The Initial Date

Hello from the front porch,

It has been a beautiful beginning to June. It has been busy with school and a summer class as well as managing the yard, which is a daily chore, but one I enjoy. The acre still needs work; while much has been accomplished, and there are no major projects this summer, I wish the yard (and specifically the grass) was a bit more spacious than it is. That is my father coming out. He was meticulous about his yard. Once the utility company did some maintenance work and dig up his parking. They planted grass seed, which was certainly not to the level of grass he believed necessary. He fumed for days and I seldom heard him swear, but I heard it at that point. I got some of that same quality seed last summer through my own construction project, and I think it will take a couple years to recover in a few significant patches now. Yet, the yard is a living, breathing, and resilient ecosystem of its own. I am sure with some appropriate care it will recover.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, and an emotional rollercoaster, but I am proud of managing it all better than I often have. I am reminded of the difficult, albeit perhaps a sage admonishment of my counselor in graduate school, the director of the counseling center at MTU at that time, Donald Williams. He was a person who had me figured out better than probably anyone I have ever met. Of course, 6 years of meeting almost weekly might do that. I have been pushed to realize the reality of things that can occur when people struggle with a variety of issues-issues that are often vexing and have profound consequences for their life, as well as the lives of those who care for them. Sometimes I understand more than I wish I did. Recently a poem was shared with me that poignantly reveals some of those struggles. One line states “As a tear touches your cheek, you turn away.” It is exceedingly difficult to turn away from those who have found a place in your heart, especially when all you wish for them is health and happiness. I have been pushed to remember my sister’s struggle with so many significant issues. There was this substantial push/pull between us as I wanted to help, but could never seem to find the ability to do it adequately. When I pushed or questioned beyond a certain point, she simply disappeared, sometimes for months. This was before the social networking we now have, but it was the earlier version of blocking someone. As the incredible actor, Tom Skerritt, as the Presbyterian minister in Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, said so eloquently, “Each one of us in our lives will look upon a loved one, who is in need and ask the same question. We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those who are closest to us. Either we do not know what part of ourselves to give, or more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. So it is those we live with an should know who elude us, but we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding.” So often our love is imperfect because we are imperfect. I have been reminded of this shortcoming so deeply in the past few days that it hurts, but it also serves to remind me that it is not my job to fix things. So often I want to make it alright. Decades of struggle are not eliminated by a single person’s care or hope. I am reminded of how the actions of those around us have profound and unending consequence. Why is it some can get beyond and some cannot? I think it is particularly difficult when you see the goodness someone has, but that goodness is dimmed, torn, or paralyzed because of the other things that life has dealt them.

During this week, the consequence of decades, and centuries of injustice have blown open our country, and actually more accurately our world. The mistreatment, the discrimination, the marginalization of black people, brown people, LGBTQA people, old people, mentally ill people has pushed a response unlike any before witnessed. One of the things I realize considering my sister, Kris, is that she suffered as a member of more than one of these categories. I wish I had understood more acutely, more completely, how various experiences affected her and how those experiences created or contributed to the struggles that I believe caused a premature death. I wish I understood how such a brilliant and loving person struggled so mightily to merely manage her day. Those questions have bubbled to the surface as I tried to make sense of other things that have occurred over this past month. I think, perhaps at times, it is easier to remember someone for who they were than what they have become. The window, as someone noted recently, is often fragile and what we see can be burdensome, even frightening. Too often the reflection is more honest than we can manage. It would be easy to give up and simply move beyond, but that too has a consequence. What we see and how we are seen by the other can paint very different pictures.

