Hello from the porch of my home away from home,
During two weeks during the month of July I managed a driving “walk about. It was a journey ultimately covering 3,800 miles and some interaction with things that cover the entirety of my three score plus almost six years of existence. From specific dates as early as 1958 to dates including 1970, 1973, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1993, or as recent as 2019 and memories in between, those 15 days were engulfed with long-forgotten images reimagined and a deluge of emotions that have connected me with every phase of my life. The opportunity to meet with relatives, extended families of those relatives, former classmates, childhood friends, mentors, and simply other people, who made my breakfast at a coffee shop was life-giving and rejuvenating. To return and walk around places from my past, to drive highways that once were commonplace has been comforting in ways unanticipated. It has freed my mind of clutter and spoke to my soul in a way seldom experienced. Contented and peaceful are perhaps the two best adjectives to describe my daily mood as I traveled. While there was a plan, there was no required schedule during the interludes from place to place. To be able to interact with no pretense, to reacquaint after decades seemed effortless. Effortless accurately describes much of how I have felt this entire trip.
As I initially wrote this I was sitting on the back porch of 721, as I fondly and lovingly refer to that location in Newton, IA. Lee and Judy, my first host family home from the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team have become a life-long gift. I cannot help but contemplate that it was 2/3s of my life ago I was introduced to a couple I now warmly refer to as my older siblings. Lee and Judy Swenson welcomed John and me into their home in June of 1978. I can state with complete surety that a breakfast conversation in that kitchen changed the course of my life. As I returned to Newton late last night, Lee and Judy were waiting for me. I walked in and exclaimed, “I’m home!” As gracious as any 50s television show family, I walk into such incredible ambiance and care. I have told Judy more times than I can count, there is no home like 721. This morning we reminisced about the various times I have stopped over the 4 decades. And that does not count the three times we were in Newton during our travel year of 78-79.
As I return to this post, I am reminded of the peripatetic aspect of my life. Paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, this year of my long and winding journey was particularly poignant as I reconnected with extended family over the 12 days, the reality of life’s twists and turns was front and center. In spite of the many trials we have all faced, it was profoundly evident. that I come from an incredible resiliency. The hurdles some of my family face daily humbles me. It compels me to first be grateful for the blessings I too often take for granted. While I have had significant health struggles, and will likely have more, there is so much for which I am grateful. I have been blessed to establish a life that has been rewarding and enjoyable. The other thing that astounded me was the unequalled level of patience I saw demonstrated. That too was (and remains) humbling to observe (to understand).
As the calendar informs us of a new cycle the changes from leaving a home I loved as much as anywhere I have lived, to moving and creating a home with two wonderful people, and with it schedules, dinners, soccer games, writing assistance, motorcycle trips to surrounding diners for Saturday breakfast, and being closer to a family most dear have made for a memorable fall. Trips and events like The Nutcracker have reminded me of the amazing world that is in my own backyard.
And now as I write this it is December, and almost New. Years That gives some indication of life since then. On the 19th of August, Georg, my new exchange student from Estonia, arrived. School began the following week and it never slowed down since. I am not complaining as it has been incredibly productive, but the juggling act that is life has been a bit overwhelming at times. Kelli, my senior supply chain student, and another surrogate offspring, has been a joy to have in the house. She and Georg are like siblings and it is actually sweet and enjoyable to observe their interaction. It was very nice that they both texted me more than once in an evening to check on my schedule as they wanted to wait for me so we could eat together. There have been moments when I realize what I missed never being a parent. While I am content with where I am, there are still glimpses of what might have been. I think the most interesting thing for me is that I believe I could have been a good parent. Something I always worried about. I have been asked a number of times over these past years about my not having children. I have been asked about my being single. I have been asked about if I wished my life to be different than it is. I think I can say quite assuredly that I am content with where I am. Is there a sense of solitariness or loneliness at times? Most certainly. It might be why most of my life is centered around people-oriented tasks. Are there times I wish I had some large family or kids, grandchildren, and perhaps even great-grandchildren? The simple answer is yes, but I ponder if it is because we often imagine the things we do not have.
This summer into fall, a number of decisions were made, and perhaps as importantly, I realize that when I make decisions, and particularly decisions of consequence, I seldom reconsider or even revisit that choice. I am not sure if that is a benefit or detriment, but at the moment, I am inclined to see it as something positive. Moving forward and doing the best I can with the choices made allows for progress, and it minimizes regret. Some of those decisions are significant like giving up my sabbatical, or deciding on a retirement date. All of that has long-term consequence and has resulted in making profound changes. As noted other places, one of those changes was in selling my home, fondly and lovingly known as The Acre. That decision is one of the most momentous ones made in my entire life. The reasons for that profundity are multi-layered, but a number of people have asked if I feel sad. I do not. Are there things about that house I miss? Of course, but I know why I made the decision and I believe in terms of moving toward where I want to be or go, it was the best path forward. One of the things I know is that I have too often become attached to things, and things are only that – things. They do not make us or provide any real intrinsic value. People often identify us by those things, but that is a surface identity. What I realize now is I am more affected by the relationships I have and not the stuff I have. As I noted in the title here, the decades have created the person I am. Some of the most important things I have are what I have been able to re-establish this past year. Those were not things, but people. As I began this blog, way back in July, the opportunity to reacquaint with my cousins might be the most important thing I have done in decades (and that is a literal statement). I was in my early thirties and they were still in their twenties. We are now all septuagenarians. First, how did that happen? Second, why did I take so long? I have no adequate answer to either question. As I have been explaining to my freshmen as they have worked on their Google Map/memoir project, we do not become the people we are by accident. We are molded, often without our realizing it. We are imbued with values and morals, with hopes and dreams often subconsciously. Nevertheless, we are products of a canoecopia (and considering I went kayaking and paddleboarding with them the first night there) of a paddling journey if you will, as we navigate our way through experiences, relationships, and emotions. The things we were influenced by are those things we believe have value. As I consider each of the sisters, I am in awe of their kindness, their loving care for each other, and of the profound beauty they bring to other people’s lives. The admiration I had for them growing up grew exponentially as I spent time with them this past summer. In some more than others, the physical resemblance to their mother is beyond apparent. The kindness, hospitality, and inquisitiveness that was in both of their parents permeates each of them. It is humbling to be their relative, but it is also inspiring. It reminded me of why they were so integral to my life as a child. One of the things that comes through my blog as a recurring theme is the feeling of safety, the feeling of acceptance. What I realized this summer and as I have reflected into this fall is they made me feel valued and accepted when we visited and shared time as children. When I was around their family, even in spite of my mother, I felt safe. That was, and is, an important thing for all people. Those same feelings of love and acceptance were foundational to our summer visit. While we have not chatted as often as I wish in the midst of our busy fall schedules, a text, a quick phone call or sharing a Facebook post has established a continuing thread, reaffirming our life-long connection as family. It is ironic that for many years I have isolated from so many, and simultaneously remained involved with many others. Sometimes I created new families if you will.
New experiences create new memories, new opportunities, and ultimately help us continue to grow regardless our age. I have outlived 4 siblings, and I was neither the eldest or youngest of them. I have been blessed to have people pass into my life from around the world. I have been fortunate to travel and experience more than I could have ever anticipated. I am not sure how all of that came to pass, but again I return to the concept of place and the rhetoric of place. My first real journey was to move to a new family as an adopted 4 year old. Perhaps it was that very move and it’s consequence that provided a foundation of needing to explore and experience. Certainly that nascent foundation was solidified when I was given an opportunity to travel to Europe with the late Dr. John W. Nielsen. Additionally, my desire to understand humanity as simply that – other humans, instilled a desire to learn, experience, and grow from that leaning, that experiencing. There is so much more to life if we merely give it a chance. It took six months for me to finish this. Since then I was back on the very porch I began this blog, back in Newton, IA where Lee and Judy still greet me with open arms. They are as much family to me as anyone. An older brother and sister of sorts, they have been a blessing for four decades plus. The journey continues, and the blessings seem infinite. As another year concludes, one can only imagine what comes next.
Thank you for reading.