Hello from an afternoon of dog-sitting,
Perhaps I could just watch television, perhaps I could simply manage a rainy afternoon with a nap, but I promised to help my friends as they are at an appointment. Therefore I am dog-sitting a particular canine who adores me (for no particularly good reason) so the task at hand is pretty simple. Over the past year as I have contemplated retirement, relocation, and simplification of life in general, I have found myself pondering the various periods of my life. The reflection is perhaps normal as one realizes a particularly long, a particularly significant, and an identity-creating part of one’s life is about to end. As I have noted in other posts, if having a plan in life is necessary for success, I have been an abysmal failure. That is not to say I have not succeeded in life in a number of ways, but much of my life has been more responding to a situation versus planning that situation or circumstance in advance. Perhaps my good friend, colleague, and writing partner has more accuracy to her evaluation of me than I wanted to give credit. I can plan for the day or two in advance, but making a plan for where and why or how my life will go has never been a strong suit of how I have existed.
Certainly, learning to manage the immediate week, semester, or academic year, is a different thing, but that a was a necessity to survival. Managing even the month in my personal life has not always been something I have done well. That is a rather harsh sentence to write about myself, but transparency is generally a good thing. I am a rather amazing walking oxymoron because I am pretty organized and meticulous about things, so one would believe that would flow over into my having a long-term plan of what I hoped to do with my life, what I would do in terms of a profession, and also to some degree what I hoped my own life would do. Pondering or reflecting, it seems nothing could be farther from the truth. Growing up, I had no idea I would go do college (it was not expected as it is today), I had no idea, even as a first semester senior in high school, I would enlist in the Marine Corps. College seemed more reasonable after the service, but even then I failed miserably in my first attempt to be a scholar. My joining a LYE team was done on a lark and it happened. It was the traveling with John, Ruth, Gloria, and Susan that would be the impetus for finding Dana College, but it was the students at Dana that made it a place to return. The picture here is my picture from boot camp. What a young boy I was.
Dana would be a life changer for me. The classes, the fellow classmates, and the travel with both the choir and Dr. Nielsen the would finally help a much more timid than people realized, much more frightened than I could articulate, and much more confused than perhaps I even knew myself, person begin to understand something about himself and the world. A foray into the honors program at Iowa, and time to disappear and figure out more about myself would send me back to Dana, believing that I could be a parish pastor. The letter from a former pastor and father figure had more to do with that path then I might have had myself. Along the way I ended up dating, engaged, and eventually married, and even now as I look back, perhaps I am guilty of never realizing what I was doing. To this very day, I struggle to realize what happened in all of that. Eventually being a pastor and eventually a campus pastor and instructor at a Lutheran Junior College would do something I found amazing and unexpected. My life would take another turn as I found my way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Running afoul with a synod bishop, and at least some of it my own doing, would push me to yet another opportunity and turn in my life.
Becoming a student yet again at Michigan Technological University took me on a path that more than one person has told me where I should be, but nothing I could have imagined for myself (Ironic that the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is on as it is about Gitche Gumee and is also something I currently use in my Technical Writing course). However, working through a second Masters and entering a PhD program was something that did more to create an identity for a person in his 30s still searching than I would realize. During my time in Michigan, I would leave the clergy roster, I would go through two marriages, I would experience the death of my father, I would finally fall in love with someone, but not manage it well, and eventually in spite of continued health issues that created more surgeries than I have fingers, I would graduate and find myself in Wisconsin. My decade of the 40s was turbulent, trying, tragic, troublesome, and necessary. Would I want to do it again? Most definitely not, but it did more to help me become a better person than perhaps any time in my life. I must admit the trauma of that decade followed me to Wisconsin, but fortunately, there were important people in that Western Wisconsin town, who did more to help me yet again. From a neighbor (on both sides of me) to a colleague and co-board member of a Co-op, from two particular colleagues, and one who is still a colleague, and perhaps a person who started at the same time I did at UW-Stout, but I did not meet until my last year in Menomonie. The continued relationships with these five people have done more to keep me connected to my growth as a professor as anyone. Then there is Lydia and Dan, both of whom have passed, but there are no words profound enough to explain the gift they were (and are) in my life.
It is in reflecting on various people that you can come to understand their significance, not only in your life, but that is how they are with so many. Reflecting on both the peaks and valleys it is quite astounding to realize that the most important growth came from the valleys. It is also interesting to realize that many of the valleys were the consequence of a similar issue. What issue, you ask? When I have been mistreated, seemed to be the object of someone’s abusive nature, or someone misutilized. These are my rhetorically kind ways of stating actions or attitudes that profoundly affect me. What is important it the connecting thread that seems to connect these various moments. Another important question is what is my role in these situations? What is it in my personality or actions that allow myself to be in such a situation? Likewise, what part of it is just life, and therefore it is my response more than what has happened? Simply put, might I find a different way to react? What happens when I feel discounted, mistreated, or unvalued? It reminds me of a childhood where I was told I did not deserve to be in a house, where I was told I would not amount to anything. It was not merely that I knew that was untrue or inaccurate, but it cut me to the very core of my existence and that hurt was profound. Profound to the degree that I have never totally managed to overcome it. That is what my pondering tells me. That is what my heart feels. What I need to learn is sometimes the disrespect, the seeming lack of care, the disregard is not what might be intended. Sometimes it is because the person who creates the injury is unaware of the way their actions affect me, and most times they are certainly not aware of the degree their actions affect others. I have had to come to terms with that over the last months and I have been reminded again how fragile I might be. That is not the others fault, that is my own weakness.
Weakness is a part of our human reality, but I detest it. I know that might not seem very logical or reasonable, especially for someone who prides themselves on their logical ability. Yet, not being able to meet any challenge, personally or professionally is hard for me to accept, and even harder to let go of. I do not like limits, and yet, I am not a person who really pushes boundaries, at least not boundaries that might have extreme consequence. Perhaps some of that is age, but I have never been one to run up to the ledge and ponder the idea of jumping. That began early as a shy, undersized, and somewhat clueless young person. . . . A few days (Memorial Day weekend) have passed and it is Tuesday, May 31st. I graduated from high school 49 years ago today. A young 17 and still growing into my oversized ears, against my father’s better judgment was was waiting to enter the Marine Corps. It would be less than a month before I would be standing on the infamous yellow footsteps wondering what I had done. This would be my first pushing the boundaries and it was a serious push. As I have admitted more than once, the first couple nights I put my head under my pillow and I cried. To this day I remember the shock of those processing days into the Marines and the eventual pride of graduating from boot camp. I came home about three months later 3 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. However, the change inside was even more profound. To this day I am grateful for the discipline and the worldly-growth my enlistment in the Marine Corps instilled in me.
I still believe two years of some sort of growing time before college would do wonders for our country. It would not need to be a military service, but after completing a two-year requirement, you would receive two years of community college or technical college for free, but you would be required to maintain a 2.5 grade point to continue. Then if you wanted to continue, you would go to college for a 4 year Masters degree. Those who completed a technical degree are job ready and 22 or 23. There would be no school debt for them. Those who continue for a Master’s after an Associate’s would have their General Education completed and would focus on upper level classes and initial graduate classes and enter the work force at 27 a bit more seasoned, a bit more mature, and a bit more capable. Welcome to the things that take up space in my head from time to time. This particular one has been rolling around for a while. So as I move beyond and realize that 49 years of experiences and growth have occurred since I was a young high school graduate, it is hard to see where and how all of that has occurred, but most importantly, I am still here. That is not something I take for granted. It is something that causes me pause and requires me to ponder what it is I need to do yet. Perhaps, need is not the correct word, but what might I do yet. What sort of things might make a difference in the lives of others? What does the gift of another day offer and how best might I use the possibility? There are so many reasons to give thanks, but also to ponder the possibilities that are still offered. I remember my father once nothing that he would not merely sit when he retired, and he certainly didn’t. He was always busy and he was always trying to make a difference. I guess he taught me well. For those who remember lost service men and women, I wish you comfort in knowing their sacrifices have made a difference. For those who are reminded of veterans from any conflict, I wish you good memories of those. They made a difference in our world. I must admit I have helped Tom Cruise add to his sizeable haul for Top Gun: Maverick since it released. This video is the theme song written and performed by Lady Gaga. The movie is worth your time.
Thanks as always for reading.