Farewell my Friend

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Good Sunday morning,

It is very early and I am awake. I left town yesterday because of the yearly block party (I refuse to use it as a proper noun – pun intended). It was a wonderful day in Jim Thorpe and a beautiful day to be walking around. Early yesterday morning, I got a call from Stephanie informing me that Peter, the life-long friend whom I have noted as of late, had passed away earlier Saturday morning, ending his battle with ALS. It is a bitter-sweet thing to say I am both relieved that he no longer needs to suffer, but I am so profoundly at a loss because someone who has been my friend since the beginning of my life, and someone even younger (albeit only a year, almost exactly), has left this earth. As I noted a few posts ago, this is a very different feeling than the feeling I had with Lydia. While losing Lydia is still part of my daily thoughts, she was 90 and had lived an amazing life. Peter was 58 years old. At one point I might have considered that old. That is undoubtably not my reality now.

When I went to see Peter three weeks ago, he noted that he never really expected to grow old. That statement caught me off guard, but I noted that he probably did not expect to have to battle such a vicious and uncaring disease as ALS. I want to talk about the memories of this most amazing, yet profoundly human, friend of mine. Our mothers were best friends all of our lives and our families did most everything together. Peter, James, and John (Biblical sounding) were the three Goede boys and Robert, Michael, and Kris (I am the Michael, not trying to state the obvious) were the Martin children. Peter’s mother was our church organist and our two father’s, Jake and Harry, pretty much ran Riverside Lutheran Church when we were small. To walk into my house and see Marge, Peter’s mother, at the kitchen table having iced tea with my mother was as common as breathing. To see our fathers working on something at church was a common as listening to Pastor Anderson or Ofstedal, our two pastors from childhood through high school preach every Sunday. If it was the 4th of July, we were at McCook Lake and the Ike’s Club to celebrate with fireworks and picnics. When I was 17 years old, Peter saved my life when I almost drown in that lake. If he had not swum across that lake, I am am quite sure I would not be writing this post and he would be joining me rather than I being one of the many who has lost him.  His older brother, John, was instrumental in really creating a strong church youth group  and that youth group was a significant part of my growing up. I remember when the famous Beatles song, “Let it Be” was the theme of our homecoming growing up. It was that song and Pete’s singing of it that got his voice noticed and began a life-long gig with the garage band, The Establishment, who were eventual inductees into the Iowa Rock -n-Roll Hall of Fame, that would in someways identify Peter for the rest of his life. Whether it was their gigs or his grandmother meticulously braiding his almost waist-length hair; whether it was traveling to another high school homecoming dance or a weekend in Spencer, Iowa, where we spent hours listening to the latest 45 trying to figure out the lyrics to “Rocky Mountain Way”, his voice was in the process of becoming legendary. Growing up I walked beans on their farm; I spent moments driving around in our cars; hanging out wherever we might decide like the Runza Drive-in on Riverside Blvd. When I left for the Marine Corps after graduation, our actual time together was significantly less than our childhood years, but eventually, I was best man in his wedding and he was the same in mine. When I ended up in seminary, Whitney, their daughter was born and I sang at her baptism. He would sing at my ordination and he sang at my sister’s funeral. Our fathers passed away within two months of each other.

Even though our lives when through a myriad of changes, there was never the need to figure out who the other one was or who they had become. I remember going to Whitney’s high school graduation reception and what he told me that day was a bit shocking, but he was even then taking a sort of inventory of his life and what had happened. Peter was an unequalled when it came to working hard and not giving up on things. In the early days of he band he would buy their PA equipment, taking out loans in his own name to make sure they had what was needed and he and Flood Music became sort of business partners. He was one of the first to get into the hardware/software/networking area and he did very well. Even when it required changing companies and learning a new gig or thing, he was up to the challenge. Yet, he was a human and sometimes the habits we learn early never leave us. There were things he battled and as with many of us, he could be his own worst enemy. I understand this malady all too well. A couple of years ago, I sent him a letter. It was a letter that I had written as I was recovering from complications of yet another surgery and a letter than reflected much as I am now. As I battled yet another serious health crisis, I called and read him the letter before I even sent it. I cried that evening as I cry now. I am now more than grateful that I took the time to write to him and to Stephanie at that time. I am glad that I took the time to visit him three weeks ago. I am grateful for the conversations we had that day and the opportunity I had to speak with Stephanie a few weeks before that. We take so much for granted.

