Hello from my kitchen table,
I am fixing breakfast, organizing my day, and pondering what sort of things impress me. Throughout my life, as noted so many time, I question or wonder about most everything. Sometimes it gets me in trouble. Sometimes it causes me concern about things that should require little or no thought. However, that pondering, that introspection has served me well, providing a sense of understanding, a sense of direction, that offers a more beneficial sense of what is needed, of what I should do.
While I am not all that different from most, too often enamored with some of the trends, frills, or gadgets (and I know some who know me well are nodding affirmatively), what I now know is these things are temporary; they are fleeting. Being cooped up has not been as exasperating as I anticipated. In fact, in a line from the Dixie Chicks song “Not Ready to Make Nice,” – “I kinda like it.” Yet it has offered me the chance to step back, focus on work, focus on things around the house that need to be attended to, and focus on getting healthier both in body and spirit. These next few days are birthdays of both my oldest uncle, my father’s eldest brother-in-law. He was born in 1896 and his birthday would be the 11th. My adopted father was born in 1915 on the 14th (which is, by the way, also the birthday of an ex-spouse). Some are always amazed at my propensity for dates, and I guess it has always been that way. One of the other things I have reflected on what, who, and why do I admire things? Perhaps, as importantly, what does it mean to admire something to begin with? Too many times I think we admire things or people because of the way we think something is or how we believe or understand another person to be, but in either case, those decisions are surface level. We are not critical thinkers by nature, unfortunately; we need to be reminded to think and analyze. I know this too well when working with many of my students. The NCLB, Race to the Top, or other well intentioned plans that disintegrated into teaching to the test has too often made critical thought at best an afterthought and at worst, obsolete. I actually addressed some of that in a relatively recent blog.
More often than not, one of my mantras of late is something like this: things I thought important 30 years ago, I have learned are not that important. On the other hand things I believed to be unimportant 30 years ago are really damn important. I could provide a list, but I think anyone with the longevity of 3 score years plus will understand what I mean. Yet, there is one thing I have learned (at least for me) seems to rise above all other things. Does a person have integrity? Can I trust them? That is the thing that means the most to me. I remember when I first taught at Stout, I had a student who was incredibly talented, perhaps the most capable and one of the smarter students I have ever had in class anywhere, anytime, but they were a first class ass. I remember, not being probably as rhetorical correct as I should have been mentioning in a meeting of students that you could be as fabulously talented and smart as anyone, but if you were not willing to play well with others in the sandbox, I would not hire you. That was not the rhetorically problematic issue. It was I looked straight at this student and the student was looking at me. There could be little doubt to whom I was really addressing that comment. The way I manage that today, some 16 years later is I will tell a student when I believe they have integrity or they are a good person and let them know how much I admire that in them. I admire people willing to look out for others and realize that giving to another usually pays you back in the end. I admire those who are willing to put the other before themselves, to act with a sense of gratitude or graciousness that demonstrates an ability to serve their colleagues, family, friends, or even the stranger. Do I admire other things? Yes, of course; I admire those work hard to advance themselves in a spirit seeing what they do as vocation, as what they do is about more than work, but it is about service. Luther spoke of this specifically on his writing about vocation. All things we do can, and should, be about serving the other, whether that person be an American or someone else. This is a human trait, again, not geographic, not an issue of gender, not related to their socio-economic class. We can still care for ourselves and the other. I believe the MAGA has been a license of selfishness. We are great when we work together. The late Senator John McCain’s last book lays that out quite well; one of the most important quotes seems to reflect some of what I am writing here. In that book, titled, The Restless Wave, McCain writes,
The moral values and integrity of our nation, and the long, difficult, fraught history of our efforts to uphold them at home and abroad, are the test of every American generation. Will we act in this world with respect for our founding conviction that all people have equal dignity in the eyes of God and should be accorded the same respect by the laws and governments of men? That is the most important question history ever asks of us.
