Hello from Helsingistä Suomi,
Another layover has allowed for another cultural experience in yet another country. This one has a bit of significance because it was a Finnish Lutheran Junior College that provides the entree into the path that would lead me to the academy. So many mixed emotions when I consider the Upper Peninsula and my experiences there. That is, to a significant degree, the impetus for my working title for this blog. Too often we ignore limitations, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual. At least in my case, I want to believe I can handle anything, in whatever realm, thrown at me. I know this is neither logical nor realistic, but too often I regard a limitation as weakness rather than perhaps the protection it is meant to be. Perhaps some of that attitude began before I even knew what was happening. While I do not remember my birth, being born at 17 ounces had to create some struggles, particularly in a pre-NICU world. Certainly spending my first few months in an incubator must have been somewhat less appealing than a walk in the park. Yet – I am reminded of a conversation with my Great-aunt Helen who said I always had a positive and caring attitude as a small child. She said I seldom cried or was angry about things. I think my adopted childhood pushed me to push back against imposed limitations, especially ones that were untruthful and hurtful. It is that push back that is both my greatest strength and my most profound weakness. It is the oxymoronic element of my character that probably vexes me like no other.
We are given limitations or have innate limitations both externally and internally, but it seems our human nature is to push back against, or simply refuse to accept that boundary no matter how helpful, significant, or appropriate or might be. Is it pride? Is it fear of failure? Or is it our need to control our own destiny? Perhaps it is some of each in most cases. What I do know when being truly introspective, is my need to be in control had much to do with my disdain for this boundaries or a certain scorn of myself seeing said boundary as some kind of inability to manage. Again, it is not surprising to realize how childhood experiences affect our abilities in dealing with these restraints, becoming an additional impediment itself, but the degree to which they affect is a bit stunning. I think I have always had a propensity for being a little cautious. There are certain times or situations I am not willing to step outside my comfort zone, and then I took a motorcycle trip at 22 from Iowa to California on my own. There are those who question the travel I do, especially on my own, but I see that as a learning opportunity and that is central to who I am. Yet, I have found myself I bit more cautious on this trip already than I have been in the past. I think it takes me a bit longer to become comfortable than in the past. Perhaps that is wisdom also. One can certainly hope that is the case.
I think, most importantly, there is a need to analyze (there is that word again). Too often we dismiss, haphazardly, opportunities for possible growth as well as increased understanding of the other because we fear the unknown, that which is different, that which is outside our normal scope of daily life. In spite of my openness to travel, I too fall into this. I would have done on to St. Petersburg this week, but I was uncomfortable in spending three or four days on my own in Russia. Most of it was because of my currently limited (mostly non-existent) aptitude for Russian. I made good progress in my 5 days simply figuring out some words, but my 5/5 teaching load in the spring made my time to acquire a minimal working knowledge of Cyrillic impossible. I do know my limitation in this case, and I want to believe this was wisdom, but I must also wonder if I am merely attempting to justify my fear of being a solitary older person in a foreign place?
Instead, it is almost noon on a Tuesday and I find myself in the main market square of Kraków, sitting at an outdoor cafe where the server came up to me and welcomed me back and was, to some extent, surprised when I said, “Good to see you Andrew;” Asking him how he was in Polish. Of course he asked if I wanted the chicken sandwich in English and I ordered in Polish. So much more comfort. As I write this morning I have purchased a new SIM and I am trying to get more comfortable with my BLU phone. An earlier version was so basic it did not have enough memory to allow to function adequately in terms of technology. I spent the morning going beyond limitations and comfort and used our this phone to manage a variety of issues. Amazing how our creaturely habits, including the simple act of keyboard and touch affect us. The degree to which I am, and I use the adverb “substantially” intentionally is somewhat flumoxxing to me. I am a habitually OCD person that is for sure. Strange the degree to which habits provide comfort for me. That is one of the reasons I am going to a cooking class this week. More on that soon. Off to another immediate task.
It is now Thursday and I am still on my walking tour of Krakow; this time it is a return to Kazimierz and a pierogi cooking class. The class was a three hour class where the perveyor is an amazing young woman who is journalist, a traveler, a foodie, and studying to become a witch. Now there is going beyond limitations, if you will. The class, which was in her Kazimierz apartment, was both enjoyable and informative. We made onion, potato and cheese pierogi. There were two of us attending the class, so we got some amazing individualized attention, and the pierogi recipe was from her grandmother, and perhaps great-grandmother. What I learned it the ingredients are pretty simple, but finding the cheese they use here might be a bit of a stretch. It is a bit like cottage cheese, but not as watery. All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. I got almost 7 or 8 miles in walking today, and I ate pretty healthy. I had a small egg sandwich for breakfast and then some of the pierogi we made. For dinner I had a small bowl of cold cucumber vichyssoise, seasoned nicely with mint and dill and then an asparagus salad which herbed greens and a poached egg. It was quite delightful, and pretty healthy, if I say so myself. I love trying things and learning about food options. Speaking with Karina, our pierogi aficionado, she had quite a story to tell us about her apartment building. It is owned by a Jewish man, who was the only member of his family to survive the Shoah, and is currently 100 years old and living in Israel. As a journalist, she is headed to Israel soon to interview him. She also spoke of this forested area where she met both this sort of moonshiner person and her tutoring witch. Sounds like quite the place. People fascinate me, which leads me back to the idea of limitations. How do we emotionally deal with limitations? That is what I find myself pondering. I think like most things that discompose us, we generally get our proverbial underwear in the bundle when we are told no. Today I heard three little children empathically saying to their parents, “Nie! нет, and No! I heard it in three languages, but the tone was the same. There was frustration and anger . . . Limitations work that way whether we are 2, 22, or 52.
As I noted in the title, there are two aspects to the concept of limitations: there is the understanding the reason for them and there is the ability to accept (or manage) them. Understanding them is more difficult than what might initially seem to be the case. Why are the limitations there? Again, it is a physical limitation that merely need some work to manage? Then it is a temporary thing, and we have some control. It is an emotional thing? This is a bit more complicated because we have to come to grips with from where those emotions come and what causes them to affect us in such a manner. This can be both more time consuming and frightening. Finally, as I noted above, there is what I might call a spiritual limitation. I think this is more of an ethical issue. Again, this too is infinitely more complex because understanding your ethical methodology takes some serious introspection. Again, there is the temporal aspect of our dealing with limitations also. Is it a temporary thing or is a much more permanent issue? What are the options if it has a more permanent nature? There are so many things that can play into this. However, the important thing, it seems, is understanding the fundamental nature of the obstacle and then realizing how our response and attitude, our belief and ability plays into that obstruction. Ove the past year I have watched how a particular limitation or malady affects both the individual and their friends, family, or acquaintances. I know from my own life, how health limitations are simply realties that must be accepted . . . . in my life with Crohn’s and the consequence of being diagnosed in the pre-Humira (or other biologics) period, there were a set of options and I tried even the most cutting-edge options at the time. It did not work. Now, 30 years later, I am working with the limitations of those treatments. Can I be frustrated? Perhaps. Can I be disillusioned? Perhaps. Can I be angry? Again, perhaps, but with what result? It changes nothing. What I have chosen is to live my life the best way I know how . . . it see that I even have a life as a blessing. As I have noted in my blog from time to time, I was “dealt,” if you will, a seriously stacked deck, and it was not in my favor, but somehow, I have been fortunate enough to work with some phenomenal people in every aspect of my life. Somehow, regardless the complications, I have never been told, “I am sorry; there is nothing we can do.” It is because of those experiences, that limitations seldom confound or make me fearful. There are merely challenges. The next challenge is to manage my summer here in Poland as well as keeping abreast of the things in Pennsylvania. Each of us will face a variety of limitations, but they do not have to frighten us or make us angry. They are certainly more than merely life-lessons, but there are that also. Over the next seven weeks, I will be working on Polish and I can tell you that my older ears will struggle at times. My brain is not as quick and sharp as it was the summer I crammed two years of Greek into 12 weeks, but the method and the requirements are the same. Work hard every day; believe in my ability to overcome my age; learn as much as I can, and have some fun doing it. I am always impressed by those who take chances. They are willing to think outside the box. I want my life to be outside that box and I keep trying to make that happen.
Thanks as always for reading.