And yet, in spite of the difficulties of the day, I am reminded that today is an important day also, albeit very different from what was expected when I picked up a tall, slender, and tired young man from Denmark on the final days of August last summer. June 16th, today, was the day that Anton was supposed to return from his year in Bloomsburg after his study abroad year. I wonder what might have happened had we not ended up with a pandemic. I wonder what might have happened as he took the CCHS tennis team by storm. I wonder who he might have ended up asking to prom as it was something we had discussed. I wonder how 10 additional weeks might have changed his impression of his year in North Central Pennsylvania. Fortunately, we have been able to stay in touch on a somewhat regular basis, and I can say he does not look that different from when I helped him get to his plane in Baltimore. I do believe he is still reflecting on what this year did for him on a number of levels. It did, naturally, help him improve his English, which was quite proficient when he arrived. It gave him a very different living experience than what he knew from his years in Humlebaek. I smile now when I think about our conversations about the difference in his daily routine at school or how the friends he made here were so different from his friendships back in his home country. It is he who noted this and not something I would have picked up on. What is also important is how much he taught me, not only about what it meant to be 16/17, but more importantly, what he taught me about myself. Someone asked me recently how I had become so confident? I did not have a good answer for them, but I think it, in some significant ways, because Anton taught me so much about how to communicate more effectively and appropriately. He taught be how to listen more carefully and work together more thoughtfully. What still amazes me about him, along with his intelligence, his common sense, and his ability to listen and think, was his honesty and integrity. Seldom, if ever, have I ever met anyone, and especially someone who is still a teenager, who does not lie about anything. He was, is, and probably will be for sometime, a person I will look up to as a sort of paragon of honesty. I know that is quite the accolade for someone so young, but he is completely deserving of that.

Dates have always held significance for me, and I remember them quite well. I am not really sure how that happened, but it is something that was always the case. Be it birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, dates of someone’s passing, I somehow keep those filed away like a roll-a-dex in my head somewhere. There are times I do not get to things as quickly as possible, but seldom to I forget a family or close friend’s important dates. I remember the birthdays of most of my first wife’s family even now. I remember my parent’s birthdays, grandmother’s and aunt’s as well as some of their other important days. I wish I had that memory for somethings today as it too often seems I remember something about an hour after I should have been there. Yikes!! Dates, people, places, all of them create memories. Memories, I believe are what make humans unique in the worldly order. We not only remember, but we can anticipate, imagine, and wonder about the future. Those two things are probably our biggest gift and our most profound weakness.

As I noted in my last blog, the consequence of expectation can be devastating. I think the product of memory and anticipation is expectation, and perhaps more profoundly, it can, and often does provide hope. And yet it seems our world is sorely lacking in that particular area. What gives someone hope? I have asked this question before, mostly in the sense of what happens when it is missing, but I would like to find hope in the midst of some of what is happening, be it globally, nationally, or even individually. I want to believe that somehow better angels can come among us and lift us up in ways that allow the care and love that is present in all people can be the foundation of what we do. I want to believe that the goodness in someone can still shine through when they struggle to merely manage their day because of their own personal demons. I was asked more than once in the most so distant past why I work so hard trying to make things logical? I was asked recently, as noted, how I became so confident? I am not sure that I am as confident as I seem to portray, but I do believe I am pretty content with where my life has led. Last night I was blessed by a phone call from three former colleagues. What a wonderful surprise. I actually called the initial caller back today to tell them how important that call was. Sometimes, when we least expect it, we learn that we matter. We are reminded that we made a difference. Yesterday was an important day. It was the day that Anton was originally supposed to return, and even though he left 10 weeks early, the difference he made for me will be with me the remainder of my days. Yesterday was a day that I made some choices, that while difficult, are for my well-being, and that is not always something I am attentive to. It was also a day that I was reminded of people who have made a profound difference in my life, from a mentor in graduate school to colleagues from Wisconsin. It was a day like many, a day of ups and downs, peaks, valleys, and some smooth places too. It was a day to spend dinner with two wonderful colleagues from here at Bloom that I am blessed to call both colleagues and friends. I guess in spite of it being an important date in the life of Anton and me, it was a day that ended up much differently. Yet, it was an important day because things that matter still happened. It was an important day because I stood up for my own healthy choices, albeit difficult. It was an important day and date because I am still here today. Here is the amazing scene from the end of A River Runs Through It.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

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