Imagining Parenthood

Hello from Kraków,

Forty-seven years ago today, I became an uncle. I wax 16 years old and working two summer jobs. I was staying at my grandmother’s house for the summer, and while I was trying to be responsible, I still had a lot to learn. During that hot July, my older brother and his wife of only 7 months, who were now living in Lawrence, Kansas, would become parents to a baby boy. It was not the life or the place probably either of them imagined residing, but this unexpected move toward parenting had changed their college plans and the world of being a family, of parenting, was now their reality. My brother was a member of an up-and-coming Chicago/BS&T band that had made quite a name for themselves throughout the Midwest and their booking company was located in Lawrence. My sister-in-law, who was exceptionally talented in her own right, had left her New Jersey (across the River from NYC) life to attend college in NW Iowa, I am pretty sure this was not what either she or her family expected as she pursued a music degree. While she and I have spoken, and I know her moving away to college was sort of in here DNA, I am still not sure how she ended up finding Morningside College.

That was a transforming summer for me. It taught me about frailty because during the trip my parents would take to visit their new grandchild, my father would suffer a heart attack. This was before the days of bypass or catheterization, and not realizing the extend of his cardiac episode, my father would drive himself home from Lawrence to Sioux City, a distance of exactly 300 miles. Not an exceedingly long drive, but it was if you had just had a heart attack. I was not home as noted because I was working two jobs and I had to be at the bakery before 6:00 a.m. and I was not yet really driving that much and I did not have a car. In addition, I worked a second job in the evening from 5:00 p.m. until midnight and I worked 6 days a week. Therefore, it was logistically easier to stay at my grandmother’s who owned the bakery, and she was kind enough to let me borrow a work car if needed. I did, however, that summer buy my first car. It was a 1964 Impala and I purchased it for a whoppin’ $175.00. My grandmother also put me on her company insurance, so that saved me a lot of money. I was aware that my parents had gone to Kansas to visit the new parents, but I was not aware of what occurred during their visit. I would not learn that my father returned to be placed in Intensive Care until my uncle, my father’s oldest brother-in-law, would call and tell my grandmother what had happened. Suffice it to say that was overwhelming to me beyond words.

During the next weeks and months, I would eventually move back home, though not until after my senior year had begun and for some time I was driving across town in order to attend the school in the area I was supposedly living. I would move back from my grandmother’s home to my own at the request of my father, more like to plea, to come home. It was a tense and difficult time, but I did as he asked and suffered the consequences and wrath of my mother, who unabashedly told me she did not give a damn where I was or where I would come or go. It was an uncomfortable time in the house in Riverside. That would contribute mightily to my deciding to join the Marines upon graduation. While I was in the Communications School at MCRD in San Diego that fall (1973), my niece would be born. I still remember getting a phone call that she had arrived. In spite of my brother passing away a few years later, after there was a third child, I have been fortunate enough to be in contact and involved in the lives of these three for almost 50 years now. That is incredible that all of this was happening almost a half century ago. What is more incredible to me (and perhaps more of a blessing than a curse) is that I never had my own children. Through the years, I have vacillated between being sad about that and wondering if God knew better than I. I have had people say to me that I would have been a good parent and I have certainly had a rather long line of what I call my surrogate sons and daughters, but when it all comes down to it, they have their own families. At the end of the day, I go home and I am there by myself. Again, the feelings about that are as varied as the events that can occur within a week, month or even year. Perhaps some of what overwhelmed me a week ago was this sense of missing out, but then feeling afraid that I would have been a failure at parenting. Certainly, I have learned more even in the surrogate-parenting than I ever imagined possible. I have learned that allowing a person to be their own person is not always an easy thing to do. To allow them to make mistakes and not impose your values or standards on them is another thing that is difficult.

