Hello from a Starbucks in Iowa,
It is probably not surprising to those who know me, I am in a Starbucks. However, it might be a bit unpredicted that I am currently in an Iowa location. My spring break has been a planned process with unexpected elements. The decision to have some surgery to repair the long-term consequence of a motorcycle accident has been in process for a few years. The reality of having it happen back in Iowa was not initially anything imagined. That is its own story. The plan to return to Iowa for the procedure was the result of a chance meeting and eventual relocation of an incredible surgeon. Making it work logistically was helped by the kindness of family. As the week is coming to an end, I am returning to the care of my wonderful niece and her husband. Since Monday’s surgery, I have been in the care of my wonderful cousin and her husband. This morning’s follow up appointment in the Great Lakes of Iowa went well, and it will take some time for everything to get to its new normal, but all in all, I believe the process was successful.
The week in Iowa, in spite of medical issues or an unexpected car issues (and numerous friends and colleagues believe Bruce is cursed), was rejuvenating in a myriad of ways. As I walked the gravel roads of Palo Alto County, Iowa, as I looked at the fallow fields of late winter, as I listened to horses, smelled the hog containment buildings, or let the chickens out of their house, my days of childhood and spending time on my great-aunt’s and great-uncle’s farm came back to my consciousness. Between vision, sound, smell, and emotion, I was home. In spite of my struggles with Iowa politics, and it is true outside of maybe Story and certainly Johnson Counties, my politics are in the minority of that rural crossroads between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. One day I managed to walk about 7-8 miles, making a large square around the sections of incredibly black soil waiting to be planted for yet another year of agricultural miracles. Growing up, I walked beans, worked wheat harvest a summer (albeit in Southwest Kansas), spent time on those farms where I learned the complexity of being “a farmer.” It is beyond mind boggling the number of things you need to know, and know well, to make a farm work. It is so far beyond being the “jack-of-all-trades.” When I think about the farm of my best friend’s father, which was 160 acres or so, and where I did much of the work I did, when I consider the signifiant acreage of my South Dakota relatives (2,500 acres), the understanding of weather, dirt, seed, wind, fertilizers (or not), water are just the beginning. Mechanical things, animal husbandry, cross fertilization of plants, botany, agronomy, and the list could go on. I am humbled by the people and the abilities I grew up with. In fact, it somewhat embarrasses me how little I understood about their brilliance. During this past year, reconnecting with my family, I am in awe of how many incredible people there were (and are). I merely saw them as an an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a grandparent. There was (and is) so much more to them.
My cousin, Sharon, is an incredible artist and painter. Her brothers are brilliant and capable in their own right. I am always amazed how the same genetics can act so differently or have such diverse talent. My father was in charge of 250 electricians for a number of years as a general foreman, not a responsibility conferred on someone incapable. The infamous sisters-six: each were or are profoundly talented on their own. But what I see now as I watch and listen is how incredibly good they are, how amazing they are as people. Those are the things that humble me and cause me to realize how blessed I am to be part of this extended family. As important is the relationship I have with my brother’s children. As noted in the last blog post, it is going on a half a century since he left this world. That is also incomprehensible to me. While my relationship with his three children is individual to each of them, and also to those important additional children his wife would later mother, to see how they have grown, observe and understand the people they have become is a gift that is difficult to quantify. To see the growth and maturity into adulthood of their children’s children is something to behold. The youngest is coming into his own; he is personable and quite capable of a number of things. His sister is beginning Chiropractic School and is brilliant and charming; their mother continues to amaze me both personally and professionally, and their father is brilliant about all things mechanical. There is so much ability, intelligence and goodness in this group of people I call family. This is a wonderful place for me to be at this point in my life. Why might I believe this? The answer to that question is difficult. And it is because I am pondering so much beyond.
