does not make me unique, but I have a tendency to allow people the benefit of the doubt, and then I allow it again, and then again, and then  . . . you get the idea. Ultimately, I get frustrated. As I have pondered this characteristic, it seems that this time of the year is particularly when I find myself at my wit’s end. I do find some progress being made, even in my current dilemma. I made myself step back and ponder and do some analysis (and that meant working through six months of a checkbook, statements, and other items to make sure I was being fair). In addition, rather than merely hitting someone broadside, I have also stepped back and am working to manage the circumstance thoughtfully and in a way that demonstrates both appreciation for the progress made and help offered, but simultaneously to look at the reality of the situation. Of course, there are always things that seem to be tossed in to make the current state of affairs more contextually complex. Then again, I was once asked by a counselor if I ever did anything the easy way. I think my response, almost 30 years later, would be the same: probably not. There are undoubtedly times I still seem to learn slowly. What I do know is there is a genuinely caring and good heart involved in this situation (and that is on both sides). I also think there are also good intentions (again, on both sides). Part of this is merely seeing a larger picture, and when one has not really had to do that too often, knowing how to do that is not a simple or readily achievable outcome.

I am reminded of the young person who is left with Norman and Ethel for the summer. He is not sure what to do with them and they are not sure how they will manage him. Again, I see parallels. I often wonder what I would have done had I been a parent. I was petrified to do so, mostly because I am not sure I had good role models. I think some of that fear persists. I try to do what I think is best, but sometimes (often) it seems I either enable or I have no ability to allow for mistakes. I know there is a happy medium somewhere in the middle, but I struggle to find it. I think some of my concern about what I feel now is a predicament is because there is a history. There is also experience. Undeniably, that experience, be it over the years or the last months, demonstrates a consistency from both. Again, at the same time there is progress and I have to give credit for that. One of the things I am forced to come to terms with is that I created this dilemma because I allowed it. I cannot blame anyone else for that. Again, the rationale for allowing this goes back to where I usually find myself. Someone needs help and I offer said help. The problem is I do not know how to be consistent in pushing adherence to what I said needed to happen from the outset. The question is why am I willing to allow myself to step back time and time again from what I laid out. It is my inconsistency that creates the problem and I cannot blame the other for my mistake. The anger comes, I imagine, from my realizing that I again engendered the present dilemma. I also enkindled the complications. In the movie, there are ups and downs, and at the end, there is a mutual respect produced. I am praying for something similar. I am not sure it will happen immediately. In fact, if it happens immediately, I will once again find myself believing in miracles. One of the things that most frustrates me are things I find myself doing, particularly when I fall short. Over the last months, I have worked hard to be on time. When I was growing up, I had a father who believed if you were not 15 minutes early, you were late. I am not sure that I am there, but I do try to be a few minutes early whenever possible. That is not always easy when you are dealing with other people’s needs and their schedules, but again, discipline and planning will help. The second thing I am trying to be more intentional about is remembering that I do not live in a vacuum. What I do affects other people. Therefore, my choices do also. That is probably my biggest frustration at this point, be it students or in the house. If you say you are going to be somewhere at a certain time, then just do what you say. If your schedule changes, please let someone know. That is where I have been particularly pained by the actions of others as of late.

I have a ton to get done yet tonight, but it has been a pretty productive weekend. I am always amazed by what can happen when I am frustrated. The energy in that can be channeled into some very positive outcomes. My house is pretty spotless and I got some things cleaned and organized that have been on the back burner for a while. I think there is always a fine line between helping and enabling a person. Being the co-dependent person, and one who was much more so earlier, I still struggle to find that balance between helping and hindering. It is always complicated when there is a history. Again, it reminds me of the movie. In the movie, Jane Fonda, as Chelsea, struggles with the relationship she currently has with her aging father. What I found interesting in my research about the movie is that as real father and daughter they were estranged. This movie brought them together. She, in fact, produced the movie to allow for her father to act in it. As I research things, it is interesting to see how our history and the events that cloud that history affect so much more than we are aware of.

