A Mid-Summer’s Night in a Dream

Hello on an early Wednesday  morning,

It has been some time since I posted, and if you know me that means that I need to get some order to my life. It could also be that I am trying to do too much. Someone who has known me 2/3 of my life, albeit from a distance most of it, knows me when I was just home from the service. The four decades that have passed allowed for many changes, but a re-emergence provides an interesting view.  What  had happened is a certain level of honesty, revealing the frailties of  the other, that sort of fill in the picture in a more unfinished, but rarely truthful form. There is an interesting freedom in that because there seems little to lose and so much more to gain. It involves taking a chance. It requires a level of trust for me that is a bit uncommon, but still possible. And yes, the very fact it is possible is an important realization. It has been a good thing to share and listen to the other. It has been also positive to reconnect with someone who had such a profound influence on a young, naïve, and searching young man. Over the past month so much has happened. I was back in Menomonie for Dan’s celebration of life, and it was a celebration. His ability to teach us even to the last moment was so quintessentially him.

The time in Menomonie was good. The Lacksonens are such a gift to my life and their honesty, graciousness and care have had more influence on me than they probably know. It was also good to spend time with Amy, Charles, and Simon. They too are like a lost family that I never knew I had, but was fortunate enough to be allowed into their lives. I always marvel at the ways our paths had crossed, but we did not know each other. Again, it has allowed for a connection that is far beyond some superficial creation. I also got to spend time with a couple of other people who are so important to the memories I have of that Wisconsin town that did so much to change my life. I am still being affected by those changes. However, it reminds me clearly that there is so little over which we have control and there are always external factors that come into play when we least expect it. To spend time with Lydia’s doctor and to consider him much more than merely her physician is quite another unexpected and certainly undeserved gift. I did get most of what I needed to accomplish done and before I knew it I was back in PA, but it was already June. That month has flown by, but I have continued to have doctors’ appointment and work pretty intentionally at managing my health. During the first week of June I was able to get a number of other things accomplished and get some semblance of order to things. There have been home projects, some car issues, and then trying to get some writing done. I have made progress on all fronts. There have been more times than I could have realized that I seem to make a couple steps forward to only seem to fall back a step, but I seem to have lessened my propensity for doing that.

The second week of June I got some work done on my Fulbright application, but there is still work to do. That is going to have to happen this next week and it has to be a priority. During the third week of June, I managed to drive down to Cape Charles, VA and spend a few days at the shore. I am fortunate enough to have a colleague who has a house there and is gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to hang out. This time, there was also work involved as we are working on an article together (something that has been in the works for years), but we are almost there with a draft. That has been good. I have a second project just about done, but again discipline and getting it completed. It will not take that much time if I just focus. Then in the midst of all of this, there was the change to move to an office with a bigger window, so I took that task on also. I got the great majority of that accomplished in about 36 hours, but need to finish the rest this weekend. There are a couple of things on my plate yet this evening, and some of it has come a bit unexpectedly, but that is how life usually is. What I am realizing once again is how blessed I am to have the life I do. I have a wonderful job and an amazing department. There are certainly differing personalities and there are what I refer to as spirited discussions at meetings, but with minimal exception, we walk away from those differences and maintain an outstanding sense of camaraderie through it all. There are certainly moments that some make that difficult, but that is humanity at its finest (or something). It is interesting what social networking does, and certainly there is a lot out there written about all of this. For me, FB, Instagram, Twitter, and other things (but the three listed are what I  use most), keep me connected with both the past, but offer possibilities for the future. During the last year much has been written about how our political situation has caused a lot of disunity and there have been significant pieces written on how all of this has caused splits in families and such. One of the people I most appreciate let me know they had quit following me because of some of what I had posted. I guess if I think carefully and analytically, I should not be surprised because some of what I have posted has been a bit edgy.

Somehow another week has passed and I am not done with this posting and the Midsummer Night (or the summer solstice) has come and gone. Indeed, the days are already growing shorter. Not that I am quite aware of it. I am not sure if I notice that it is getting light later or it is getting dark sooner. I think it is the latter, but I still miss the summer nights in the Upper Peninsula. It is one of those important realizations again. Everywhere I have ever lived has given me something that has made me a better and more well-rounded person. There is no place that does not offer something of value. Too often we merely take that space (and the people) for granted or as just merely what is, but we miss out on so much by doing so. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I never expected that I would return to the state. I was a Midwestern boy. Now it is the state in which I have lived the longest since I was a child. I am beginning a 9th year at Bloomsburg and it is the longest I have been at one job also. I have certainly been the itinerant, but somehow this place changed that. I must give my friends the Deckers a great deal of credit for that. They made me feel welcome and made me family from the beginning. I have watched them change so much since I came to Bloomsburg. Second, I am grateful to that Friday Afternoon Club as I call them. I was introduced to a group of colleagues with whom I am still connected. In fact, I was with some of them last evening. While there has been some metamorphosis in the group, that is normal and people come and go. I think that is the most fundamental truth in our lives. People move in and out of our lives, and sometimes that change is needed; even when it is a painful change. One of my frailties is I try to hold on to everyone, and through that I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. Even when I have let someone or something go, I always feel the loss. While I am not trying to list everyone or everywhere that has significance, certainly my educational experiences have been important. All of them. There are people from each place, but it is somewhat ironic to me that this is the place I probably have less connection than many other parts of my life. I need to ponder that more, but not at this moment. The role of my Dominican family cannot be understated either. It is amazing that it was 4 years ago yesterday that Jordan showed up in my class that first day. Little did I know what that would begin. I can certainly write an entire blog about the 5 of them and how much they have changed my life. Their willingness to make me part of their family is another gift. There is my first host family when I was a 23 year old traveling on an LYE team. They are still in my life and have become more important to me than I could have ever hoped or realized.

If I can single out one person who has most influenced me as I ponder, it would be my undergraduate advisor, Dr. John W. Nielsen, who recently turned 92 years old. He took me to Europe as a sophomore in college. I had not an inkling how much that 30+ days would fundamentally change my perception of the world and of what it meant to be educated and learn. He is the one who taught be to actually learn. Up until them, I did what all too many do . . . . memorize/regurgitate, and I could do it well when I put my mind to it, but there is so much more to becoming an educated person. I hope I can somehow emulate for my students what he did for me. His inquisitive mind, his keen ability to make you want to learn, his willingness to share his experiences, and his desire to do what he did because it was the right thing to do set a standard that few are able to match, and perhaps even fewer would understand. Things he taught me as both a Humanities major and as a student/citizen have shaped much of what I believe should happen even now whether I be in a typical classroom, online in the classroom, or in Poland (and other places in Europe). I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit with him a little over a year ago and his mind was as sharp as ever. It was an outstanding opportunity to be in his presence once again. I have received notes from past students and it is both gratifying and humbling when they offer some praise for whatever occurred in the class they attended. It is for me another type of calling, not all that different from that ordination that occurred almost 30 years ago. Where does all that time go?