Over the past few weeks I have struggled with those times, times often significant in trajectory, or times with specific people who mattered to me, but somehow I fell short of expectations. Those could be either the expectations I had or those others had of me. There is so much I wish I had done better, managed better, understood better. Failure is part of life . . . Indeed, I am painfully aware of the cliché nature of that statement, but I am also painfully aware of the reality of it ~ and I hate it. In fact, I detest it with every cell in my body. There is so much more I want to accomplish; there is so much more I wish I managed differently. What are some of those things. Being a better pastor, being a better husband, being a better friend, being a better professor, being a more successful person at a point earlier in my life. Even now I wish I could do so much more. It would be easy to see myself as more of a failure than a success, and yet, in spite of this paragraph, I know I have many things to feel blessed for. Opportunities, experiences, people, chances, if I consider any of these categories, I cannot help but feel blessed, so why am I struggling to feel good about where things are. There are so many people literally around the world for whom I am grateful. Today, as I sit in the corner of a coffee shop (nothing new there), I have my ear buds in (not my pods), and I am listening to my mix on YouTube as I work. It consists of a number of early Heart and early Kansas videos. Those two groups are probably more nostalgic than any others. The Heart concert in Sioux Falls, SD, with a stop at my Aunt’s and Uncle’s farm on the way north will forever hold a special place in my heart. I was sitting with someone I loved before I understood what that really meant. It was the first person I loved as an adult, and yet, I was such a child. Kansas, and the complexity of their music, the ability of Robbie Steinhart with his violin, and the message of their music would carry me through my 20s. Heart and Kansas concerts from Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, and yes, even Kansas. It might be strange, but music (and their music) did more for me emotionally than I realized. Music in that mix now include more Glee tunes than I should probably admit, but the use of this culturally changing show in my Freshman Writing classes has changed me. It is fair to ask why? And again the answer is complex, but I have some sense. First, high school was a difficult time for this undersized, unimpressive, person who had little idea of who he was or where he was going. So on one level, I related to their struggles even a half a half century later. Second, there is an honesty in the show. Having researched how they managed the arrangements and selecting the music were amazing. The show and the work to make this group important was something that gave me hope. For instance, as I listen to the Glee rendition of “To Sir With Love,” I am reminded of going to the drive-in and seeing Sidney Poitier as sir in the original. When I listen to Chris Colfer as Kurt sing “I wanna hold your hand,” walking to the cemetery or as his father was in the hospital again, I remember the struggle and fear when I saw my own father in the hospital having suffered a heart attack when I was 16 years old. I am reminded that in a couple of weeks I lost my only complete relative fourteen years ago to the same event. The other prominent group in the YouTube mix is Celtic Woman. Their music, their beauty, their incredible musical ability stuns me every time I listen to them. While the original members hold a special place in my heart, even the latest rendition with some very different members brings a hopeful gift to me. Perhaps some of it is heritage, but as much it is the person I am today. The Harley-riding, classical-music-listening, classic-rock-loving, interior-designing, food-and-beverage-obsessed, flower-and-yard-focused, traveling-bug, language-learning, grammar-focused, retirement-aged, extroverted-reclusive man might be a start in describing me. I think the blessing of my life is that I can never stop wishing to learn more. I think the curse of my life is I cannot stop wanting to learn more. The image above were about two of those times where I was doing some significant learning.
So I sit here, as I often do in these moments, writing to make sense of the illogical, of the confusing, of the incongruent . . . of the person I am. Sometimes I wonder if I am simply on a journey like anyone else, but perhaps I question it differently. Sometimes I wonder what it all means as well as why it has happened as it has. Perhaps it is the solitude that I desire and push away. Is it I am merely incapable of being satisfied with it all? These are important questions. Is it because of my age? Sometimes I think that is the case, but then again, this is not a new phenomenon in my life. I have always been a questioner. Sometimes it is about events; sometimes it is about people; sometimes it is about something larger, some might refer to it as a God question. Why is it I have this insatiable need to have answers? For instance, what does it take to do one’s best? What does that mean, and who decides? What does it take to become the best version of one’s self. I wish I had that figured out. Ironically, as I am listening to the music, the lyrics say, “[I’ve] got nothin’ figured out . . . saw me start to believe for the first time . . . the best thing that’s ever been mine . . . ” What is mine? What do I have?
Certainly there are things, stuff, there is money, but what does all of that do? As I think about the world, as I consider the students I know in Ukraine, in Russia, in Poland, there is stability in being here, but then again, I read, I ponder, and I see the people elected who supposedly sit in Washington to serve us, and I wonder if there is stability anywhere. That is a blog for another time. And there is my feeling like I am swirling around wondering where it all goes. What I do know is this . . . I am blessed by family. I am blessed by amazing others in my life, some whom I have known for 2/3 thirds of it. I am blessed by the opportunity to travel and meet incredible individuals. I have a wonderful job where I have the chance to interact with young people who are working to figure it out just as I am. I have been blessed by a wonderful housemate this year and her parents as well as an interrupted stay of another. At this point, I guess it is about hoping the best I have is good enough. I wish I could only feel more certain. It seems appropriate that an original piece for Glee might fit here.
As always, thanks for reading,