Later today, I will spend time watching a student be inducted into the national honor society. Quite a change from the beginning of their college tenure, but what it demonstrates is someone not taking anything for granted, but realizing it takes work and that no one owes us anything. That is such a difficult lesson. There is no promise of a long life; there is no promise of success, even with hard work. Each day is a gift and coming to terms with that is something that takes most of us a long time to realize, if we ever actually come to that realization. Each time I am shocked or jolted into this reality, there is little that can be said. It is yet another forced realization. To use the word “forced” demonstrates that we are so easily lulled into complacency or a sense of expectation. We have our plans (and heaven knows we need to plan), but we have little comprehension, nor do we want it, that the line between life and death is much more tenuous than we care to consider in any regular manner or given moment. I think some of our occupations require us to do so (medical or health care workers), but generally we make our long-term plans merely believing that those things will happen. I am quite sure that neither Peter nor I expected to incur some of the things that we have in the 40 years since high school. I do think he expected to have Stephanie in his life, and I am grateful to her for being the amazing person she is. I know the last time he and I spoke he talked about how important his children were and how proud he was of them. His daughter and son, while I do not know them as well as I might wish, are certainly incredible people. They are successful, but more importantly, they are also good people. What I know my friend is that as I think about our lives, I would not be the person I am without some of the things we shared and all the ways our lives were intertwined growing up. You have taught me what true friendship is. We remained friends during your entire life. When I told you three weeks ago that I loved you, I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In spite of your fragile condition, you were as gracious as you could be and we had a nice day together. We laughed and we cried. The tears streaming down my face now are tears of relief. They are tears of sadness and also tears of graciousness, for gratefulness, that we had the opportunity for some sense of closure. I promised I would come see you as soon as school was finished for the semester, but that was not to be. Instead, I am honored and humbled for the opportunity I have had to share together with you our lives, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes at a distance, sometime with a passage of time, but regardless it was a friendship that abided change of time, distance, jobs, and anything else that might have happened.

I am not sure what the schedule will be this coming week, but I know that I am headed back to see you again, sooner than I imagined. This time to be there for your children and for Stephanie and to share with all the people who loved you. As I write this, ironically, I am listening to iTunes and “Dream On” came on. Your voice and your ability to be the show person you were will always amaze me. I hope you have a wonderful stage on which you can share. I know your parents and grandmother are there to welcome you. I am glad you are no longer suffering, but I will miss knowing that you are there in Eagan. I love you, Stephanie, and I love you my friend.

Bless you.

Thanks for reading.

Michael (Peter’s friend)

P.S. I have to add that I have now heard “Let it Be,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Bird”. Thanks for the messages, my friend.

Tartar de Entender

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Bueno temprano en mañana,

I am going to attempt with both what I know and some translator- assistance to write this first part in Spanish. I am back working on my language acquisition skills diligently, so this is good work for me to do. At the end of my poly-lingual writing I will provide a synoptic translation. Clasifiqué papeles y blogs ayer por la tarde y luego trabajé en el español durante casi siete horas anoche. Volví a casa anoche y me quedé el bastante mucho tiempo para fijar algo para comer. Entonces cepillé mis dientes y me í a la cama. Ahora, cuando parece ser típico, estoy despierto en 3:30 por la mañana. Hablé con mi mejor amigo y su esposa anoche en el teléfono. Era maravilloso alcanzarlos, pero esto era también una palmada áspera de la realidad. Como usted sabe, si usted ha estado leyendo mi blog, Lydia, las mujeres asombrosas que se hicieron mi madre, han fallecido en los pocos meses pasados. También he experimentado el paso de otros en mi vida cuando esto pareció el camino muy temprano para tales cosas de pasar, un hermano, una hermana, hasta una abuela, y una madre adoptada. En tres de aquellos casos yo era en los mis años 20 o años 30. El paso de mi hermana era también demasiado temprano, pero había cosas que contribuyeron a su paso en los sus años 50 que hacen su muerte más comprensible. Ella era el primer contemporáneo faces. Quizás es debido a mi propia batalla y bocacalle 60 este año que la mirada, aunque de una distancia, mi mejor amigo comience a perder su batalla contra ALS más rápidamente es tan difícil para mí. Quizás es porque me encuentro todavía llorar por Lydia en momentos. Quizás es porque la realidad dura de ningunas promesas en la vida mira fijamente mí en la cara. fallecer cuando mi propio paso o mortalidad parecen más probables.

It took me about 45 minutes to write that paragraph, but it was good exercise. For those of you who cannot read or understand Spanish, I spoke about my last day and the opportunity I had to speak with my best friend and his wife (I have noted in other posts on Facebook or elsewhere, perhaps in blogs that he is losing his battle to ALS). I noted that I have lost people to early before their time, often relatives. While some of that was in my 20s and 30s, losing my life-long friend now seems to be a very tough reality check. I realize that we all have a limited time, but this one is so unfair to me in so many ways. I noted that perhaps it is because I’m turning 60 that watching Peter losing his battle to this terrible disease it’s been so hard. Perhaps, in part, it’s because Lydia just passed away and that still causes me to cry at times. Regardless it forces me to face my mortality, which is something that I’ve been doing on a regular basis this past year. That is a somewhat close paraphrase of my Spanish entry.

Perhaps it’s because my latest tests with the doctor were less than ideal. What I know is we have very little sense of what or when our life is completed, or do we? I think there must always be a sense of “but wait, I have more I want to accomplish.” Stephanie wrote to me that I needed to be prepared for a significant difference even speaking on the phone. I know when I go to see him in a couple weeks it will be terrifically difficult. Not because Peter will make it so, but because I will need to literally face the reality that the time my best friend has left on this earth is extremely limited. I’m forced to stare at the harshness of a disease that suffocates the host body. All the ice bucket challenges in the world cannot help him, and while I was asked to do the challenge, I chose to give the money instead. As I got off the phone last night once again I am finding myself in tears. I have spoke at times of justice; where’s the justice in this? Is there even a small measurable way that one can find justice or fairness, when it is likely that Peter will not see his daughter married at the end of the summer? While I struggled to let Lydia go, she was 90. She had lived in amazing life. Is there a reasonable time for one to die? The very question is fraught with absurdity, but I’m forced to admit that even in this case with Peter, at some point as his body leaves him helpless, his death will be compassionate. Mostly for him because of the dreadful consequences of ALS. In a bittersweet way I might even see some measure of compassion or relief for Stephanie, Whitney, and Dane. But search as I hard as I am able, I can find nothing fair or just and the reality that a 58-year-old man is having his very life taken away from him breath by breath, labored movement by movement is brutal beyond words. I think of my former colleague, David Tank, and I still vividly see the picture of him crying as he pushed his wife’s casket down the aisle of the church after she lost her battle with the same horrendous disease. That image in my mind is still one of the most touching things I have ever witnessed. Peter was my best man and I was his. He sang at my ordination. I sang at his daughter’s baptism. Those are some of our intertwining moments. There is an entire tapestry of events that we have shared.

I know the clichés of life and our feeble attempts to make sense of the nonsensical. As I struggled to find the right words and make some sense of my own feelings, it is perhaps now that the words of Sr. Galán provide some comfort. For they are the words that I said to Peter and Stephanie last night. I know there’s not much I can do from 1000 miles away. In fact there’s little more I could do if I were next-door. I could visit more often and I could spend more time, but I’m forced to realize of the giftedness time is. I’m forced to admit that I’ve been able to have a best friend for over 55 years. A friend, who which in spite of any distance or periods of not actually speaking because of space and life, always knew who I was as I knew him. Perhaps one of the most important things I have done was to sit down and actually write him a letter and his birthday two and a half years ago. I remember speaking to him on the phone one night and crying. I praise God for that call and that letter. I told them both last night again how much I love them. José, perhaps you’re right, it’s all we have. I guess that raises another question. If it is all we have why are we so conditional in giving it? Is it because we’re fragile or is it because people don’t know what to do with it? Somehow Dan Fogelberg is in my thoughts again. I will probably embed another video of one of his songs at the end of this post. “The heart is too heavy and fragile to hold and I am afraid I might break it.” Yet, this is whereI find myself struggling to understand what you mean, José. How can my heart be big enough to love all the people? For me to love someone means they have dramatically changed my life. It is not something that happens automatically. Perhaps it should; perhaps I’m just incapable. For me to love someone means not only have they found their way into my heart (and perhaps my house), but I have made myself vulnerable, and not just a little bit (I do not do things a little bit), but in a way that they have enormous power. Ideally, they don’t use it in a malicious way and even when we are hurt, sometimes it is not their intent, but our fragility. As my father used to say, “the people we love the most can hurt us the worst.” As I told you last week I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to talk again this evening as Melissa has once again surprised me and we will all be together. Perhaps by the time you come, you will have read this and I have no doubt you will have things to say. I always appreciate your thoughts and the passion of your insights. I am always thinking about what you say more than you might ever know. Cuando Melissa a menudo me da miradas de la consternación o hace rodar sus ojos en la exasperación, usted sabe que siempre considero cosas y trato de tener sentido de ellos, pero realmente no pienso que cualquiera de ustedes es que diferente.

Is now after 5:00 a.m. and a couple hours of sleep still seem like a good plan. I would like to be at my office by 8:00 or 8:30 at the latest. I have a lot of my plate for the weekend and perhaps going to dinner and chatting tonight will be a nice distraction from other things that I need to accomplish. This past week was quite productive. The certificate and the minor revision are onto the last level of approval. The concentration is not far behind. If I can get those things done by the end of the academic year and I can hand someone a diploma, I think I will feel like I’ve completed all I need to do. Anything beyond that is an extra gift. Tal vez el punto es este: no hay ningún entendimiento, allí sólo hace. Y es importante hacer todo lo posible podemos.

Off to sleep; thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Beyond Trying

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Good morning,

This title is both intentionally and, for some, frustratingly vague. Yet, if you really know me, it is profoundly clear. In March, on my own volition, I decided to make some dietary changes. Those changes were based on my own self-image and a realization that my advancing age required me to make some changes if I was to do more than merely exist. Pictures taken by a few who are notorious for capturing the least flattering moments, and they are legion (the moments, that is) illustrated an advancing aged frumpy looking person who was in the throes of what my father called “carpenter’s disease”. The thickness of my nine-times surgically opened abdomen was just the opposite of what one would expect from someone suffering from Crohn’s Disease. It was embarrassingly evident in every picture.

If you have been following this blog, you know that the change in diet has continued to evolve and, while I do not mean extreme to be ridiculous or pejorative, it has been pretty extreme. And yet, I have not been as strict at following it as I might. I think that is about to change. While I am seeing some positive consequences, there are other things happening that cause me a sense of pause. I think it is likely I need to be even more intentional and more about radical ( which is a pun if you know some of the parts of a battle) about what I will and won’t eat or do. Last night, I had the opportunity to speak with my closest and most important friend, my friend from early childhood. He is currently battling ALS. Every time I see someone take the ice/ice water challenge on Facebook, I wish they would donate the money instead. Peter talked last night about the progress of this devastating illness. We talked about the importance of our joint history and I mentioned that the shared history keeps me grounded because it reminds me from where I came: a simple blue-collar family that was probably living on more of a shoestring than I ever knew. His father farmed about 80 acres, but he always had another job or two. My father worked 12 hours a day/ seven days a week for a number of years. Through our church events our families were best friends. We talked about the fact that our fathers actually passed away less than two months apart. It is ironic that we are fighting our own health battles simultaneously about 20 years later. Peter’s battle is much more serious than mine, but it was just a bit “komisch” to consider the parallels.