One of the other things I have been forced to consider is how people come into and move out of our lives. In the past, I worried when people moved out of my life. I think now I see the reason for that. I do believe we lose something in their moving on, but at the same time it allows for a refocus of sorts. Perhaps the most important thing for me is learning to let go. That has never been a strength, and what I have done in the past when doing so is to walk away and say little or nothing. That is also a problem because it is more like running away. Again, On Golden Pond comes to mind. In one particular poignant scene (and again a scene where some say this is where the two Fonda family members made amends) the dialog goes something like this:

Chelsea: I don’t want anything; it just seems you and I have been mad at each other for so long.

Norman: I didn’t think we were mad; I just thought we didn’t like each other.

Chelsea: (with tears in her eyes) I want to be your friend.

Norman: This mean you would come around more often? It’d mean a lot to your mother (and you can tell he is struggling as he covers his own eyes)

Chelsea: I’ll come around more often.

Norman: Well . . .

I find this part of the movie particularly difficult because my mother and I never accomplished this sort of absolution in our relationship. I often tell students now when they say they are struggling with their parents, or note they are not speaking, that it is best to try to manage that separation. I have two or three of those situations to which I must attend even now. The question can often be what does one risk in reaching out. I think the more important point is to know how to let things go so that the separation is a reasonable one rather than merely running away. Sometimes those separations happen because people change. Sometimes they happen because locations change. I think one of the things I have been more likely to do is remain in touch. Perhaps that is why I am teased that I know everyone from everywhere. There is both a blessing and a curse to that, as it the case with most things in our lives.

By the end of the movie, the summer has passed and the Thayer’s get ready to leave Golden Pond. Sometimes we fail to comprehend how our lives are interwoven into the fabric of others. Sometimes, the fabric becomes tattered and worn, but that does not make it less valuable or important. Sometimes, we need to hold on to the things that remind us of who were are and from where we come. Other times it is reasonable to look for something new. As most things in life, there is no recipe, and much of what we do is by trial and error. Sometimes I am more like Norman that I perhaps expected to be. Sometimes, I wish I was even more like him. Here is some music from the movie. If you have not had an opportunity to see this amazing show, do yourself a favor. It is worth the time.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

When There are Few Options

Hello from my study,

Thank you to the many people who reached out this past 24-36 hours to let me know you were thinking of me. The MRI yesterday went as well as it could. Getting an IV into me is always an adventure, but they made it with only needing to stick me three times (there have been up to eight times). Ever since they took so much of my digestive tract out, the issue of hydration, and consequently, IVs have been a difficulty. I used to warn them, but now I just see what will happen.

There are times I wonder what it would be like to have a normal body (and I know that is a loaded or difficult phrase in and of itself). It has been so long since I had a complete digestive system that I do not really remember what that is like. One of the things I continue to realize is just exactly how much my life can be affected by this tube that runs through the center of our upper body. Too often we merely see it as simply that: a tube that starts with our mouth and ends with our anus. However this alimentary canal is quite the complex group of organs. It is a system of hollow and solid parts that do everything needed to provide nutrients. Working together, nerves, hormones, bacteria, blood, and the various organs of your digestive system convert what we put into our mouths into what our entire body needs to function. In spite of all the work I have had done to me, it was not until the last year that I learned that the only thing your brain uses to function is carbs. It is true, and that shocked me. The other thing that has astounded me through the years about the intestine is that they are so pliable. They are soft and when you touch them, you paralyze them or more accurately, you disrupt their peristalsis (the movement that helps the food move through the various parts of the system). The second thing that still stuns me is how they can manage the incredible acidic elements of digestion (enzymes and bile primarily) and not be hurt, but when this same digestive liquid comes into contact with the skin, it will burn it. That burn is much like a really bad sunburn or worse. Again, I have learned that by experience. When you smell food, your brain sends a signal to your system and it is already moving into action to help you manage what it is you will put in your mouth. Enough for your anatomy lesson for the day. Suffice it to say, there is so much more that is happening than merely a tube.

