Hello on the first night that seems like Winter,
When I was small, I wondered about what seemed to be important things. I wondered about what might happen at school day in and day out. I wondered about what I might get for a birthday or a Christmas present from my grandmother because she always gave amazing (and unexpected) presents. I wondered if I would ever be big or large enough (as I was generally the smallest boy in my class) to play any kind of sports (it was also not helpful that coordination was not one of my stronger attributes). I wondered what I might do or become someday, but I never really seemed to settle on anything toward which I believed possible. On the other hand, I wandered around the neighborhood, riding my bike up and down our T-ed alley and circumnavigated our block again and again on my 20 inch red Schwinn bicycle at every chance. Riding because I felt free and safe. I wandered the aisles and peered intently through my brown framed rather-thick glasses at the shelves in the public library, checking out as many book as my little arms could carry. Often as I read those books, my thoughts wondered about and wandered among the places I read of; could something like that happen to me?
Wonder often provides us a sense of hope; it creates the possibility and allows our imagination to see beyond our present circumstance. It offers us the ability to believe in what the book of Hebrews call things hoped for and the conviction of that which is unseen. Of course, the writer of Hebrews was speaking about faith, but wonder and faith are not unrelated, at least for me. Wandering, on the other hand, offers exposure to things that might have been unseen or only imagined. It provides new experiences or data to support things about which we may have wondered.
The Christmas carol that provides the impetus for this blog post, has an interesting story behind it. That is not unusual. This particular carol, written by John Jacob Niles, was a fragment of a poem and one line of a song he heard at a sort of tent revival in North Carolina at the height of the depression. I imagine much like the Jewish people had done, and would do again, the depression caused many God-fearing people to wonder where God had gone. What had they done to invoke such an economic wrath upon the country and particularly the poor? This song has a lament quality to it, both in terms of word and tune. As a former student once said to me, ” You have a [propensity] to be somewhat melancholy.” I imagine it is that predilection which creates a somewhat inclination toward hymns in minor keys in music; and yet I also love the resolution that can occur when we move from the minor tonic to a Picardy third. I remember the first time I mentioned such a musical thing to a friend studying music and he marveled that I knew such a thing. I continually realize what my humanities major did for me.
This weekend is that time before Christmas that brings back both joyful and, on the other hand, so difficult memories. In my first years here in Bloom my wandering took me back to Wisconsin on regular sojourns to care for and support Lydia. The move made from her incredible home to COH was a challenging, unfortunate, and necessary one. The decision made to allow her to pass 5 years ago today was troublesome, arduous, and again necessary. I cried both times. It began a watch and time that I struggled, I wondered how to understand what it meant to care by simultaneously holding on and letting go. So much of our lives are about that. We wander in and out of others’ lives and sometimes we feel this need to hold on. How much of that holding on is from fear or selfishness? I know there are cases where I am trying to figure out the difference between loyalty and fear or selfishness and fear. Am I the ornery person that is spoken of in the carol? One thing, of which I am most sure, was one of the least selfish acts I have done was to let Lydia go. I went back to the Circle that night and I prayed and I cried. The hours spent in her room that period were so significant as I tried to carry out the promises I had made to her some years before. I wonder at times how it is we wandered into each other’s life. She still permeates more of my existence than I am readily cognizant. There are things I do in my own home that remind me of her (and of my own grandmother, but I have noted some of their similarities). There are things I want and ways I go about them that remind me of her. There are times I wish my grandmother would have lived longer; she was such a loving and giving woman and I think I would have enjoyed hearing the stories of her South Dakota farm-girl upbringing.
My wandering had taken me to almost every state in the union and also to most of Europe and even Southeast Asia. I have been fortunate to explore some small parts of the Caribbean, but there is still so much to learn. I wonder if I can ever be satisfied that I have gotten to experience all I can absorb or if I can somehow believe I have had enough opportunities to learn. I somehow doubt it. There are moments I wonder what created this desire to wonder or wander. I grew up in a family that did not seem that adventurous, but I think that was because of financial constraints rather than a lack of wanting to try something or do something. I have pondered this and I do not think it came from being in the Marine Corps as much as it was the consequence of being allowed to travel with Dr. John W. Nielsen during that interim class. Through the generosity of Dorothy and Harold Wright, I was provided an opportunity to wander around Europe for almost a month. The wonder that trip created has never been extinguished. In fact, subsequent trips have only provided the embers of that first European travel to grow into an astounding, passionate, fire. The difference is that I not only want it for myself, I want it for others.
For the first time after 5 years, I will not be in Kraków this New Years Eve. Perhaps that is appropriate, for the travel/study abroad trip will be in Warsaw instead. It will be very different to not be there, however. Yet that initial trip to Poland, and the possibilities garnered because of it, have changed my life, both personally and professionally. To go to Poland the next times are not so much about learning, but learning and teaching, absorbing and professing. I know as the little Northwestern Iowa boy, I could have never imagined my wonder and joy of learning would take my wandering to teach at a Polish University, where I would teach in the streets and rooms that might have housed Copernicus and St. Jon Paul II; that I might spend time teaching in a university that was founded in 1364. It is a long journey from Riverview Elementary School. Lately, I have found myself reconnected with some of those Riverview classmates. What a tremendous gift to have them reach out and to be able to share thoughts. I posted a new profile picture today that is from early summer, so not ridiculously old, but one particular classmate noted she would probably not recognize me. It is true, I do not look anything close to the last time I saw her 46 years ago. She was someone I admired in so many ways. She was smart, personable, kind, and I thought she was so beautiful. One of the persons I always wondered what had happened to her. Low and behold, in the last year paths crossed again. That is the reason I appreciate social networking.
As I wonder and wander now, I think my tasks have taken on a different kind of urgency. There is a great deal I still feel called to do, but I realize the time in which to do it all has dwindled. Such a reality can be disconcerting, but it can also create focus. The past few days were more difficult than I revealed. The sense of loss on certain levels was painful beyond words, but the ability to maintain is also a gift I value. It caused me to wonder once again about myself and not only who I have become, but as much how I have become that person. Introspection, reflection, and analysis are something that seem to be foundational to me. Perhaps what my wonder has created most importantly is to learn to be accountable for my choices. The sequelae of my actions and life are mine to ponder on and wonder about. I guess that is sort of meta-wondering if you will. I am not sure if it is the holidays that bring forth this sort of proclivity to be pensive or if it is merely my innate nature. Perhaps it is some of both.
As I look toward the week of Christmas I am reminded of a wandering couple soon to become parents. I know from the stories chronicled in the gospels that they certainly wondered about their unexpected circumstances. I know as I worked with my Bible as Literature class this fall, they too wondered about the story of Mary and Joseph and what they must have been trying to wrap their own heads around their call (her call) to be a parent. Being a parent is an entirely different wonder to me as Anton and I prepare for Christmas. Soon half his time in Bloomsburg will be up. He was in a band concert last night, and it brought back memories of my own high school band concerts. He has begun wresting and I think his aching muscles have him also wondering what he is doing. There is so much to do as I am working through the first week of a winter term class. Some of my students are wondering and wandering. I wish all of you who take time to read my musing a blessed holiday season, whatever your faith or piety calls you to. I leave you with the carol which inspired this post.
Thank you for reading.