I would imagine some of that is because I have not been with them from the beginning and as noted they have their own values, traditions, expectations, and things that were formed before they were around me. I sometimes imagine what I have done with some is sort of like begin a foster parent. In addition, I have learned, for better or worse, that I have incredibly high expectations, and perhaps ones that are not entirely realistic. I have learned that I am more set in my ways about how I like things and what I believe should happen than I sometimes realize. What has caused these emotions about the lack of being a parent to surface again? Certainly having my house full for the better part of the past academic year had the parenting thing happening to some extent., but these emotions have seemed to be exponentially closer to the surface since I have been here in Europe. The strange thing is that I have never really found little children that charming. I know that sounds terrible or rather callous, at best, but it seems that the individuals that have pulled at my proverbial heart strings of late are small children, like 3-6 years old. That is an entirely new occurrence for me. I have always had a sort of soft spot for middle school age, and I am not sure that has changed, but this recent appreciation for young post-toddler, but not yet 8-10 year olds has me a bit flummoxed. I have found myself asking parents if I may take a picture of their sons and daughters, and some of them I have posted. As I try to figure out this new aspect of appreciation, there are perhaps two things to which I can attribute its coming out of nowhere. I have a former student, whose wedding I was actually the officiant. She and her husband have a four year old that I have watched grow from infancy. She (the daughter) and I have this sort of grandfatherly relationship and whenever I am blessed to be around them, she loves to have me put her on my shoulders or she loves to sit by me in the restaurant, and her mother says when they go by the Starbucks we often meet at, the question of whether they will see me is immediately being asked. I think what this amazing little person and her mother have helped me do is to not be afraid that I had no way to appropriately relate to them. There is a second little one that is the daughter of a colleague and his wife. She is so smart that it is frightening. She remembers everything and she is like a sponge that soaks up everything that happens and can process it. It must be that mathematician DNA. The other reason I think there is a change is these little ones have a sort of grace and purity that gives me a sense of hope. They have not been spoiled by our stupidity yet. They are little human sponges, whose curiosity and hopefulness provides me that same sense. As I watch the love between that child and their parents, which goes both ways, I am reminded of the goodness that I believe all of us have.

It is that goodness that provides me a sense of wistfulness also. I wonder what I might have been like had I been able to be a parent and grow to see that person eventually grow, have their own children and move into that next stage. I remember the joy my father had when those nephews and nieces, who are at the outset of this post, would come to the house. He was so happy to see them and spend time with them. I have noted in other blog posts that my grandmother was accused by my adoptive mother of spoiling me, and that was not something that my adopted mother either appreciated or had a propensity for doing (as my recent post noted). I do not believe my grandmother spoiled me as I reconsider what she did. I think she wanted to make my life easier because of my mother, but she also believed in hard work and treating others with respect and decency. The worst thing she could have said to me was “I am disappointed in you.” I know that I disappointed her as I struggled to make sense of my world after returning from the service. She would not live much longer, but I had not idea that our time would be cut short so soon after my return. I think she wished she had been my sister’s and my parent for the remainder of her life when she and my grandfather first brought us to lived at 4547 as her sister always called it. I have noted in previous blogs, that was the house where I felt safe; it was the house in which I felt loved. It was the house in which I believed I mattered. It seems to me that is what parents do. They make their children feel safe and loved. They allow their children to learn both by success and failure, but love them just the same. They support their exploration of becoming individuals, but also provide a foundation upon which decisions (both good and bad) can be made. I think perhaps the hardest part of being a parent must be allowing a son or daughter to make a mistake, knowing it is going to happen. It seems that the one of the most difficult things must be allowing each person to be their own person. I think that is something my adopted father tried to do, allow me to figure it out. The picture above is of him in his uniform during the Second World War. The thing so typical of him in this picture is his smile.

There are some people I have watched parent and they epitomize what I believe being a good parent must be. The first couple was my first host family when I was on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. They have two children who have taken entirely different paths in life, but they love them both and support them. They take the time to visit them, which is no small task when one of them lives in Europe. The second couple have blessed me by allowing me such entre into their lives. They lived next door to me when I taught in Wisconsin and they have three amazing sons and daughter, who again are very different, but an interesting combination of both parents, which I believe to be normal. I think what impresses me most about them is they have supported and allowed each of them to follow their own paths, which are quite diverse. They again support and demonstrate that support and love in so many ways. I have told them before, and I will note it here; they give me a sense of hope because they are such incredibly good and faithful people, to their family, their faith family, and their community. I am so blessed to be allowed into their lives, and they have taught be such amazing board games to play too. Quite the bonus. It is ironic that they also introduced me to Lydia and she became a surrogate parent to me or I became the child she never had. Over the past month or six weeks I have had to step back again, considering this life and it has been both cathartic and instructive. Being a parent is consuming; it makes you both stronger and incredibly frail, it seems, simultaneously. It is so hard to walk a line between giving support and instruction, and yet making sure to not control. Sometimes, I think I missed out on so much, and to some degree, to use the words of Martin Luther, “this is most certainly true.” Sometimes, I realize I am able to offer more as the surrogate and I might even be listened to in ways the biological parent will not. What is most apparent to me as I write this is parenting in any form is both inspirational and humbling. I am conflicted by the fact that I did not experience this and what I feel I might have missed, but at the same time, I am blessed that I have other opportunities to make some difference in the lives of many more. I think the most difficult part of me is finding a balance between the two worlds when it comes to my own emotions and reflections. I am reminded of the song by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. Father and Son is an amazing song and it is here for your listening and pondering that relationship of parent and offspring.

Thank you again to all of you who take the time to read what I write, be it once or regularly.