What it interesting for me is how taking out significant parts of this tube has both allowed me to continue living with more than a modicum of existence, while simultaneously creating a host of new issues, most that I had not an inkling of knowing what would happen. Hydration, simple (which is a misnomer here) digestion, and nutrition have all changed. When I think about all they have been able to do and the ability of the body to accommodate, I can do little less than marvel at the resilience of the mechanism we call our body. While we too often only see what it has (or doesn’t) in terms of image, there is so much more about the beauty of what we have. I think medical professionals have to be astounded both awestruck and confounded by what this collection of bones, organs, and systems does. Sometimes, I am not sure if my obsession with my modified body is because I am getting old and it forces me to pay attention or if it is because it is merely that it is so unique. I do know that a recent conversation with two incredibly talented gastroenterologists created some new options, and their response to my story, my life-long battle with some form of an IBD, was one of both profound interest and even a bit of shock. I remember once writing in a paper, “I have been held up as a poster child for managing a disease with profound complications as well as called a wimp by an ex-spouse” (IBD Paper, 2010).

In one of my more “keeping-it-real” moments, I remember telling another, they do not call doctors practicing-physicians for no reason. One of the most incredible realizations for me is how we continue to make strides in treating our bodies. From simple procedures to the complex, from repairing to rebuilding, from learning to innovating, what doctors and others do to keep us not just alive, but thriving and moving forward is honestly miraculous. I know that had I been born even a generation sooner, I would probably not have survived all the various maladies that seemed to plague my adult life; or the quality of life would have been so horrendous that purely existing would have been the order of the day. I have certainly been able to do more than that.

In the three days that have passed since beginning this, I have additional news. First, I want to thank my hepatologist/gastroenterologist for getting back to me so soon. The good news is my gallbladder seems to be in reasonable shape, meaning no surgery needed. That is an important thing because abdominal surgery for me is incredibly complicated because of the multiple surgeries that have already occurred. The liver has some very significant issues; however a game plan to manage that is being implemented.

So, while on one level there are not a lot of options, at least there are pathways to attempting to reverse the damaged liver. The damage is the consequence of long-term prescription steroid usage for Crohn’s. If I am to be totally honest with myself, alcohol use in my early twenties and for a period in the 90s probably did not help. It is stunning how little we consider the long-term consequence of what we do, especially when it comes to our bodies. While I am struggling to lose another 20 pounds, I have already managed to lose 30 in the past 12 months. I was the person who could not keep weight on until I was 40 or so. I remember when I got to a 34 inch waist how mortified I was. I am back to a 36. Another 20 pounds will probably have me back to a 34, perhaps smaller. Earlier this week I sat in Starbucks merely watching students. I was sitting in the chair and watching and listening. Their conversations are almost comical, struggling with why someone would make them read so much, or requiring them to come to class. I thought that is what college was, at least in part. I listened to their dismay about the latest snap exchange or their struggle with who said what to whom. Oh the drama. I watched as the amount of sugar they put into their coffee, their lattes, and their frappes, which are 4 parts sugar already, pushed my A1C a point higher my mere observation. Extra Metformin for the day needed . . . and that says little about the fact that most of them seem to pay little attention to how that sugar, poor eating, and lack of general nutrition affects their ability to excel at their studies or what it is doing to their life-long health issues. If I were to elaborate, I would probably be accused of discriminating, so I will stop.

Certainly, there are always options in how we respond, but sometimes, there are few good options, and even those are no guarantee. That is what I am presently feeling, at least some of the time. I am feeling the need to step back and regroup on a number of fronts, and that plan is being figured out. The first plan is to manage this latest health dilemma, but I have a meeting with the nutritionist this week. The managing of school and life for the remainder of the semester is also high on that list of “must-dos.” There are options, but few that make sense if I am to be successful. Yet, I have them. I tell my students the secret to this is not a secret. It is prioritizing and then having the discipline to do it. It is not rocket science. Logically it is not difficult to understand. It is using the discipline necessary to reach the goal. Well, off to do it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin