Pondering the Reasons

Marine Corps Boot Camp

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.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

11 thoughts on “Pondering the Reasons

  1. It really seems here that you truly question your life decisions and what they came to be. I frankly do the same thing constantly and question myself, “is this what I truly want.” I wonder what choices would I have made if I didn’t ask myself that question repeatedly. But if all I did was ponder about the amped thoughts that go through my head I would drive myself insane, and not be prepared about the future I think my life would be in total shambles.
    I am a kid who always needs a plan to go by, even if the plan doesn’t go the way I intended, then I come up with the stipulations to fulfill the goal I had set. I only been alive a short two decades now, and frankly for the past ten years I have conjure plan A-Z to make sure I still get to my goal. I have rarely got deviated from my goals because I got B-Z yet. It is the only way I know my brain is able to compute all this and not make it cluttered in my head. On the other hand my aunt who is a big part of my life is the exact opposite. She doesn’t have that same need of compulsive planning. She is pretty much a free spirit that will just go with whatever life gives her. It just couldn’t be me.

  2. I have to disagree with your main point that having a plan for your life equates to one’s success. As detailed in your post, many things one does not expect can happen throughout their life. Having a plan for every aspect of one’s life is unreasonable. Due to this, I believe the definition of success can be interpreted instead as the ways a person responds to the situations they are in. Life is full of unexpected events, and a person will grow from each of them. If a person is content with where they are in life, it is safe to say they have succeeded.

  3. In most any scenario, thinking about how things came to be is interesting, and how people develop psychoogically is no different. That was something I woud think about often when watching “Criminal Minds” on TV. Over the course of an episode there’s usually a new unidentified subject that they then try to figure out the psychological process of the person. I find that the show stresses how people are a product of their upbringing and those who surround them, just like you’re saying about yourself.

  4. Reading this makes me think back on my life and even just my time in college has changed me. Being in college for now five and a half years, I have changed more than i could have known. College and learning usually go hand in hand, but sometimes college teaches you things way more important. How to take care of yourself, what it feels like to fail, and how to ask for help. I think that was the biggest lesson I learned, how to get back up arfter I failed. Failure is inevitable and that is ok, what is important is how you get back up. Will you accept the failure or will you look for resources and help to get back up. Throught this, it has made me a stronger and more independent woman. I feel like this has most prepared me for the real world. Kids my age are not used to confrontation or rejection so when it happens we are not prepared. This is my greatest lesson learned and I’m proud to say I never gave up.
    As I read more I see have plenty more to learn in my many more years. Im very excited to go through the adventure that is called life and one day I too, can look back and reflect on all the things I’ve learned and done.

  5. Hey Dr. Martin,

    Let me get the formalities out of the way and answer the questions of purpose and audience. While you maintain a particular style that conveys slight professionalism, the contents of this blog post are simply to speak your mind. This speaking isn’t for anyone to listen to – instead, you are just voicing your inner thoughts for the world to hear. This blog post aims to convey your ideas about human weaknesses, your own weaknesses, and the purpose of life. Of course, your audience is for general readers; while it’s true that you name-drop a few people, I still am not convinced that this was written for anyone in particular.

    While planning ahead may be essential for some, the skill can be detrimental when misused. I commonly see a vital skill lacking from those who plan every little detail of their life. That skill is simply living – the ability to blindly go into the day and naturally react to whatever life throws at you. These people that I mentioned can experience extreme stress when they encounter the unexpected oddities of life. But that’s just it – we can never predict life, so events outside our control will always happen. This phenomenon irks these people to no end.

    It seems that you don’t appreciate your ability to live life and roll with the oddities of this world. Sure, being organized and plan-heavy is good to have; however, I hope you can be grateful for your ability to live life as it comes. Of course, this “rolling with life’s punches” skill can be difficult when your own weakness comes into play. However, I must disagree with your view on weakness. I value my weaknesses because they easily show me where I can improve. A weakness is seldom permanent, so working towards improvement is incredible (even though it can annoy me from time to time). Regardless, there is no feeling in this world that can replace the feeling of overcoming weakness through effort – but that’s just me.

  6. Hello Dr.Martin,
    after reading this post the last part really stuck with me. As someone who didn’t know what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go, I also believe having a year or two after high school to figure life out would be very beneficial. I was told I had to go to college and spent two and a half years (and $150,000 in student loans ) to figure out what I actually wanted to have a career in. College is much too expensive to be pressuring 18 years old into figuring out what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I may have gone off-topic a little, but I really enjoyed this post.

  7. I think this blog would resonate adequately with people who might have dealt with having no plans for their future, the ones who still don’t have a plan and the ones who beat that obstacle. The purpose of this blog was to express the writer’s feelings at that time.

    I once had that same obstacle of “what next” or “how do I go about this” mindset, it’s never an obstacle people look forward to (no pun intended) it takes unnecessary time and might sometimes lead to depression, during those seasons I learned how to live in the moment though and worry about the now, I found myself being more productive that way

  8. I have always been one of those people who needs to have a plan set in stone, or else I am filled with so much anxiety. However, that doesn’t always work out. Since sophomore year of high school, I knew what that I wanted to go to college, major in accounting, and after graduating, obtain my CPA license, but for some reason as soon as I began applying to colleges, a criminal justice major suddenly seemed more interesting. Boy, was I wrong. I then switched back to my original plan and chose accounting, hated it. So I switched once again to statistics and I even still have doubts about this major and that worries me greatly. But what I have realized through all of these sudden changes, is that I have my whole life ahead of me to make the decisions that frighten me now as a 21 year old. I’ve learned not to stress about things that are years down the road, and sometimes it is very difficult, but I’m trying and that’s all that matters.

  9. I originally read this post because it was posted on the same day as my birthday, however I think reading this is exactly the thing I needed to hear. Being such a young 20 year old, life seems so far away and yet also feels like each day is passing quicker then the last. You have lived such a full and long life. I hope to make it to 49 years past graduating high school too. I feel as if I wasted the first two years I had right out of high school but reading about what you did it makes me not regret the time I spent at home with family quite so much. I do not yet know how I will make my life so meaningful but I really hope to live up to the dreams I have set for myself. It seems as if even though many things tried to get you down you just kept going forward and I hope to follow in your footsteps. Life feels so long, as the days go by and the people around you grow, it feels like it will just never stop but someday it will. Reading your words has made me realize that as worried as I am for the future, no matter what it will come and I can not control when, I just need to plan to make it good.

  10. 9 am on a rainy Wednesday morning reading back over this piece after having read it last night, my brain is still scrambling to organize thoughts on it. I will say, this post gives more background on who you are than you share in class (or so it seems). Reading this post was like hearing a narrative and knowing your thoughts, which was very interesting. I know in a prior post you mentioned you have never been one to talk super extensively or openly about your faith (unless asked, maybe) and I would challenge you to change that because if your God is my God then you would want to speak of His mercy and grace every chance you get. In your writing, you often make statements that, unless someone had faith in a higher being, could not be made by mortal man and I think that it’d be instructive and helpful if you dove into those statements and how/ why they are able to be made.
    Anyway, to the post at hand, I love your open struggle with weakness and acknowledging your own tendency to fail, whether it be with boundaries or other things. What I appreciate even more is how the pushing of boundaries in your life led to inner growth.

  11. Dr. Martin,

    As a current senior in high school, I was given the opportunity to take classes with Early College Experience at BU. I figured this would be a great way to experiment with what exactly I wanted to do after I graduate. The statement “Having a plan in life is necessary for success.” is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Being a senior, I’m often asked what I want to go to college for, and I’m unsure how to answer that question, because I don’t know. I’ve very frequently felt pressured to just choose a career path so when people ask I have an answer to give them. However, I do think I’m figuring it out and taking classes at BU is giving me a sense of where I want my life to end up.

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