Hello on a Winter’s Evening,
It has been Estonian chilly out, and as I write this most of the Eastern seaboard is getting pounded by a nor’ easter. We have a flurry or two, a biting wind, and some iciness, but for the most part, we escaped this round. Of course, for what will be the third weekend in a row, next weekend seems to be another possible storm. Since our somewhat I’ll-fated, but adventurous Christmas trip, it felt like I was back in the Upper Peninsula at times. I love freshly fallen snow before humans mess it up. I love a beautiful, scenic, postcard-like view of trees draped in snow, muffler-like against the winter elements. I remember driving the two-lanes highways in the Keweenaw on early Sunday mornings as I headed to a rural parish to serve as their Sunday morning pastor. The beauty of the day often masked the clear and present danger of sliding off the road. In fact, one particularly beautiful, but snowy morning I did slide off the road in my Toyota 4-Runner. The 4-Runner was buried in snow 1/2 way up the doors. Someone stopped and took me to church. As I got out of the last church service my vehicle was there; it had been pulled out by an 18 wheeler. Amazing, and there was no damage. I have never really worried about driving winter roads, but our recent trip might have instilled a bit more cautiousness.
The phrase “clear and present” implies a number of things depending on circumstances. I remember the phrase all the way back to my time in the Marine Corps. I remember doing simulations in Field Radio Operator’s school where we were in foxholes calling in fire-strikes. I remember working on what were called hip shoots with 105 and 155 howitzers. I remember sitting in an embassy compound. While we were not always sure exactly from where the problem might come, we did realize the constant possibility of the danger. Indeed there was some clarity about our present situation. Certainly, there were variables, but my training and the world (even in the chaos of Saigon) seemed predictable. Predictability is fundamental to feeling safe or comfortable. I actually addressed that struggle in a recent blog. The clear and present of anything seems oxymoronic in our current world.
It seems the last five years have taken away any reasonable chance of predictability. And before you believe I want to blame it all on 45, I do not. What I do believe is 45 capitalized on the unpredictable atmosphere of our country. What I feel with every ounce of my being is former President Trump is a genius in using people’s fear to generate anger. However, what is more important to understand is from where does our societal fear come? What has created that sense of trepidation among us? This is a difficult question, and one where I am unsure if the answer is profoundly complex or unexpectedly simple. For the sake of the blog, I will go down the simple route. Yet, let me offer a disclaimer: simple is not synonymous to easy. The answer might be simple, but the effort needed to accomplish the task is extreme; it is life altering; it is continuous. I believe much of our fear comes from selfishness. One of the first things we are instructed about as small children is to be polite and share. It is not always something that comes easily, or perhaps naturally, but it is learnable, manageable. While it is perhaps more than the Golden Rule, that is a good place from which to begin. It is the embodiment of be gentle, and be kind. Gentleness is not weakness; and kindness is not naïveté. In fact, an argument can be made that both attributes require incredible resolve and strength. Too often we choose the easier path of becoming angry. Earlier in my life, when pushed too far or hurt, I became angry. Looking back, the times I lost the most or caused myself the most grief were when I did not control my anger. Clearly, and in that particular moment, my inability to be gentle or kind created hurt both for the other and myself.
Over the last week I looked forward to getting the car returned (it is still in Nevada) from an ill-fated problem with a cabled-tire (used to manage ice and snow). As of the moment, a second attempt to get the car back to Bloomsburg has hit a snag, so it’s on to Plan C. What is that plan? Presently, I have no idea. It is 12:45 a.m. and I am waiting for a phone call. I have a couple logistic issues to clarify, and then a couple possibilities to chase down in the morning. Clearly, and presently, I am scrambling to figure it out. Who could have predicted such a snowstorm of unexpected events? Those acquainted with the saga will understand the pun in this account of “the adventure of Bruce.” Only heaven knows what will happen next. It has been a significant reminder of how little control we have of external factors, even when we plan well. And then there is perception . . . Most of my adult life, I have said, “Perception is reality until proven otherwise.” One of the things perhaps most significant is the love and care I have observed between a parent and their children. It was a remarkable thing as I listened and then experienced that concern over the last week plus, and then just how much over the last 36 hours or so. It is really heart-moving. Those times show me what I might have missed in my life where I have never been a parent.
This week at school, as we are back in person, meeting students in various modes is always like starting from scratch. Every semester is a new experience; every class has its own personality, regardless of whether it is a traditional face-2-face course or remote; regardless of whether it has a number of students previously in another class or two or not. It has been a busy week and then, unexpectedly, YFU, the sponsoring agency for Georg, decided because of my rule violations (my decision to get him home quicker, safer than my trying to travel across the continent again, and on time for school, albeit with his parents’ knowledge and support) have removed Georg from my home for the remainder of the year. A new host is being sought. There have been tears on both sides of the Atlantic, messages and emails to and from, but the State Department has rules. The consequence of what it does to Georg (as he is safe, sound, and was content) is irrelevant. Platitudes of we realize this is hard on him, but . . . They are only worried about their reputation and accreditation. I guess I can understand that, but I certainly do not appreciate it. Individually, I have been discarded like a leper with COVID. People who a week ago still were inquiring if I would host again (which was three weeks after I was severely admonished, but told just behave going forward) push their collective action on higher ups, and spout the corporate mantra. Again, not a surprise. The fact they were not on the same page, or their communication either by phone or web is inconsistent, while also not surprising is swept aside, all in the cover of compliance. I have had to work with alternate possibilities to get things posted or communicated even back with Anton. I understand the idea of clear and present here also. There should have been better clarity on my part as the circumstances in California were changing hourly, but trying to call every few hours during a holiday week seemed to be a bit unwieldy and even more so problematic. It is also clear in the present moment, YFU does not care about the situation on the ground, they care only about their rules and reputation. Yet, even now, I can even find some empathy for them in that response. I might have to dig a bit, but I am able to do so. Additionally, it makes it possible for those delivering the message the opportunity to not really be involved with the individual student or host. The infamous don’t kill the messenger syndrome is alive and well. Just follow rules. It is not about people, it is about compliance. What that does, however, is make their entire idea of working toward understanding a sham. Am I frustrated and angry? Of course, there was no additional communication or questions after they told me just do not do it again. The next communique 30 days after was “we are removing him.” I am angry because of what it does to Georg. They have made a choice that hurts someone I love. I am frustrated and angry because I feel betrayed and lied to. The YFU representative hid behind the decision was made above their pay grade. Incredible, that it matters not what I have done up to now which would be seen as stellar – which is what I have been told. Amazing, that what I was assured of going forward was garbage. And as is often the case, “but I didn’t do it” was the blanket response, from here in Bloomsburg on up. So now what?
Georg will be moved temporarily to the place this entire difficulty began until there is a permanent family. Perhaps a phone call to speak with us before escalation might have been a reasonable thing. As I tell him, it is ultimately my fault because I did not make phone calls. How ironic- a person with a penchant for rules called others before calling me . . . that started the ball rolling. And now in the present, we clearly have a new circumstance. Georg will be in a new home, but fortunately on campus everyday. He will be incredibly busy with the play and other things until the middle of May. In the meanwhile, I will do my best to let him know he is just as important to me. I will be available as appropriate, but as I told him, he will need to be as wonderful in his new host home as he was in mine, a home which is now ours. Tonight our little family chatted, perhaps for the last time in the upstairs where we have watched movies, one of Georg’s favorite things. Tonight we watched Dead Poets Society. How apropos to illustrate that conformity does not serve everyone equally. Perhaps being taught how to think rather than told what to think might still be preferable. Seems that might have been useful in the present. Life is about choices and obviously, in spite of best intentions, my choices created a profound consequence for a number of people, Georg, his family, Kelli, and for those with whom he will now live. In spite of the change, Georg, Kelli, and I have created an incredible little family. The bond will remain. Georg’s family will be my family also. We (his parents, sister, and I) actually spoke about that this morning. Sometimes lessons are difficult. Sometimes they are painful. And yet they can provide opportunities. I am not sure what is the most important lesson here, but I am sure some want to say “just follow the rules.” Generally, I try to do so, though sometimes with a bit of attitude. That has really been the norm. I am not one to purposely get in trouble. At the moment, my desire to be rhetorically astute is waning, and quickly. And yet, there is something more important. He is 6’3”. He loves OJ. He detests broccoli and Brussel Sprouts. He is an intelligent and reflective young man. He is a dancer, a soccer player, and a dog lover. And regardless the actions of an organization, he is my Estonian son.
Georg, you know how I feel. Please continue to be the amazing young man you are. I love you. To everyone else, thank you for reading.