While he is addressing it to our country’s moral fiber, I am thinking about it as more of an individual commitment. Values and integrity define a person. As I have noted in both my classes and in a published chapter. I believe ethics, which we most often classify as a noun, should be a verb. Ethics are the what we do with our values, our morals, and when we act or practice our morals and values through our actions, we are being ethical; we are doing ethics. Making ethics merely a noun moves us away from action. It attacks our integrity because we merely make the values and morals we profess lip service. This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn and to internalize, but I have learned to do it by watching others who act that way. While it is dangerous to name people, there are a couple of people I would like to mention. Tom and Elaine Lacksonen, my former neighbors in Menomonie, are such people. They were fantastic colleagues, and even kinder or more wonderful neighbors. They are astounding parents, raising three equally astounding children. Mark Decker, my colleague from both Wisconsin and here at Bloomsburg is another. He is principled and honest beyond most anyone I have ever met. All three have taught me more than they will ever know. I am blessed by them and grateful beyond words. There are certainly others, but I do not want to do an entire laundry list if you will. I have also had students who have exhibited similar integrity. Anton, who is live and well back in Denmark is also an example. I have noted before, there is not one time during his entire stay that I questioned his actions or did not trust him. He is honest beyond what I have ever witnessed in a 16/17 year old. Therefore, deep-down, and more than most anything else, I admire and need integrity from the other person.
In spite of needing it, and I have worked hard to develop it, I am not sure I ever feel I achieve it as much as I hope. As I write this I think back to when I have failed to maintain it has much as I wish I had. One of the things I have found most important is to be honest with my failures and take accountability of my shortcomings. I hate that accountability, but when I do it, I am able to ask forgiveness and move on. I admire those who are able to remain married and true to a partner for the remainder of their lives. To do some takes an almost other-worldly love I believe. It too is based on trust, as well as unparalleled patience and devotion to something that is bigger than the sum of the two single parts. Last year in rhetoric class, a student asked me how it was, in my opinion, that people could be married for 50+, 60+ years? I said they must have been 12 when they were married. Then I admitted I was probably not the person to ask because I failed at it twice. Then I paused and said, They must be able to remember how much they love the other on the day they really do not like them or even detest them. When they are asking why in the world did they marry them? If they can remember why they love them in the midst of that, they will remain together. That is hard work; that is commitment. They have my admiration. Again, I think of two of my high school classmates, Randy and Denise Carlson. He was the most polite, kind, and good person in high school. She was sweet, open, and willing to accept anyone. They were probably even what we called junior high (now middle school) sweethearts. They are still married and adore each other. They give me hope in a world where such commitment is the exception rather than the rule. There are other couples like my first host family the year I traveled on the Lutheran Youth Encounter team. Lee and Judy Swenson are still in my life and still married. They taught me more in the few weeks I was in Newton, IA over 40 years ago than they perhaps even realize now. They have been my support and anchor more than I could ever express. What a gift it was to end up in their home that first week we were out on tour.
While I admire many things, some because of their beauty, some because of their sentimental value, or some because of their basic awesomeness (if I can use that word), what I admire most is simple beauty, value tested by time, and those in whom I can place my trust and confidence without fear they will shatter or damage it. It is not about brilliance, popularity, or status. As Shania Twain wrote, “That don’t impress me much.” I admire a person I have known since the sandbox. She listens, ponders, and has been a constant source of inspiration for me. She is beautiful and her friendship is priceless, a value has been tested by 60 years time. Even more so, she is intelligent, thoughtful, and giving. She is someone I trust and for all those reasons someone I admire. It has been a gift to be friends for so much of my life. Again, I have been blessed by some amazing people and wonderful experiences. It is nice to have things and people to admire. I hope you are safe and sound. One of the more comforting and haunting pieces of music I have ever heard, and admire also is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Enjoy and bless you.
Thank you for reading as always,