Today (or technically yesterday now) was also another reality check in working with or on behalf of another. Time and experience has a way of clarifying who someone is. I have put my own reputation on the line for someone again and again since first meeting him or her. Speaking with a colleague today, it was made abundantly clear that my willingness to provide a reference needs to be reconsidered. It is unfortunate, but it seems this is beyond what anyone can do. That need for pulling back is overdue, but it has now hit a tipping point. As one other often admonishes, “it is their issue and their choice.” And so it is for anyone. Choices and consequences are what life is made of. I am wondering how I might have changed the path I am presently on. Beginning life at a whopping 17 ounces and without a fully- developed GI track or fully-developed lungs seems to have created some significant long-term issues. Even if I had known before the visible onset of Crohn’s at 28, I am not sure there was a clear sense of diet or other options. Even after the onset, no one ever spoke to be about diet with the exception of the following: if you eat it and it bothers you’ don’t eat it.” Certainly there were warnings against things like seeds, nuts, popcorn, and such, but the move to the ileostomy changed even those instructions. There was nothing that seemed to provide some of what I know now or how things like blood type or other dietary things could assist me. That is the amazing thing about both the study of medicine and our amazing bodies. They are both constantly evolving. When I was first diagnosed I read everything I could. When I went off to Scottsdale, AZ in 1991 for a specialized surgery I did it because it provided an opportunity to live a relatively normal life. This tube we call our digestive system is much more complex than we might think. I have learned that first hand. Not just because it manages everything we place in our body by processing it, but because it also tolerates things ( like acid) that nothing else in our body can. Mr. Galán calls me “miracle man”, while it is kind, I am not miraculous, it is my body that is. I have not learned to compensate, it has.

I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling I was very brave as I went into that surgery on a April morning. I did not feel brave, and I was actually scared, but that choice to fly from Pennsylvania to Arizona was about hoping for a life that was not controlled by a restroom. For the most part, while I have learned that the surgery performed has not had a particularly high success rate, I have managed to make progress. Why because I was never beyond trying to make my life better. Why have I made it through, or was willing to subject myself to, nine surgeries? For the same reason: I am not beyond trying. I will admit tiredness from time to time; I will admit to moments of doubt or even self-pity, but those moments are generally brief or seldom. I have little time for quitting and failure is not an option I want or wish to consider. There is too much yet to do in this life. I do not wish to dwell on “what ifs”. If we merely second- guess our lives, we only look back and not ahead. I do understand the importance of reflection. It is wise or prudent to do so. That is what is lacking in too many people, a failure to analyze or think critically. Today a student lamented that an assignment is too difficult and I should just make it more simple. No . . . what the student should do it look more critically and work more diligently. Connecting pieces and comparing and contrasting takes research and analysis. It is figuring out the pieces and then putting together a puzzle that creates a clear picture. Studies show that teaching to the test has so failed our students because they lack problem solving skills; they lack the ability to really try. Have we created a generation that is beyond trying? If so, we are in big trouble.

What I know for myself, I am never beyond trying. I refuse to give up or give in. In 59 years, I have managed much tougher things and this will be managed too. While it will take disciplined effort and focus, it is something that I understand and it is something worth doing. For whom shall I do this? For me. If that benefits others, so be it, but this one is for me. There are certainly those who matter, and those who have an interest in all of this. However, while the learning is slow at times, I am learning and certainly, as it has been most of the life, it occurs the hard way it seems.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin