The Blessings (perhaps) of Memory

Good very early morning.

As is often the case, I have slept for a while, but I am awake after 1,036 miles of driving over two days and falling asleep at 7:45 earlier this evening. It is now a few minutes after midnight. The drive was long, but generally uneventful, which is also a very nice thing to say. Currently, I am in Chassell, blessed by the generosity of a mentor, and tomorrow is a day to take Micheal (spelled correctly) and Anton to see things that will hopefully be significant for one as a future place to call home and as yet another part of an American year for the other. During the trip here and back, they have been subjected to meeting former classmates as well as other people I am blessed to still call friends, to eating at some of my former haunts and places I worked, and walking the streets and pathways of a place that fundamentally changed my life.

Over two short, but incredibly, profound periods, I lived in the Keweenaw Peninsula and moved from what I believed I had been called to do to a something quite unexpected, but yet another calling nonetheless. When I arrived in Hancock in 1992, I would find myself in a professional situation that I realize now was untenable. Three full-time positions that created overlap that was unmanageable were not what I realized I would do, but I jumped into it full steam ahead. As I look at it now, I am painfully aware of how many ways I failed to do it well. Of course, going through an expected divorce at the time did little to contribute to my stability or capability to manage. Perhaps the distance made me believe I could manage this change, but looking back I realize I failed miserably. While I know I did some really good things in the classroom as a pastor, and even when I came to larger church relations issues, I stumbled in all three areas at the same time. What I realize now is going through the divorce consumed me much more than I could ever imagine. I think much of that realization came through watching an incredible friend, colleague, and someone I value beyond words experience a similar struggle. As I left that position I had little idea what I would do and I remember someone telling me as I headed back to the one thing I knew how to do, which was to bartend and serve, that I was probably the most educated waiter or server they had ever had, The next months, I headed back to the food and beverage industry and that’s a difficult time. While I did not drink a single drop of alcohol the whole time I was at Suomi, I still exhibited many of the behaviors that people who drink too much regularly do. I can see that so much more clearly now. However, once I began to drink again, it seems I made up for lost time.

Over the next year, there were way too many times the consequences of my drinking caused me problems; I would say that being involved with the person who would become my second wife would help keep me on track. As I waited tables again,   working at The Library, I had the fortune of waiting on a table of two couples. One of the women at the table that evening was a professor by the name of Dr. Carol Berkenkotter. The upshot of that meeting would be my interview in and being interviewed by various people in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. Accepted into a second Master’s program would lead me down a very different path, an eventual PhD and becoming a college professor. While my professional life was beginning to take shape my personal life was still struggling. It was during that time that I found myself in a relationship, which to this day still confounds me. While I had known this person when I was a campus pastor, I did not really get to know her until after I had left that position. She is smart, capable,  attractive, and profoundly complex. She is probably the person I loved as deeply as anyone I have ever loved. I have said many times in my life and even today if she showed up on my doorstep I would be a basket-case. I know that I would manage because I am much more thinking than perhaps I was. I remember a friend warning me to not get married (which happened before both times I was to become a husband). So many things happened in the four years we were married. I ended up in jail after pleading no contest to a domestic violence charge. The story is complex and my counselor, who told me he had work-shopped my case throughout the office, told me how ironic it was that I would be the one to end up in such a circumstance. Simply put, he noted I had been in an abusive relationship for some time. While I will not get into all of the particulars, it was probably a low point of my life. To call it The Tale of Two Cities is so far beyond an understatement there is little to try to explain. Even my counselor of 6 years continually asked what I was thinking. It is not easy to admit he said I was the smartest man he ever met that could be so clueless about women and relationships. What I must say, however, is I failed miserably and completely in my attempt to be a husband. I am not asking for pity or anything, but rather attempting to take accountability for my failure. We would leave Houghton and move to Oakland County and attempt to salvage and repair the damage done. I have spoken of my failings more specifically in other blogs, but the truth is I still could not manage the things like I should have. There are problems and some struggles both ways, but I am only responsible for my part.

I have learned much about myself since then. In fact, there is so much I manage much differently today. However, this would begin my third part of the Houghton puzzle. The move to Oakland County would not be as life altering as either hoped. When I went back to Houghton in 2000, a divorce was almost completed. The way I have often described that time is everything I owned fit in a pick-up truck and I did not own the truck. I would head back to Houghton on my own to finish my education. I continued to do counseling for the next three years. It is hard to believe it is almost 20 years ago all this happened. I had spoke with my ex-wife a couple of times, but the last time I had heard from her, in spite of the fact she had initiated the contact, she told me she never wanted to speak to me again. I spoke again with my counselor at the time and he asked if I was surprised. He had a way of making me looking at the complexity of most everything that occurred. I think I am still alive because of him. In fact, I know that is the case. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in that two decades is that I am comfortable at being on my own. Certainly during the past two years, things have occurred to make me wonder if I could be involved in a long-term relationship ever again. I think I’ve learned that I can be rather selfless, and I am able to care much more about the other person than myself.  and yet that is not always a healthy thing to do either. I am also much more thoughtful and committed to what I say I will do now. I have not always been as successful at that as I am now. What I know now about myself is simply I am content, at least the great majority of the time. I am much more matter-of-fact about my life; I am much more dependent on logic and thought than emotion and worrying about what if. Perhaps that’s what age has done. More likely it is that I have no immediate family or that I have had to manage more health things, which will continue to be part of my life.. All of the surgeries and all of the changes to my gastrointestinal track have created consequences, but I just learn to manage and keep going. I am simply blessed to be here, have a job I love, and live in a lovely house and do mostly what I want. Certainly, my position as an associate professor and as a program director keeps me more busy than I sometimes wish, but I actually love my work. The move this past year that has been in the process of being appointed as an Associate Adjunct Professor of Gastroenterology at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is a new thing that will push me to connect my health and my academics. As I tell my students often, being a professor is not what I do, it is who I am. It reminds me again of a time when I tried to explain the difference between a PhD and other degrees. Again I failed miserably in my attempt and my rhetorical strategy was a complete flop. To this day I’m not sure I’ve been forgiven for that.

As we finish yet another year and this time, another decade,  it seems that I wonder about where things will go and how long I will be part of this a bit more carefully than I did once upon a time. 20 years ago was the beginning the Millennium and I would have to work New Year’s Day because of Y2K, Cell phones were a new thing and technology was just really beginning to take off. There was no idea, at least generally of apps and all the things that permeate our lives. Little did we know where it would all go. Even now little do we know where it will go. The world seems so much more precarious today than it did at the beginning of the century. One decade ago I had just moved here to Bloomsburg and I was busy running back-and-forth from here to Wisconsin to take care of Lydia.

As I write this it was 22 years ago today that my father passed away. I can remember that morning as if it was yesterday. It was early and I would have to preach three church services yet that morning after receiving my phone call. Being in charge of my father’s estate would reveal a number of things and many of them difficult. Ironically I think it was also the beginning of the end for the marriage, which I believe we both desperately wanted to hold onto. It is always interesting to me how we can look back and understand to a more complete manner how foolish we were and how shortsighted. for the first time in about six years I’m not in Europe for a New Year’s Eve. Anton is out with friends and the driving 2100 miles in less than 96 hours has taken its toll on this aging body.  definitely the return to the UP has conjured up a number of memories. The memories are always simultaneously a blessing and a curse, but that is the nature of our frail, fractured, and imperfect existence. As I complete a decade, I’m not sure that I live through another one. What I do know is that I have learned from my mistakes, I have been blessed in so many ways and by so many different people. Even when things didn’t work out because of my failures. I can only hope to do better and learn. I wish all of you will read this peace and health as you move into a new year. I am grateful to so many people for the blessings they have given to this extraordinary life. Over the past days I have been reminded of all of the people we have lost from where I went to high school, including my own sibling. This song by Dan Fogelberg is an incredible song about our memories and this version was posted the day following his passing.

 

Thank you as always for reading. 

Dr. Martin

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.