There is a lot more I could write, but I think I would feel like I am babbling . . .  what I am noting is that much like Puck in Shakespeare’s amazing play, sometimes we are visited by things and I share Neil’s recitation from A  Midsummer Night’s Dream scene in Dead Poets Society. I offer these words:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Sometimes we need to return to our beginnings. Sometimes it is when people from our beginnings come back into our life that we realize how it fits together. I leave you with one of my favorite songs by the great lyricist and musician, Kenny Loggins . . .  indeed, it is hard to explain how some things follow us throughout all our lives.

 

 

Good afternoon to you all and thank you for reading. I am blessed by the part each of you have played in my life. Bless you.

 

Michael

Never Stopping . . . Or the Energizer Bunny Rides Again

Good early morning,

Going to bed at 8 o’clock last evening has had a consequence. It is 1:20 in the morning, and I was wide-awake as I can be. I had planned on a two hour nap, but somehow I slept almost four.  So since waking up an hour and a half ago, I completed some other work for our little travel company, because I do not feel I am wide awake enough to grade, I will/dictate//write another blog to do what generally do when I blog, clear my head and make sense of my world, if there is any making sense of this world at the moment.  I must admit it is hard to believe that I am finishing my eighth year here at Bloomsburg University. So much has changed since I first came out here that first May 8 years ago after having been hired and in a tenure-track position. I set up a bank account; I got an apartment; and I began to realize the change this would create not only for me, but for Lydia. Well I was quite sure I could manage the change for myself,  helping her manage the change was going to be something quite different. And quite honestly that scared me. As I finished my last semester at Stout, there was a sense of relief,  and a sense of excitement for what was yet to come for me professionally. There was certainly a sense of sadness and that I would be moving from the little carriage house and from the circle, from the Lacksonens become so important to me. There was a tremendous sense of guilt and trepidation that I was leaving Lydia behind. I also struggled with leaving Erica and knowing and how we supported each other and her life would be much tougher when she had to deal with Lydia on a daily basis. To be honest with you Lydia was not always the kindest, particularly when it came to females. To this day I am grateful to Nathan and his helping my move and beyond.

In the eight years that I’ve been in Bloomsburg, the changes have been monumental; they have been profound. I reconnected with the Deckers.  I know them so much better than when I was in Wisconsin, but  I think they would say the same. I watch Grace go from beginning middle school to being ready to enter college. Mary from elementary school to high school.  Max from starting school to middle school.. Caroline took her first steps when I was here that first May, and Rosie did not exist. Through it all somehow neither Mark or Gayle seem to age.  I am the other hand have aged significantly. How is that? How was it for two people they seem to age more gracefully than any other couple I’ve ever known. And while people still tell me I don’t look my age and that for all the trouble I’ve had with my health I look quite good,  I know I look significantly older and sometimes I feel even older than that. While the work here has been wonderful, and the position in the department rewarding,  there’s always more to do, but barely enough time. I’ll get back to that in a minute. The most profound change my life has been the loss of an entire handful of people. Certainly the most significant change was Lydia. I remember how difficult it was the first day Nathan and I moved her into the memory care unit at Comforts of Home. I think it was as dramatic for us as it was traumatic for her. While she had certainly faded and her struggle with dementia, that was only the beginning of what would come. I learned more about the complexity of that disease that I ever imagined possible. I met amazing people who care daily for those who cannot even remember their name. And some of those amazing people have become my friends. The amount of travel between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin over those four was far more than I ever anticipated, but I do not regret any of it. Memories of Lydia still surround me,  in my home and in my office. Seldom a day goes by when I’m not reminded of her.  I believe it was in the fall of 2013 when I received a call from my closest and best childhood friend, informing me of his diagnosis with ALS. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately I don’t know,  Peter’s battle with this terrible disease, while horrendous as it often is, did not last as long as some. To be honest, I was still reeling from Lydia’s passing when Peter would lose this battle. He was lost too early, somehow again it seems that I need to be reminded of the fragility of life and yet more unexpected and unfair manner. In both the case of Peter and now Rebekah, their losses were much more tragic for their families, but these losses have had a cumulative affect. And now again I’ve lost a mentor. My last blog speaks of him. Throughout my time here I’ve continued to have health problems, surgeries, unexpected diagnoses,  and more complications from Crohn’s than perhaps I have fingers.

All too often I’ve been hit with the cliché of if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. Let me go on the record once and for all. Dammit, just quit it. I have no desire to be that strong. As I often tell people, if someone would’ve told me I could go through all this over 30 years, I would ask unapologetically, “Screw that, may I take what’s behind door number two?” And I’ve had to deal with how things more often and more intentionally and I just want to. I detest having to think about it. I detest having to make allowances for it. And I detest that it has control of my life and my conversations more than I would ever hope. It is forced me into situations and corners I don’t want to be in. . . .

How ironic this is where I was when I was last writing. It seems my title is either prophetic or fortuitous. Last Wednesday I had a cardiac stress test. While I thought it had gone relatively well (I was on the treadmill for over 11 minutes, and while there was some slight pain, I did not have to stop and I never got to the point where breathing seemed labored.). However, that is not exactly the case. It seems my heart was both adding and skipping beats in the echo afterwards. By the next morning my PCP was calling and cardiology was calling shortly thereafter. I had a follow up with cardiology in less than 24 hours (which was Friday) and tomorrow (Monday the 22nd) I will be having a heart catheterization performed early in the morning. While this is not something that comes totally out of left field because of my cardiac genetics, I will admit it is disconcerting. It is certainly my hope that getting things figured out will be perhaps a stent or two, but I am not hoping for anything more complicated, though I know that is a possibility. When I consider the genetic propensity for this, I should be surprised that I made it this far before having something trigger an incident. Speaking with a doctor for whom I have the utmost respect this morning, he, as seems to be the case more often than not, walked me through what is likely happening in my heart and why. What I always appreciate is he is willing to go in depth with me and push me to ask questions and figure out more about my own health. I imagine my diet is going to go through yet another change.

I have another blog to work on (more to edit and revise) yet tonight and there are other things I want to get accomplished. I am planning, though it might be wishful thinking, that this is going to be a couple day speed bump and then I can get back to things, though I am willing to assume there might be a new normal. I will also admit if we need up needing bypass surgery, I will be more than a little concerned, but I also know that has become more routine. I am hoping they do not have to do crazy things, and that includes sawing through a sternum. I have heard they can do it a bit less invasively, but I am not sure if that is available here at Geisinger. They are pretty advanced, however, and cardiology is one of the things they do very well. That is a comforting thing for me at this point.

What I am forced to anticipate, regardless, is my mortality. I am certainly not ready to cash things in and I am not trying to be morbid, but going into my heart is a bit more invasive for me than all the things they have done to my intestines. I remember when my father had a heart attack. He was 57 and this was before bypass and angioplasty. It was a very different world. What would I want people to know at this point. What I hope is that people from whom I might still need forgiveness might find it in their power to forgive. What I also hope is that people will know how deeply blessed I am by the friends and colleagues I have both presently and in the past. I have been richly blessed by so many and I am fortunate. I do not doubt this in any way. I have a wonderful job and I love coming to work. That puts me in a minority. I have tremendous people in my life. Earlier tonight I was speaking with a family I referred to as my Wisconsin family (and misplaced Iowa family). The three of them are so wonderful. He is the epitome of what every man should hope to be, intelligent, strong, gentle, and steady. If I could be half the person he is I would be astounding. She is the most wonderful and thoughtful person. She is talented beyond compare, inquisitive and sensitive at the same time and she as a beauty that sneaks up and overwhelms you. Then there is the next generation of the family. He is beyond brilliant. He is also incredibly talented both in academics and in sports. He can and should be one of the persons who can change the world if he focuses and harnesses the amazing abilities he possesses. Yet, more importantly, they have accepted me into their lives and that is the best gift of all. I am always stunned when I take the time to step back and merely look at what I have around me. So many people have reached out by phone, Facebook or other ways and for that, again, I am only say thank you.

Well, there is much more I could write, but I am going to stop and focus on a couple of other significant things I need to get done. Tonight I will leave you with this song to ponder. While I have posted it before, it is still my favorite song. While I have many pulling for me and I know that. I know there are prayers and other good thoughts and for those things I am grateful. However, tomorrow, I will be on a table and they will be working their way through my heart to figure out what needs to be done. At that point, I am dependent on their care and the grace of something much bigger than me. In the wind is the spirit and I believe in that wind and spirit. Indeed, “nothing lasts forever  but the earth and sky.” While I am certainly not desiring to become dust quite yet, I am ready.

 

Thanks as always for reading, and bless you all.

Michael

So Much More Than a Memory

Good early morning,

It seems to be that no matter the time I choose to call it a day, I will find myself awake at 2:30 a.m., pondering more than Trump’s tweets. Perhaps that is because he’ll soon be up composing the latest 140 character blasphemy or alt reality, while casting accusations of fakery at everyone else. Perhaps, at least tonight, it is because my modified GI tract has decided to work in warp speed. Perhaps, and even more likely, it is because I am feeling the loss of a mentor and the passing of a giant influence, to my very core, on whom I have become as a professor and colleague. Dan Riordan was the chair of the committee who hired me at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was his unique and indescribably affable voice that first reached out on the phone and asked me to come to a little town in West Central Wisconsin in April of 2003. It was Mary and he who welcomed me into their home for a Sunday evening dinner with Bruce Maylath, and it was Dan, who excitedly pointed out a pair of bald eagles in a giant nest over their bank, caring for the eaglets, whose squawking and less-than-majestic looks stunned me beyond words. Dan’s welcoming and kindly smile, his ability to make you feel comfortable from the first moment, made my first foray into tenure-track academia a comfortable experience versus another John Belushi lying on the floor in Animal House reprisal, lamenting the loss of 14 years of college. Dan and Mary graciously hosted me in their home that spring and summer as I moved my life from the U.P. to Wisconsin, and it was Dan who gave Maggie a reference so I could rent my first apartment. Dan even gave me a temporary job working on the latest edition of his textbook, providing me both experience and cash as a still struggling new faculty person.

During my first year, the adjustment to becoming a faculty member was difficult. What I know now was coming out ABD created more than a difficulty of time management. It created a difficulty, perhaps crisis, of identity. While I was still a student, I needed to transform into a professor, a respected faculty person. Simply put, I failed in a rather epic way. I was working hard to figure it out, or so I thought, but during that first semester, my Internet Writing class was, and perhaps still is, the most complete failure in any classroom situation I had ever experienced. There were some outstanding students in that class, and not only did I fail them (and there were mitigating circumstances), but my response for that failure was to blame them and take little blame myself. It was not a good rhetorical strategy, but more importantly, I created a dilemma for myself, one from which I would never really recover. If not for one specific Technical Communication student, who was a single mother with a young daughter, whose moral support meant more than she ever realized, I might’ve quit at the end of that first year. There was another student who begged to get into my first year composition course. She too was a wonderful student and someone with whom I am still fortunate enough to be connected. They helped me survive. However, at the end of the first semester, it was Dan who sat down with me in the Acoustic Café and offered insight and comfort as I reeled from the serious ass kicking that semester provided. While the second semester went marginally better, I made some foolish mistakes outside the classroom. Most of those mistakes and downfalls were the consequence of alcohol, both in Menomonie and back in Houghton. To this day I probably have not apologized as completely as I should for a stupid voice message I left during Winter Carnival. This is where my being the student in one place and a faculty in another created a predicament that would have long-term consequences. In the infamous words of Dean Wormer, “drunk and stupid is no way to spend one’s life.” This is not an exact quote, but truer words have never been spoken. Ironically, one of those students would become part of our advisement board, and rightly so, because she had been a brilliant student, was certainly an outstanding employee, and one who had actually helped me in the business place. I treated her unfairly when I said something in front of that very board, somewhat calling her out. She had every right to dismiss me as unfair and rude. I am sure to this very day, she is as brilliant and as valuable an employee was she was a student. She is a phenomenal person, and a person to whom I will never be able to make amends as well as I wish I could. Indeed, my first year in Wisconsin should be deemed a serious learning-lesson. And while I did recover on a number of fronts, somehow getting an outstanding teaching award 5 years later, there are still things I regret deeply.

The group of students Dan had created through his commitment to each and his superior ability in the classroom is still something to remember. As your  former student, Priscilla Fugar, also one of that amazing group who rightly took me to task, noted so aptly, you had this way of listening and hearing them (and us your colleagues) and then smiling and responding, “yeah, right.” I can hear it as clearly as if you were here speaking it. As we continued to develop programs, internships, and other ideas, you continued to look for new ways to learn, but also so teach, always giving back, not only to your students, but also to all of us, your colleagues. Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), I got to know other faculty, some who became my most valued colleagues and friends. Dan, your insight of the Stout history and culture was unprecedented, but your willingness to help others understand it was invaluable. You understood the struggles of new faculty and unselfishly gave to so many. I not only watched it, I experienced it. Your desire to keep achieving and then bring it back for others is a rare gift and one I try to now emulate here in Pennsylvania. As you never “siloed” what you knew, you taught me the value of cooperation/collaboration and it is something that has influenced everything I have done here at Bloomsburg. Yet, that brings me to your influence and help, both in getting me here, 998.6 miles from Menomonie, but also how you supported me in these last eight years.

As noted, my first year’s missteps created an exigency from which there was no reasonable escape, and the position of a dean made any such consideration moot. As I went through the summer of 2008, again you were there in ways no one else would even consider. You listened and even in your amazement of what the dean had done, you reached out, noting that we should meet on a regular basis or schedule. You listened carefully and your responses were always measured and thoughtful. That year could have ruined me both professionally and personally because of the stress, but you were my sounding board, you were a life jacket for me. You helped me see beyond the immediacy of the circumstance. You helped me walk a tight rope and you provided a quite stellar recommendation for my eventual position here at Bloomsburg. When I left Wisconsin, you did not leave me. You were always kind in taking my phone calls, of reviewing my abstracts, and sharing your wise counsel, offering insight and support from the inexhaustible wealth of knowledge and experience, yet always in a folksy and unassuming manner that delighted in helping another. You took time to fly to Bloomsburg and offered yet again your valuable and unparalleled advice, serving as an expert evaluator of our nascent program. You were kind enough to stay at my house and share both your expertise and joyful company. While I did get the Dean’s office to foot some of the bill, and you made me promise to get reimbursed, I never kept the promise. The investment in the program and the chance to bring you to my new world was repayment enough. As you worked through the process of seeing and building a program, your willingness to speak with my  colleagues, being with my students, as you had done so many times at Stout, meeting with my Dean all made more difference than you could have ever known, but I was so proud to tell you when we had completed what we had and send you the emails. In some ways you became my experiential post-doctoral father. That is no simple thing. When I came back to Menomonie to manage issues, either visiting Lydia and then finishing up things after she passed, again you were always there. You cheered me on and the last time I drove back in January, within hours of returning from Europe, even as you faded, you welcomed me into your home (both of you). It became a sort of inclusio. It was an opportunity to bring something full-circle. I remember standing in your driveway after our wonderful two hour visit and I held my hands in front of me across the driveway as tears filled my eyes and I told you thank you and that I loved you. You told me you loved me back. What a gift of words, a gift of colleagues, but more importantly a gift of mentor to student and, if I can be so bold, a gift of wonderful friendship. It was followed up by the most wonderful email in which you complimented my spirit and humor. I believe I still have that email.

Dan, you are so much more than a memory, you have nurtured and created someone who has come far since that fall in 2003 when I was a fledgling and failing first year tenure-track ABDed professor. When I imagine possibilities, indeed, even now I will ask myself what I would imagine you offering as wise counsel? What are the insightful, piercing, probing, but important questions you would ask in your supportive and visionary manner? I was once told that if you profoundly touch 5 people in your life, you are a successful person. What happens with the number of students, colleagues, friends, and professionals is profoundly larger, exponential of the mere handful (and that is not hyperbole) What is the term we might use appropriately? I know how you would respond. It would be self-depricating, a sort of “shucks, how kind of you to say so . . .” I can see you tilting you head and smiling, but being as gracious and gentlemanly as always. As you have touched my life, as you have transformed me, you are so much more than a memory. If I can somehow even begin to be noted, to pattern my life within the classroom after you, I will be honored. I know that there are times I have considered assignments, and in fact, I have bounced some of those off you. You always smiled and again noted, “how neat; tell me more about that.” Again, the interest, the support, the willingness to push me in perception and pedagogy. Your work with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning would come shining through, once again helping us to imagine the consequences of what we did to make our students better, more prepared, more thoughtful.

I am sitting in Fog and Flame, one of the coffee shops that has appeared since you were here. You would like it. I can see you at the table helping yet another person, taking time out of whatever you might need to do, putting another person first. Yet, there was that other side of you, the father and husband. The way your eyes would light up when you spoke of your children, your grandchildren, or Mary, your wonderful wife and partner of 50 years. You were more of a model there too than you realized. Your class as a father, grandfather, and husband taught us more than you know. As I have sat here and reflected, there have been smiles and tears, but most of all there is gratitude, an overwhelming sense of humility because I know I learned from one of the best. I hope to share with my students, with others who might follow me. While there was barely a decade difference in age, it seems that I found a master who belied his age. I found a friend who supported me in ways too many to count. I found a mentor and doctoral father who was able to meliorate this struggling, but well-intended beginning academic. Well done good and faithful friend . . .  I promise to keep working to take all you have so graciously given and become even better. I am so blessed that you called me to come to Menomonie and UW-Stout that April 14 years ago. While it is hard to let you go as we once again were in the month of April, it was time for you to finish your amazing journey. As I looked at that last picture of you and Mary, my heart was breaking, but her face said it all so well. We all struggle to let you go, but in my case, those are  moments of my own selfishness. We love you deeply and that will not change. You are much more than a memory because you did so much to change of us all. Not because you wanted to change anyone, you merely wanted to be supportive of us, regardless of our place in life. No person was unimportant, you listened and you cared. In the process, you not only changed us, you became part of us and we are better for it. Bless you, Dan; I love you. You were an amazing leader and you created a band of many who carry on for you.

Thank you to everyone for reading this.

Michael

Thinking Critically in a Spontaneous World

Good early morning,

It is 3:43 a.m. And I went to be around 10:00 or so, and in a pattern that is more normal than what I have done lately, I am awake though it is early. This past week I have had nights where I have slept more than 8 or 9 hours straight, which is beyond rare for me, and one night, with little more than opening my eyes and rolling over, I slept 13. That has not happened  without the help of alcohol (which was earlier in life) for probably 40 years. Yet, I do feel rested and after reading the news and pondering the rather bizarre range of events for this day, I find myself waking up on this 4-20 completely unadulterated, which again is a change from earlier in my life. Spending most of my days around late-teens and early 20-somethings, I can assure your many will consider the significance of this date in a rather fuzzy state. In spite of that fact I was in Hawaii in the service, where more potent herbal matter was available, I think our options for vegetarian smoke were not nearly as dynamic or capable or changing our day as the current green matter readily obtained for general usage. I should also note it is 8 years ago today I interviewed before and with my current colleagues. The plethora of events and significant changes in my life during this time make it seem much longer. I might also note that 4-20 was my parents’ wedding anniversary. In addtiton, if you do not know the origin of the present 4-20 celebratory rationale, it might be interesting to look it up. Fox News, ironically, had a news clip on it today.

The connection, and conversations of late, which transport me back to my Iowa town have also been reminiscent of a sort of time-warp experience (and I am not a sci-fi person – am not, nor was I ever a Trekkie), but that has been helpful, revealing, healing, cathartic, and simply enjoyable. It has taken some thinking and careful (but not difficult) reflecting. Amazing how some of our most essential traits never change, but we can understand how they affected behaviors or actions from our earlier life. While somewhat, at least initially, shocking, time and distance allows the rose colored glasses to lose their tint, thereby exposing our pitiful failures in those moments we were most vulnerable. As noted in a previous blog, the maturity aspect of my being always seemed to be bringing up the rear in my human development. Perhaps what is happening in this current situation is the opportunity for me to make amends for my earlier deficiencies or my completely irrefutable bungling. What I know is it has been helpful to accept or own that significant defalcation from 40 years ago.

Understanding or accepting our missteps or inadequacies is never easy, but I believe that is because introspection is frightening. True introspection leaves us bare before ourselves, and when we are completely, totally, unabashedly honest, there is no where to hide. We are simultaneously frightened and freed. We are allowed to come face-to-face with both the inadequacy of our humanity and yet understand the miraculous nature of what and who we are, something given by a creator, and you can understand that in whatever terms you find most helpful. It is sort of like those students who will be walking across the platform receiving degrees. The number of seniors who have come into my office a bundle of emotions and thoughts during the past few weeks is substantive. They are frightened. They are excited, but most of all they are sort of laid bare. They are uncertain of their futures and this uncertainty forces them to think a bit more intentionally than some will during this Block Party Weekend. The world into which they “launch their little barks” (and they are Huskies) is a very different world than the one I was entering in 1983 as an undergrad. We were in an economic downturn as I was graduating. In spite of the misguided belief that the Reagan White House had us economically humming, reality was something quite different. Look up the interest rates or unemployment and a few other things. What students are understanding is their missteps in that EGGS’s class, or PSYCH class, or MATH class has come back to haunt them. That GPA was hurt more than they expected or imagined. That semester where they sort of took a dive did not disappear and the long-term result of those extra beers or other mind altering issues, or perhaps the stress of external factors, took its toll.

The past couple of days there have been actual articles in the national news about the complexity of being a millennial. It is true that it is harder to be an 21 or 22 year old now compared to 1977 when I was there. An article noted that “[i]n 1975 only 25 percent  of men (which is an interesting gender note) ages 25-34 had an income less than $30,000 per year. By 2016 that share rose to 41 percent of young men” (Ali 2017). Articles I have read note that more than 1/3 of all college graduates “plan” to return to their parents house to live after graduation. This is something we would have never considered. Living at home was the worst of all possible options. I was so determined to not be at home by the end of high school graduation (1973) that I entered the Marine Corps,  not a typical decision for a 12-year-old-looking-17-year-old-barely-100-pounder-with-overgrown-ears. While there was little critical thought that went into that decision, I was fortunate that the long term consequence was much more optimal than I ever anticipated. I had opportunities because of that decision never thinkable Even to this day, that honorable discharge from the Marine Corps means something more powerful than I ever perceived possible. In my rhetoric class this week, I noted the rhetorical concept of proairesis, the power we have of “considered decision making.” That considered decision has been demonstrated to me again as I continue to manage some things that have been a long time coming. That considered decision as I watch from 1,000 miles away as my mentor and friend somehow manages to wage war against that which works so hard to take him, but he wages that war in a manner that all I see is grace, strength, and inspiration. Mary noted how they are supporting Dan in every aspect of his remaining moments. It is so difficult to read and yet, I know how important it is for them at this time. Life is the most amazing oxymoronic thing we have. We love it and hate it. We wish for it and deny it. We plan for it and we neglect it. As some of you know, my dissertation was a rhetorical analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is an interesting theologian for a multitude of reasons, but when he was a pastor in London, he noted the following when speaking about death.

He wrote, “Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death” (Bonhoeffer). Can we transform it? Can we see it as an ally rather than an enemy? To make this transformation requires more than merely faith, or so it seems. It takes thinking, planning and accepting. It requires us to imagine something better than what we know in our partial and limited perspective. There is something good about knowing the hour or the time, but, if we are aware, we often retreat to denial of the inevitable. We would rather imagine anything other than our finitude. Perhaps the gift of these past months for me has been to consider the reality of beyond life as we know it. Perhaps the gift of seeming to regularly question my mortality of late is to be less frightened of what many feel is the alarming question of “what if?” Before you think I have fallen off the deep end of morbidity, please reconsider. I still have plans, and even long-term plans, but I think what the last months have reminded me of is that adage of no guarantees.

The spontaneity of our world should work to remind us of this very adage. Things are changing, progressing, or reconstructing so quickly that we are generally unprepared for what is coming. As a consequence, we will grasp onto anything we can, hoping for some sense of security. Yet through our grasping, our desperate gropings, we miss the significance of the moment; we fail to realize that it is in that very moment we need to pause and take stock of what is essential. We need to think. Too many would rather we do not think. Too many would rather we get caught up in our desperation, merely trying to survive. Without critical thinking, which requires time and effort, we are like the bottle that has been tossed into the proverbial sea. Without critical thinking, we are simply bouncing along, hoping and praying someone else will find and save us from our lack of thinking. From our obsession with needing to know everything at every instance, we have little time to step back and consider what is important. Through our capabilities to know almost everything, anywhere, anytime, we find ourselves overwhelmed with data and information. Ironically we know very little, almost any place, and at every moment. When we are overloaded with images, words, sounds, and (you can add the next thing), we have no time to think and ultimately we have even less time to realize either who or what we are. We are more interdependent than we think. We can listen to nationalistic pronouncements of putting  ourselves first, but there is a consequence. We can claim we have things under control, but seldom is that the case. While I am sure this sounds a bit cynical to some, I believe there is something within us that offers a different option. There are times when we find our way to see the bigger picture, and thank goodness we do. There are times when we realize, by thinking, that all is not lost. There are times we can be reminded that there is goodness in both the other and in our creation. Those are the moments to which I cling. Those are the moments when I am compelled to dig down and, in faith, believe there is something larger, better, and more salvific than we might readily see. Indeed, I believe in, and have, hope. I am reminded of a video and an amazing group of musicians that once remembered our responsibility to each other. That is the video I offer. It reminds me to once again think, and to think critically. In the midst of our spontaneity, take time to pause; take time to think critically, and then believe in the better. The artists here have reminded me of the amazing life I have had.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The More I Learn . . .

Hello from the house,

Sometimes, it seems just as I think I begin to figure things out, I realize how little it is I seem to know; and more profoundly, or even more frighteningly so, the miniscule number of items or circumstances  I can actually control. This past week has reminded me once again of the intricate way the negative feedback systems and the various elements of our body are so interdependent. Over the past 96 hours, I have felt more vulnerable and more overwhelmed than at most any time in my life. Even in spite of some of the dire diagnoses and battles I have faced in the last two or three years, I have thought that my life and its existence to be more tenuous than ever before. Doctors’ appointments, prescriptions and the regiment of vitamins have seemed to overtake my life. To be frank, I don’t like it. The vulnerability I have felt since December is both beyond scope and severity than with any other battle I have faced up to this time. Well, on a positive note, I do believe my doctors are in good communication with one anothe. Furthermore, logically,, it appears there’s a reasonable path forward; some of the symptoms this past week honestly had me wondering if I wake up in the morning. That has been disconcerting, at the very least and then other times I have been damn  well frightened. I know these past months helped me understand my disease as well as the complexities and consequences of it more completely than I ever have. And perhaps it’s my age and what seems to be somewhat diminished strength to fight it that has me feeling more compromised than I have ever have. Perhaps it’s because it seems to be affecting a significant number of major organs none of which you do without. Perhaps it’s because two people I know well spending years around them have  either finished their days or seem to be nearly there. Mortality has hit me in a way that I cannot escape.

It’s also reminded me that there are things to do, pieces to finish up, and realizing that I probably will never get it all done. I’ve tried to reach out to certain people and they promised to get back, but busy lives get in the way and you realize where you  lie on the priority scale. Lest one think of oneself more highly than they ought, words or promises broken can remind us that we are not as important that we might want to believe. It might seem that one wants to wallow in self-pity, but that’s not the case. Is it more my willingness to give up some idealism, something I’ve held onto my whole life, which in this case might allow me to more easily let go of things that I do not often let go of. In some cases it’s things and in some cases it’s people. I learned long ago it is easy to let go of things. Two divorces and losing most of the worldly  possessions had taught me that things don’t really matter. In fact, I’ve accumulated way too many things again. It might be easier just jettison and dispose of some of them. People, on the other hand, are something quite different. One of the things that I’ve tried to maintain in my life, but not always perfectly, is to remain loyal and to reach out to people again and again. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, or once again maybe the stark reality of seeing life for what it is, I’m ready to let go of some things. Yet, I know myself, and even when I push away, most often I feel guilty. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to minimize the hurt, but releasing someone for letting go can also hurt them. If I focus on my own heart, my own hurt, am I being selfish, or merely attempting self preservation? I’m never quite sure. I certainly know there are persons to or from whom I’ve closed myself off, but they are few and there was surely some time between one incident (or person) and the event (or the relationship) that seems to have precipitated that distance. So I certainly know this is a two-way street, and to claim otherwise will be disingenuous. I also realize that some of this is busyness, if you will, but again on both sides that only goes so far. It is just a matter of priorities and intentions. For me, at times, it is a matter of fear, which creates a sort of paralysis. It’s a matter of embarrassment and trying to overcome a path or circumstance that was created as a consequence of my failure. I remember in seminary coming home one day and quite literally crying because I had been blown off, or so it seemed, by a classmate I considered to be a dear friend. This was no average person;  this is a person who is stood up at my wedding. It was one of those times that Susan, my first wife, provided me with a stunning insight. She said, simply, “You have a sense of loyalty to others and you expect the same from them. But not everyone is like you and you can’t expect him to be so.” The second sentence is probably a bit of a paraphrase, and more grammatically correct than initially spoken, but that’s my own quirk, which, by the way, is ironic as I am going through and editing this mistake-filled posting. This editing indicated I am feeling better and can focus a bit for the first time in a week. However, what I have realized in the many years since, she was correct. While many say I am still loyal, and perhaps to a fault, I’m not sure I still deserve such a moniker. Sometimes I believe it’s just my own insecurity or fragility that gets me in trouble.

I need only look at my own current situation and realize how focused I have become and the day-to-day tasks of managing my health and the necessities at school every day, feeling that there’s always more things on the list than the things I’ve accomplished. I’m quite sure that other people’s lives are the same. But there is still questioning priorities and for some reason I’ve always attempted to make people who have blessed me or caused a profound change my life to maintain a high enough priority to stay in touch with them. Much as Susan said, I cannot expect other people to do the same thing. I know this logically.  but emotionally I struggle. And when I take pause, the reason for such a struggle is not difficult to understand. It is that need to belong  and to matter. It is fundamental to we are as humans. Even the most introverted person needs community. We need to know that somehow we matter, we make a difference, and that what we have done was not done in vain. Yes, if we depend on other people for such validation, we create quite the dilemma for ourselves. In the past couple days, it would’ve been my father’s 102nd birthday. For anyone who has read my blog for a while, you’re aware of how profoundly he has influenced my life and many of my traits come from him, in spite of the fact that he adopted me. I remember speaking at his funeral, and noting that his three families were there: his home family, his work family, and his church family. Those were the significant elements of my father’s life. He always had something to say about the conditions of the world and the world around him. That was, in part, I think because he grew up in the depression and five children slept a little two bedroom house. He took little for granted and promoted hard work and keeping one’s word. While he lived his life somewhat simply, he understood the complexity of this world. Again I would imagine that was because he had been in the service and served in the European theater in World War II. It is hard to believe this year will be 20 years that he’s been gone. . . and as I’ve said before, I will repeat, he keeps getting smarter. He never stopped reading; he never stopped listening; he never stop learning. Certainly,  the Mike and the Mechanics song that I posted in my last blog would work for him today. I still smile when I think about him singing in church. He had a terrible voice, but he loved to sing. I smile when I think of our Saturday ritual of washing cars and shining shoes. I smile when I think of how often he worked in his yard and wanted it to be perfect.

Perhaps the best part of writing and thinking about my father is it has improved my mood. While my health is still a struggle this morning and breathing without congestion or wheezing seems to be out of the question, at least for the time being, it is a beautiful day and for the moment I am sitting on my porch staring at the traffic and wondering how I missed the person with whom I was to go to dinner. I have emailed him saying please come back, but he’s not the easiest person with whom to stay in contact. So I’m not sure what will happen. But sitting and relaxing looking at the trees just beginning to bud and things finally starting to green up, has done wonders to help my spirit. For the most part, it’s a good day. It is certainly my hope, that I can see notable progress in my current health situation. I hope the end of the semester goes smoothly and productively. There is still much to do, but I need to keep plugging away. I need to thank my traveling nurse for her continued help and willingness to offer her insight and wisdom. The help means more than words can express.

It is an Easter Day shortly after noon, so I will finish and hopefully get enlightened and inspired for the coming week. If you’re with family and friends,  I hope you have a wonderful day. If you’re alone, I hope you will know that you make a difference, even in your solitude. To my father, thank you for all you did in my life and for what you taught me. I still love you. This video is for you. You loved his music. I offer this to you and others who have somehow seen me as unforgettable.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

We all need Vacations . . .

Hello everyone (well not quite),

As a break from grading and packet reviewing, I am going to write a blog that will be posted in two different blog sites, but both sites are important. First, there is my long standing blog here, and then there is a blog that is available on the http://galtintravel.com site. What is Galtin Travel you ask? Well let me tell you. It is an online travel company that my Dominican family and I have opened. Yes, you have read that correctly. It is an online travel company? Why online because it is much easier to put together and it does exactly what we want it to do without all the overhead of a brick and mortar place. So . . . why might you want to work with our little company? Let me offer some ideas and insights. First, if you are getting to this blog post by my Facebook site, you have access to my photos and there are numerous photos of my trips to Puerto Plata over the past three years, and they will offer you some idea of just how outstanding the resort there is. Second, you have access to the web site now if you use the URL I have offered above. Third, even if you are not ready to go now, but are interested in a long weekend or a week before the end of the year, if you book the accommodation in April, we are offering a 20% discount on that accommodation. That is a phenomenal offer. We are offering you an accommodation at a price that is much less than if you went there and tried to book it yourself. How and why? Well because we own property there, we have options you do not have, and the why is because we want to provide an opportunity for others to experience the fun and relaxation we experienced there.

Why the Dominican Republic? First, it is not that difficult to find your way there. There are direct flights from JFK, Newark or Philadelphia to Puerto Plata, and also to Punta Cana. The length of the flight is slightly over three hours depending on from where you fly. The costs if you plan ahead are quite reasonable. I have found flights as low as 375.00 round trip from the aforementioned airports. Certainly the longer you wait to book and peak season can be more expensive, but planning ahead is always good. In addition, as far as accommodations at our little place, we have no blackout dates (with the exception of the Christmas/New Year holiday) and as long as things are available we can create a get-away for a couple or an entire party. We have from a one-bedroom studio, as you will see if you go to the website, to a 7 bedroom villa for 14, which will have you believing you have walked into a fairytale. That is how I felt my first time there and I was not even at the member level I am now. What is nice about this change is we can offer many of those same accoutrements for those of you who might book with us. Again, all of that is explained on the web site. The people of the Dominican Republic are happy people and the people at the resort carry that degree of happiness to an entirely different level. They will greet you with their indefatigable smiles asking sincerely, ¿cómo está? And if you do not answer “bien” or “muy bien.” They will want to know why and what they can do to make your day more pleasant. If you want a relaxing dinner in a luxurious setting, we have just the place for you (in fact there are a number of places). If you want to experience cultural dancing and amazing evening entertainment, we have just the place for you. When I went the first time, I remember titling one of my blogs “From Michael Jackson to Chocolate.” The Michael Jackson revue was unlike anything I had every experienced and earlier that day I actually went to a spa and sat by a fountain and sipped cucumber water and got wrapped in chocolate, which I learned is really good for your skin. I must say, it did not hurt my feeling to smell the wafting of chocolate as I walked around later that day.

Some of you might ask why the shameless self-promotion? Well, certainly it is hoping to make our little company successful and that is, in part, a financial thing, but that is not the main impetus. It is to share something I believe will make a difference in people’s lives. Experiencing another culture and finding the time to relax are central to being healthy. What I have learned through my travels, be it with my students, on my own, or with others, each trip changes me. I learn about other people, but I have also learned about myself. Sometimes, it is about language, and learning or trying to communicate in another language is both a bit frightening and amazingly gratifying. Experiencing that communicative process makes a difference in both people’s lives, and even if your attempt is less than perfect, it matters. Second, learning about their food is always a wonderful experience. Dominican food is wonderful. It is flavorful, and it is generally very healthy. The pineapple, the mangos, the coconuts, the plantains, and many of the meats are phenomenal. The grounds of the resort are unparalleled and with your VIP status for the stay, you will be able to experience care that is beyond your wildest dreams. This is not something I think, it is what I have experienced in my trips there. The sights and the sounds of the ocean beaches, the pools (and your own private pool if you have a villa) are spectacular. If you can get a group of 6 or more, the villa is certainly the way to go. There is more about that on the web site,  but you are always welcome to contact me and ask questions. I have visited Puerto Plata three times, and because of getting to know some of the workers and other Dominican people, I had the opportunity to visit some of the little towns outside the resort. There is a wonderful restaurant called El Cocinero in the neighboring little village called Maimon. The food is wonderful. It is a seafood restaurant that has freshly caught fish available daily. The family who operates this restaurant are hard working and hospitable and they are delighted to have you in their little establishment. Best of all, the cost of the food is beyond affordable, and when you return (because you will) they will remember you. Do you need to know Spanish? No, but learning a little is always helpful, and it is fun.

Why do you go on vacation? Often it is to get away or just have a change of scenery, but what if you could go where every little thing is taken care of and your all-inclusive fee means exactly what it says, “It takes care of EVERYTHING?” This is what we are offering you, and if you book it before the end of the April, the accommodation fees are discounted. Why not have an international experience that is not that far away? Why not actually experience a beach paradise that you thought was only available for people with more money in their accounts? Why not plan a trip that will have you wondering if somehow “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” found their way into your existence? That is what I felt after my first visit. It was not like anything I had ever done. I have spoken to some of you about this, but now I am putting it all out there. Those of you who know me know that I am more about giving than taking. This is really about offering you something that creates an experience that will be a life-long memory. This is about sharing with others what I was fortunate enough to experience myself. I should note that I did go to another resort in the DR the second time there. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to run into someone who was from the resort I went to the first time and we ended up back at the LVHC. I have not looked back and I am glad I didn’t. I want to offer the same thing to you. Please come see what you are missing. If you only have time for a long weekend, that is fine. I promise you that if you go once, you will want to go again. If you want to have a family reunion or a larger party, we can work on that with you too. We are certainly focusing on the smaller things at the moment, but that is because we want to make your trip as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Please check out our website again: http://galtintravel.com. From there you can look at our Facebook page, please look at and like our page. There is also an Instagram page that we would like you to tag and help us get your experiences out there.

Again, if you have more questions, please let me know. I hope you might find your way to book a vacation with us. Thank you as always for reading.

Michael (the travel agent and co-owner of a company)

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

I am currently waiting for a recopying of paperwork that I managed to misplace before I even got out of the hospital today. I am not sure how I managed that, but I did. I have been diagnosed with something called Short Gut (or Bowel) Syndrome, which is a direct consequence of the surgeries I have endured because of Crohn’s. It is primarily an issue of malabsorption of the intestinal tract. In my case, it is the combination of the removal of the large intestine (or total colectomy, which began in 1986) and the eventual removal of a significant portion of the ileum or part of the small intestine (which occurred completely in 1997, after reconstructing it in 1991 and again in 1993). For me the malabsorption is really no absorption because those parts of the intestinal tract are no longer present. The present treatment as it appears will include shots, vitamin supplements (of or for a number of things), a change in fluid intake, and a different diet. At least for the time being, I will not need parenteral nutrition (which would be vein feeding). The significant point in all of this is pretty simple. Once again, I have some sense of what is happening and why. Now I merely have to make the changes necessary to manage all of it. Most of my life has been about managing a situation where it seems things might have come up a bit shorter, smaller, or earlier than imagined.

Throughout high school and even into, and for most of, the service, I was the younger one, the shorter one, the smaller one, and probably, though difficult to say, the more immature one. All of those things had consequences for me. Being shorter created what might some call in today’s world bullying, but I saw it as a sort of teasing, and, indeed sometimes it had negative consequences. On the other hand it taught me how to cope; i learned how to manage difficult situations with both decorum and a sense of humor. That was significant because if I had been inclined to fight over most of it, I would have spent most of my childhood getting my ass kicked. My Great-aunt Helen once told me that I had developed a pleasant and pleasing disposition early in life (like before I was 2). Being shorter meant I was always in the front row in those group elementary school pictures. Being shorter meant that I was not going to be a basketball player and the fact I did not weigh three digits until I was senior in high school meant football was probably not a healthy choice. Instead, running and such were much more suited for my shorter, lighter physique. Then there was the fact that I looked even younger. Where I went to school, we had a junior/senior high school. Seventh (7th) graders were initiated, sort of like college freshmen and beanies back in the day. Looking as young as I did, I was still be initiated when I was in 10th grade. I remember going to a youth event for my church and being embarrassingly mortified when one of the older members of my youth group made fun of my minimal body hair when I was in 9th or 10th grade. Maybe that is why to this day, I have only been clean shaven twice since I was perhaps 23. I never really thought about that or made that connection. Starting school at the age of 4 seemed like a good idea to my parents, and probably to me, when I began kindergarten, but it had consequences when I got older, but was still one of the younger ones. Amazing that for the first third of my life, I was always that person: younger, shorter, smaller, and yes, still the immature one. That continued through my time in the Marine Corps. When I tried to enter the Marines, I did not pass the physical because I was too light. When I got to boot camp, I was named Private Chicken Body because I was so small. I was told if I lost weight I would be dropped to PCP (not a drug, but Physical Conditioning Platoon). Even when I got out of the Marines, I did not look like your typical veteran.

When I got to Dana, for the first time I was not the younger one, but actually one of the older. I was 24 when I entered as a freshman at Dana. While I had been to college before that first foray into higher education was less than stellar. When I started Dana, I was more immature than most realized, or more accurately, I was more frightened. I was afraid of failing again, and I was determined to not make the same mistake I had made previously. While those four years did a lot to shape the person I am today, there was still so much to learn. There was the need to believe in myself. There was the necessity of believing that I was worth something, that I was capable, that I belonged. Those maladies affected me more than most will realize. The maturity aspect of this is what I believe has been more inopportune for me than the shortness, smallness, or being younger. It seems, particularly into my 40s, that I was behind my peers. In my 20s that gap seemed to be 4 or 5 years, even when I was chronologically older. When I got into my 30s, and especially when I was a parish pastor, there was the necessity to catch up. In some ways, I did, but emotionally, not so much. This created more adversity. I remember having to work with so many people and so many things. I was theologically and practically prepared, but the little person, who was still such a profound part of me and that few saw, felt totally unprepared and inept. It created more problems that I have probably admitted in my personal life also. While there were ways I was ready to be married (and by that time I had been married for 5 years or so), there were other ways I really was not as prepared as I believed. There is an irony in that because while I was certainly older and more prepared in some ways, I was probably not any more prepared than she was, but I was viewed as older and wiser. It was not always true.

What I am forced to admit is that my immaturity certainly did things to doom that marriage. I know some who know both of us will say that I am being a bit hard on myself, and perhaps that is true, but I am not shouldering all the blame. It seems I must merely try to be more honest about my part in that failing. The other day I was talking about that period in my life and I have known for some time that while I believed I was handling things well, again, not so much. What I know is taking a position at Suomi at that time, while it seemed to be a good fit was anything but. Living in the dorm as I went through that divorce was problematic and even being in my own apartment the second year was less than ideal. Those two years also set a course with a bishop, to whom I referred in an earlier blog, that would be terminal for my calling as a pastor, at least in terms of ordination. Then I moved onto graduate school again, and toward a second marriage. The year between leaving Suomi and getting accepted to Michigan Tech was a brutal one, working as “the most educated server in the Keweenaw” did little for my self esteem, and probably damaged my liver more than I knew. I have often said all food and beverage staffs are dysfunctional families. That along with returning to being involved with the fraternity I had pledged as an undergraduate was a blessing and a curse to me. While I somehow managed grades and such, I did not manage responsible behavior and simply put, I tried to catch up on all the things I somehow believed I had missed. In terms of a rhetorical strategy, it did little for my ethos. Certainly, some probably thought me mentally ill or schizophrenic, and quite possibly, rightly so. I made mistakes in that time that I still regret. To get back to the theme for this posting, I fell short of what was expected and I was certainly a smaller person for it. By now I was into my 40s and honestly, I there were times I acted like an undergrad socially. Somehow academically, I did substantially better. Not surprisingly, I was in counseling this entire time. One might think a second marriage might have created a better situation, and in some ways, it did, but when the marriage created more issues, life was still a problem.

As I moved into the 21st century, I was still trying to figure out where I fit and who I was. That is a bit ridiculous for a person in their mid 40s, but it was who I was at the time. While again, I was successful in my professional life at this point, my personal life was in a shambles. In fact, my counselor at this point and I had this specific discussion. There is, as I noted a second marriage during this time, but I will address that in another blog at some point. I will say that I have had contact with my second wife recently and apologized to her for my failures. I am glad I was able to do that because it is about taking accountability for those choices. There are always ways to justify our mistakes, and certainly as humans we are prone to do so, but I think I am beyond that point. Simply put, I am a person who had (and still has) good intentions. The difference from the earlier Michael and the Michael of today is I allowed my immaturity and my things that I missed out on as a younger person to cloud my judgment. I wanted to experience some of the things I missed out on. With the older Michael, I somehow had my maturity  catch up with my chronology. I think perhaps the place that finally happened was in Menomonie, not in the first couple of years, but when I suddenly found myself caring for a new sort of adopted parent. I realized that I needed to do things better than I had earlier in my life. I needed to make up for what I felt was the failure of not being there for my own father.

I think I have always had some insightfulness into the needs of others and could see things that would help them, while failing to see the same exact thing in my own life. Again, somehow, my caring for the “little tornado,” as I still fondly call her, changed those things for me. Simultaneously, being in a new place professionally, and feeling a need to begin over, offered opportunities for me to finally close the gap. Interestingly, reconnecting with some and seeing things from a different perspective was helpful. Even in that reconnecting and exploring possibilities, I learned more about myself and what I needed if I am to care for myself. That was a new experience also. Most of my life I have probably vacillated between completely one side of the other, which is never good. What I am forced to admit it being short on one side or the other creates a situation that is seldom manageable. During the past 8 years I have been in Pennsylvania, I have finally closed the gap and I am probably where I need to be for the first time in my life. What I realize is I owe many people apologies for the failings, the mistakes, the inadequacies that permeated much of my life. I am sure I will make mistakes in the future, but it is my hope the failings will not cause others discomfort and struggles.

For the time being, it seems that I have a structure for my life and a structure for my health. Both things are helpful, and they are important. As I have told people, currently I have more doctors than I have fingers on one of my hands, but they are in touch with each other; as such I have an amazing team caring for me. During the past month, the care of others from students and colleagues to friends near and far, I am been blessed. Having the insight of a health professional who is also a dear friend has been my unexpected gift in all of this. The ability to ask questions and receive caring insight and advice has been both comforting and created a sense of security I am not sure I would have were the help not available. Speaking of other health things, as noted in a previous blog, one of my colleagues has passed on and the other is certainly in the closing days of his fight. Together they created a footprint on the English and Philosophy Department at Stout that cannot be replicated. In both cases, the loss is profound and life-changing, not only for their families, but for the scores of people they have touched across the country, and even the world. This is not hyperbole; it is the simple truth. As Dan has signed off on each of this letters to those of us honored to walk this journey with him, I leave you with this. Hug the ones you love. What amazing advice and what an important thing to remember.

While I have shared this video before, it seems appropriate in this time as I think of my mentor and treasured friend, Dr. Daniel Riordan.

 

 

To everyone else, thank you for reading and again, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I am blessed by you all . . . if I have offended or caused you harm in my earlier life, please forgive me.

Michael (Dr. Martin)