Michael

 

Remembering Two Brilliant Siblings and Fifty Years

Good morning from the Acre,

It has been a productive and eventful week, though not always in the way I had planned or expected. We have finished the third week of classes and things are not (nor expected to) slow(ing) down. Students are beginning to settle down and focus a bit better than their initial week’s attentiveness also. This is all par for the course. On the personal front, there is some more work being done on the house and that has been planned for a while, but both managing the pieces and deciding how to proceed always take more time than I ever expect. That is a good lesson for me, however; a reminder that we seldom have control over external factors, and it is best to roll with the proverbial punches. That is the second part of the personal story for the week. This past Tuesday I went to the upper yard to take care of an issue that was a consequence of winter (at the moment, we have no snow). Coming down through the yard to the far end of the wrap-around porch, I found out a bit too late that things were both more slippery and much muddier than I suspected. By the time I realized what was there my feet were above my head and I body slammed myself into the soggy, muddy, cold, but nonetheless, still hard ground. After the obligatory lying in the mud that covered half of me, while I did a mental inventory of what hurt, I determined that except for some embarrassment and what would become aches and pains, I got up and trudged into the house. Fortunately a couple of people were here and I walked straight to the washing machine and threw everything in. A shower and nightshirt later, I was back at it. A bit sore, but doing okay. The remainder of the day was uneventful, but about 5 hours later I realized I was dealing with the bathroom much more frequently than usual (sorry if that creates images you would prefer not to have.). My modified digestive system, which, of course, allows more space in my abdomen than I often remember, seems to have shifted from the fall. Much like a kinked garden hose, it seems my intestine twisted created a blockage. I can assure you, such things are unpleasant. Suffice it to say, it was an intensely painful and excruciatingly uncomfortable next 8 or so hours. I was wiped out enough that I actually took a sick day and stayed in bed all day Wednesday. I slept, got up and drank more fluids, continued by restroom trips and slept more. I did get some soft poached eggs in Wednesday night and Thursday was pretty soft food also. It is now about five days later, and I am still gimping around with a pretty sensitive stomach. All in all, however, we avoided a worse fate, and I am back at the normal daily routine.

Today I awoke thinking about the two siblings with whom I grew up. I note them this way because there are more half-siblings out there, but that is an entirely different storyline, complicated, painful, and rather overwhelming if I really think about it. So most of the time, I choose not to. My older brother, who was about 5 years older than I was an unbelievably talented person. When I was small, I wanted to be just like him. He was mechanical, precise, methodical, patient when you would least expect it, and driven to succeed in ways I could only dream of. He was good at math and science, a phenomenal musician, and would excel at anything he put his mind to doing. I remember as the younger brother admiring most everything he was capable of doing. He was the most amazing model car builder I have ever met. He would analyze every piece, considering how to paint them in advance, how to sand the pieces of any excess plastic so they fit perfectly, and how we had the patience to wait after getting one task done and letting it set before beginning another. He would often build two or three at a time so he could be working on another model as the other was in process and needed to set up. I remember when he worked on waxing our toboggan before we would take it out for the winter. He used Johnson’s Paste Wax and a cloth before he would use the electric drill with a buffer pad on the disc. That toboggan glistened and it was faster than anything on the hill. No matter what he did, he would do it above and beyond what anyone could imagine. The more amazing thing was the rather matter-of-fact demeanor he had as he went about all of these things. He did not seem to believe anything was that extraordinary. As a small boy, I watched with captive interest when he spend time in our basement playing with his Lionel and American Flyer trains. He had a gargantuan train board that was a village with trestles, roads, building, mountains and most anything you could imagine and he would have the trains running in both directions. I could sit and watch him for hours, always hoping he would let me run the controls for even a few minutes. Sometimes, he allowed his pesty little brother to play and I would be the perpetual over the moon for that evening.

The one thing we did do together from time to time was our music. He was a much more famous trombone player than I would ever be as a trumpet/cornet player, eventually inducted with the other members of his band into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet, by the time I was in sixth grade, I was the first trumpet, first chair in a city-wide orchestra in a town of 100,000. I was inspired by my high school brother to try to be as amazing as he was and he both encouraged and supported my hard work. As we spent time in high school band together, it was the one time I began to feel I could make him proud of that little brother. In the time after he left for college, got married, became a father, and eventually an electrician, there were many twists and turns, but he was a profoundly passionate person about anything he did. He would eventually follow our father’s footsteps and work toward becoming an electrician. Then one January afternoon, shortly after lunch, he fell off a ladder at work and would suffer a traumatic brain injury from a fall that did not seem so incredibly terrible. Unfortunately, he hit his head on a sharp corner of something. He would live for an additional five weeks and never come out of the coma. He passed only a few months after his 26th birthday. It was 42 years ago on the day I began this blog. As I consider him how, he graduated from high school 50 years ago this coming June. He was a brilliant student in math and sciences and an astonishing musician, something that gave him great joy. Yet, he was also a father of three young children and the husband to a woman who was as talented as he was. I am blessed to still have his children and his wife in my life as I write this. So much has happened in all of our lives since then, but something remain . . . for me that constant is the admiration I have for the incredibly talented and passionate older brother.

I have noted my sister at other times (and she was, contrary to him, a biological sister). She was fourteen months younger than I, but probably closer to my brother than to me (and I believe the same could be said for him.). I think she too, as noted in an earlier blog, was intelligent beyond words or measure, but she struggled mightily with how to manage that ability. She too was musical. She had a very lovely voice, an alto, and she was a talented piano player. She could sit down and with a bit of practice play most anything her teacher gave her to play. As I think back, I am not sure what she really enjoyed about school in terms of academic interest. She could do most anything, but she needed to be convinced by herself that it was worth her effort, and that was regardless the subject. When we were in elementary school she was in hot water at least one or twice a year when grades would arrive because there was something she had not done. This was both to her consternation and to the exponentially higher level of my parents. In fact, twice rather than to deal with our mother’s wrath for poor grades, she ran away. That raised a different issue about the two of us, who were siblings. She always had an deep-seated need to find our biological parents, something I really never experienced. That issue would affect her for the remainder of her life in various ways. The other thing that I believe vexed my sister was her sexuality. She came out to her immediate family by the end of the 1970s, which was long before this was considered a typical process in anywhere. As a person who had twice been awarded the Outstanding Soldier of her base, being a lesbian in the service was not something acceptable. Her way of managing that dilemma was to leave active service. The consequence of that decision had more far-reaching effect that I believe she had ever anticipated. It was not something we understood either.

What I know now was my sister was bipolar (I also understood this while she was alive) and this would eventually cause her to be placed on SSD. I helped her at that point. However, I believe both the issue of sexuality and mental health were something she had faced even in her middle school and high school years, but at that point our society was neither prepared or willing to be able to help anyone facing such dilemmas. Those issues kept her from reaching her potential because she was consumed fighting battles to merely exist and try to be herself. She was a phenomenal artist as well as a creative spirit that went beyond what most could comprehend. In spite of her struggles at 39 she made the decision to become a mother. While I did not know this was part of her thinking or conversations, I remember the phone call and conversation when she called me that April morning in 1995, telling me I was to become an uncle. Kris had an incredibly loving heart that merely wanted to love and be loved. Most of her life she battled this need because of her choice in whom she was attracted to, but I think more profoundly, if affected her ability to feel loved, particularly by her own family. This is not a unique things for those who identify as LGBTQA, but identifying as outside the heterosexual norm as early as the 1970s was even more significant. What I know as she continued her life, her becoming a mother was the thing she was most proud of. I think she wanted for her daughter the possibilities she never was given the change to experience: things as simple as love, acceptance, the ability to become whomever you felt compelled to be, and a child who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her mother loved her. All things she had lacked growing up.

The thing that also made Kris’s life more difficult was she seldom took the easy path to accomplish anything. I have noted from time to time that she did not do the different drummer path, but created her own band path. I think she would actually be proud of that characterization. Her rebellion against any force that tried to corral her would characterize the rest of her life. Unfortunately, one of those habits, the addiction to nicotine, would become her undoing. When she passed away at the age of 51, she had smoked two-packs plus of cigarettes for years. An autopsy revealed she had already suffered a previous heart attack. In addition, she had chronic COPD and severe artherial sclerosis. All of those factors would lead to her being found dead on an early April morning. She was a beautiful woman who had a perceptive ability to empathize beyond any level most could understand. She was intelligent, reflective and capable also beyond measure. She was artistic and a strong writer. I wish she could have realized all her gifts and how she had so many more gifts that most ever knew.

In the case of both the siblings I was fortunate enough to call my brother and sister, they were lost before their time. There are times I try to understand why I am the one still here. There are times I feel guilty for the way I have been blessed to be able to live my life and have opportunities beyond anything I have ever earned. I have often said, and believe with most every fiber of my being, they were the more talented of the three of us. I was merely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Before you think I am fishing for something, I am not. I do not believe I am incapable. I do not believe that I have not worked hard. What I do believe is I wish they had an opportunity to live longer than they did. I wonder what they would think. I wonder what it would be like for us to be in our 60s and reminisce about a life that had made it through six decades? I wonder what we would like about our lives and how we would relate to each other at this point. Would I be the sort of outsider of the three? I think I was always the sort of anomaly, but how would that all work out? What I know on this week of a passing anniversary is that I miss them both. It is a bit lonely at times. I know that the relationships I still have with the children of my siblings (some closer than others) is an important part of my life even though I am still away and alone. It remembers me that there is something more to my life and that I did have two wonderfully talented and brilliant siblings.

After all I wonder how it all works from time to time and I realize I have no answers. As I worked on this blog posting I listened to the music of the phenomenal and troubled artist, Whitney Houston. She was such a talented vocalist. She reminded me of both Bob and Kris, and I leave this video of hers for you to ponder. It is not the most known of her incredible repertoire, but it seems appropriate as a sort of inclusio.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin (the other sibling)

More than a Dirt Nap

Hello from my office on a Friday afternoon,

Between meetings and a couple of other things (including grading), I am considering some things in light of my Bible as Literature course and wanted to write. This past week, my Bible as Literature student have asked interesting and thoughtful questions about life (and beyond), and while it is not a religion class, when you are using the Bible as one of the central texts of the class, it is not surprising they might ponder and ask things that demonstrate they are trying to figure out questions of context, authority, and authorship and how those concerns might push them to consider what they have heard (either within their church background or without a specific church background), be taught, or as part of their own maturing and growing process. I think I have been pondering a bunch of things in response to their inquiries.

Certainly, an element of that is understanding one’s mortality. If my adoptive mother were alive, she would be 98 years old tomorrow (she lived to the age of 68). In terms of my own life, it is 32 years tomorrow that I had my first major abdominal surgery, while I was an intern pastor in Big Lake, MN, at the hospital in Coon Rapids, MN. I still remember how terrible the prep was for all of that and how I learned quite positively that I was allergic to erythromycin. Most assuredly, other things have happened since then to remind me of my own mortality, and that is more a case of reality that I would have ever imagined. Today as I searched another situation, I found that another person for whom I have an unparalleled appreciation and to whom I owe so much for their care was my cousin, Joanne Wiggs. I found out that she has passed away and joined her husband Jim, who had passed only 9 months before. They were both so good to me. I am sad more than some know that so much had changed in a situation that I was not involved in either service. They were one of the last few people I visited before leaving the Midwest to come back to Pennsylvania. They had grace and charm (both of them) in ways few people ever have, and I imagine ever will. It gets back to some of what I addressed in my last blog about civility and decorum. I remember my father thinking that Joanne was the most consummate hostess ever, and he was correct. I am sorry they are both gone. The picture at the beginning of the post is my picture of them about 9 1/2 years ago.

That was a slight digression, but an important one. It is sad to lose people. This morning what I woke up thinking about was the idea of religion and dying. It was not a morbid idea for me, but rather one of systematics. I do have students in my BAL course who claim to not believe in God, are unsure there is a higher power, and imagine nothing occurring when one passes except we bury them and continue on with our life. Hence my rather stark title. What actually happens when we die? Do we end up in some sort of purgatorial, soul-keeping holding cell until a second coming? Do we die and immediately we are away that there is something beyond, be it heaven (or some kind of eternal bliss) or hell (for me, the condition where there is an absence of anything good)? Certainly the fact that a number of students take a Bible as Literature course can be traced to a number of reasons (and some of it is getting credits to graduate), but I think for many it is their first foray into making whatever faith they come to college with their own versus it being merely what their parents tell them to believe or model for them. I think what I realized this morning in my early morning puzzling was a sort of if there is no real God and there is nothing beyond our demise, then it really is a dirt name, and nothing else need be considered. One of the students working on their paper stopped by yesterday and asked me how teaching the Bible as Literature affected my own personal faith. This is another thing I have deliberated upon a number of times. However, I think for me that is one of the amazing things about faith. From where does it come (which I, of course, have some specific thoughts ~the power of baptism), but assuredly, there are those who argue that it comes from our own human frailty. It was interesting to listen to one of my students from another class address some of that very thing this past week. Because I no longer wear a clergy shirt, and formerly being a pastor is not something I generally address, when students find out that is part of my background, I get a wide variety of questions.

Yet as I have noted, teaching the Bible as Literature class might be the thing that most affects my own piety as well as the practice of that. Faith is best described for me in Hebrews 11:1. I said this when I was in seminary; I stated it as a pastor, and now as the professor, it has not changed. I think back to when I was  a Sophomore in college and one of the freshmen students told me they could prove that God exists. They thought they would have an ally in this bit older pre-seminary student. They were not sure what to respond when I told them they were full of S____T and that I did not believe them, promptly followed by challenging them to do so. There is little one can say, calculate or demonstrate that proves God with any finality. It simply does not work. However, that sort of logic also works the other way, there is little that can be calculated or reasoned that proves there cannot or is not a God. In addition, I will go as far to say that much of the damage done to faithful people or their faithful attempts to be faithful are done by well-meaning (and sometimes less than well-meaning) Christians. I call them evangelical bulldozers. They think they can rollover or flatten any dissension about one questioning how God works. Their arrogance frustrates me (my rhetorically correct response to them). Posolutely, throughout Christian history, the role of the church by its arrogance, its abuse of power, and its dissemination of doctrine that instills fear more than most anything else, has created more questions than it has perhaps answered.

This semester I focused on the issue of contextuality in terms of the Bible being written by specific people at a particular point in history, noting that all writing is affected by the culture in which it is created. I tried to help my students see some of the things they merely accept without question because it is in the Bible and why that can be problematic for them. I think the response of a student this semester to the temptation story in Genesis 3 will be a life-long memory. Suffice it to say when I asked how it was Eve spoke “snake” or the snake spoke “human,” my student was a bit perplexed. She placed her head into her hands and shook her head overwhelmed by the indubitably unexpected consideration my question created for her. My comment to all my students is the same, but in this BAL course, the statement is a bit more profound. I tell them regularly that God gave them a brain to do more than hold their ears apart, and furthermore, they should use it. I wonder in my own piety which God would I like to meet? What I mean by such a statement is that I know the Bible demonstrates (or figuratively illustrates) both a powerful and complex God. What are those specific moments when we would hope to have our Moses-type encounter with God? Where is God at those moments? Who is the God we would hope to meet? I think for the most part, I would like to meet God and speak with him at those times when most of what I see does not make sense. I think I would like to meet (and yes, arrogantly ask) God when I am those times where things seem the most unfair. Those are the times when I question God’s power or ability to intervene. Those are the times that the consequence of our supposed sinfulness most vexes me. I wish our selfish arrogance did not have so many consequences.

There is much more to say about all of this, but as we head this Sunday into the liturgical season of Advent, the paraments (the colored cloth in the chancel area) will be blue. Blue is a color of both comfort and hope. It is a season where the haunting music that foretells the Christmas story reminds us of what is coming. While I am not a proponent of Christmas in the stores at Halloween or before, after Thanksgiving the Advent season is actually one of my favorite times. I think that was something that started earlier in my life, but it was something that really was instilled in me when I traveled around Germany during the advent season in 1985. There is something about organ music and chorale music that will always life my spirit in ways few things can. Awake, Awake for Night is Flying, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Comfort, Comfort Ye My People are some of the things that come to mind. I think there is something haunting, and yet the melancholy of the season also has an undertone of hope. That returns me to my cousin, Joanne and her husband, Jim. The two of them created an amazing marriage and the love they had for each other was something all of us can only hope to find. They were married for 62 years and only apart for 9 months after his passing. The unquestionable affection and love they had was never someone could not see or feel. The way in which they made you welcome in their home was encompassing. Their home on Summit Street was more of a home to me through the years than my own. They were also people of immense and prodigious faith. They attended mass every morning and I learned much about my own faith watching them practice theirs. . . . this little exercise had me searching cemeteries back in Iowa. I remember going to Graceland Park and Floyd cemeteries before every Memorial Day growing up to clean and do yard work on the graves of the family, my father’s in Graceland and my mothers in Floyd, which for those not from my hometown is named after the only person to die on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and he is buried above the Missouri River a bit south of my hometown. So indeed, they are all in the dirt, some in caskets and vaults and some cremated. Is there a purgatory type of thing happening there on the Morningside portion of Sioux City and what was called the South Bottoms where Floyd Cemetery is? Is there something more? Is it merely a dirt resting place and there is nothing more? There are times I struggle yet to understand how it all works and what it all means, but as I enter the season of Advent and I remember the birthday of a mother tomorrow and an older brother on Tuesday, I find that for my own piety, I believe there must be something more. It is more than ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Indeed, as I once intoned, “Almighty God, source of all mercy and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray , with those who mourn, that, casting all their sorrow on you, they may know the consolation of your love . . . ” (Occasional Services Book). With that I offer the following in this season of Advent. I hope you might find peace and comfort in its music.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin

I do not want a do-over

Hello from the corner of my room,

I am sitting in the chair in my room, which is a comfortable and thoughtful place in my home. It is a sort of safe place too. I have learned that I am a person who needs a quiet and safe place. I am not sure I have always been cognizant of that desideratum, but I am pretty sure it has been a requisite from early in my life. While I have absolutely no inkling, memory, or shadow of any recall of life with my biological parents, their neglect probably affected my sense of security or my need for contact in ways I have never connected to any particular event. It is also interesting how it affects others. Certainly, it always seemed to have affected my sister more than me. There is an irony to that because if we were at our grandparents’ house by the time I was two, Kris would have been less than 9 months old. Yet, she was entirely more obsessed than I was when it came to finding those very parents who neglected and left us alone for hours. I also imagine part of that was because our adopted mother was so much harder on her than she was on either the older brother or me. It is quite logical that she hoped somewhere else might be safer and she would be treated better. Part of reason she is on my mind is the 10th anniversary of her passing will be here in only a few days. So much has happened in the decade since I got that stunning phone call at about 5:30 a.m. that Tuesday morning. Hearing my niece sort of blurt out that they found her dead on the couch is still more clear in my mind than I perhaps wish it was. More to say about that.

I did not know I would be leaving Stout and Wisconsin at that time. I did not know that I would come back to Pennsylvania and resettle myself barely over an hour from where I first became a parish pastor, which is 30 years ago. It is also even more than that when I address my initial graduation from high school or undergrad (which have a LCD of 5 also). I wonder how that can be the case that things in my life seem to happen in years that are in multiples of 5. In a mathematical purist way, the only thing in my life divisible by 5 is the year I was born. It is also the point that in terms of family heritage, I would become the only surviving member of my immediate family. So much has happened in a decade. Yet, I believe that is how life happens if we truly try to live it with all the hope and involvement we can.

That brings me back to the title and what I have been pondering these past few days. I imagine such rumination is the yearly occasion of impending graduation, the watching of another group of students, who a few short years ago were wide-eyed freshman. Yet, now they find themselves even more unprepared, or aware of complexities of life in a more profound manner, which can feel as if they are underprepared. However this present ocular unsophistication is more about accepting responsibility for themselves in a much grander, more consequential manner, and they are realize the safety net that is college is no longer an option. There is grad school, and a few move in that direction, but with a average debt load approaching $40,000.00 for undergrad, many to not believe that adding to that is a reasonable path forward. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I have noted I did not expect to become a college professor. I have stated regularly I had little idea what I would become or do with my life, and certainly that has not changed (which may seem like a strange admission for someone in their 60s). And, in spite of where I am, or even the path it took to find myself as a tenured professor, there is little I would change. Veritably voiced, I do not want to go back, even knowing all I do, and try it all over again. I can wish that I had not been born with Crohn’s as they now believe I was. I can wish that I had lived a more non-peripatetic sort of adulthood. I could try to imagine how it would be had I somehow been given the opportunity to have actually fathered a child. Any of those changes would have significantly altered the life I have lived. Certainly, I ponder the what ifs as I noted in my last blog, but that does not mean I need or want to go back and do it all over. It reminds me of my first host family, Lee and Judy, two of the most phenomenal people I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. They are somewhat accidental in that I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team sort of last minute. They were my first host family, which is also more random than some might realize. For me, that randomness is anything but. It is the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit does. Intercession and intervention when we are mostly or totally unaware. What Judy would share on a later visit, much after that initial week, has always remained. She once noted that relationships have more to do with context and timing than emotion. Those were not her words, but the foundational belief in her words. As I have continued to age, I have understood the profound truth in what she said. Her advice or reflection, and my father’s warning about placing expectations on something, ring true for me and serve as thoughtful and careful warnings. Warning is not a pejorative term here, but a sort of safety net.

There have probably been consequences for that sort of shying away from any kind of relationship that involves something long-term. There have been other factors that have kept me in my own sort of tower, but I have generally been comfortable in that solitude. So again, would I change any of that which has already occurred? Not in anyway that immediately seems apparent to me. I have learned that sometimes the best things happen unexpectedly. That reality aligns with my father’s wisdom about all relationships. Whatever happens with happen. This is more accurate than l often imagined possible. Perhaps that is why I have lived most or my life without expectation. Perhaps that is why I am a firm believer in grasping onto the present and not imagining the future as much as some might think I do. I also realize a sort of incongruence, but one I can somehow find comfortability with, regardless the oxymoronic presence in this situation. Perhaps some of that living in the moment has been because of health issues. Some of it harkens back to the adopted child in me. There have seldom been guarantees in my life, and while I believe that is true for most, I was told that in so many words on numerous occasions. The impact of those words created more than one existential crisis for me. Yet I am blessed to be where I am and in how my life has evolved. I know this in ways I could not have imagined. One of the things I have managed is the ability to overcome most any difficulty in my life. To learn that there are always options and learning from our life challenges is an opportunity to move beyond whatever that obstacle might be. We always have a choice: to quit or move ahead. I have noted that there are moments I seem to learn a bit slowly. More accurately, I am being stubborn. If I allow myself to realize my accountability in any situation and go beyond. I am probably going to be alright. Listening to the counsel of those we trust is an important part of that learning. Sometimes those teachers, those sages, if you will, often insight and clarity when we least expect it. Sometimes we are offered profound wisdom from another when we did not even see it as a possibility. I have been blessed to have such a person (and there have been a number of them) throughout most of my life. What is needed from such a person is the ability to trust and believe in their intent, and the willingness to be vulnerable with or before that person. That has happened again in the most unexpected way and with a sense of timing that defies logic. Yet, what I am realizing is I should not be surprised. This is because it seems that most of the things that have created a positive outcome for me were not planned, or at least did not happen in a manner that illustrates a long term structure to create said outcome. Getting into Michigan Tech or returning after I left would be two examples. Meeting a present colleague at a previous institution, which would lead to a return to Pennsylvania, is yet another. Meeting someone as a sort of by chance encounter on a sideway during a summer day seems to be the latest thing that has me scratching my head by the initial randomness, and the subsequent path it appears to have taken. I am a firm believer that something larger than I watches over me in ways too amazing for words. God, Holy Spirit, guardian Angels, something other: not sure what it is, but for it I am grateful. It is for all of these diverse and random things that I need no do overs. It is for this sort of always in the middle of things that I have no desire to start again and imagine something different. What I am quite sure of is I am more than blessed and where I am at this point is beyond what any adopted little NW Iowa boy could have ever imagined. The two siblings with whom I grew up did not have the opportunity to see such a long life. Bob, my eldest brother, died at 26. While he was a father, something I have not experienced, I am often reminded that I have a number of surrogate offspring. As I write this, it is 10 years to the day that my full biological sister passed from this world. That was a stunning day for me and I remember over the next days trying to figure it all out. So much that contributed to her being barely in her 50s when she passed on. In the time since, I have faced the reality of being the only living member of the family with which I lived my childhood on more than one occasion. I have had family members reach out and some back away. Families are living, breathing entities that get caught out in their own individual lives and time and distance can do a number of things to those relationships that they claim are thicker. I am not sure they are as thick as we might want to believe. That is not a value judgement for me, but rather experience. Certainly adoption played a significant role in all of that for me.

What I know now is I am content. I am not sure where things are going, but I am blessed by the presence of others in ways I could not have imagined. I am blessed by having a job that means more to me than I can express in words. I have people in my life, both family and friends, that remind me of what is important. I have people who have taken the time to really get to know and accept me. There are no words to express my gratitude for that gift. I have learned so much in the last weeks and months, both about myself and what I might hope to yet accomplish. There are really no do overs, but what I know is I do not want or need one. As the amazing musical, Rent, notes so well: there is no day but today.

Thank you as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

Erasing my Work

Good Friday morning from my office,

In an attempt to clean up the backside of my WordPress site and also to manage some changes, it seems I managed to erase the last posting. While it said it was local to my iPad and only a draft it seems to have removed it from the published section. I have looked on my phone and my computer, the other two places I compose and indeed, it has vanished. So . . . it is time to manage a new post. This will probably be a hodge-podge of things as that is what it seems my life is as I try to manage two sections of Literature and Society, finish two publication items, and complete a Fulbright application. All of which must be done this weekend at the latest. I worked on WordPress for more than an hour yesterday, just trying to get access. It seems that what used to take a second or two (receiving a verification code) is now taking up to a half hour. If you have been following my blog, through an address, I have a new address that has dropped the wordpress in the address. The URL is now thewritingprofessor55.com. It is my own domain and I am going to try to do some more work with this within an actual publication realm.

It is hard to believe, but the first week of the third summer session is already completed. I was in my office until shortly after midnight last night, grading blogs and working on other things, and I will be working on class stuff a good part of the day. There are so many personalities and stories in the summer cohort of students and their emotions, hopes, and dreams are all over the place. It is pretty easy within merely a week to see the different levels of commitment and drive, as well as to understand how their background in either the public or private educational system has affected their perceptions and their preparedness for this summer program. What is also evident is how some students are committed to making it, regardless of their background. I was impressed when more than a half dozen of them came into my office on the 4th of July, their day off, to request clarification or help. There are some terrific young people in the class. Many of them want to demonstrate not only to us here, but also to their families back home that they can do this. It is such a different thing than I went through when I first began college. What I know is that my parents were not really engaged in that process. Even when I first went, they did not seem to have any interest at all in what I would be doing.  I am not sure that influenced my performance, which was not good, but perhaps it did. The second time I decided to attend college, I knew I was on my own, but I also knew it was my dollar paying for it and that there would be little to no help. In fact, I remember my mother being angry because when I came home I was always broke and sick. She did not understand the immense amount of effort I put into my studies. She also did not know what it cost. She thought because I had a GI Bill it was easy. That GI Bill did not begin to pay for going to a private liberal arts college. When I told her how much it cost, she accused me of lying. When I showed her the costs in the college catalog, her question was, “How can you afford that?” It is amazing how our background, even now, has such an influence on our preparedness for college. It is more than just academic readiness; it is also social. It is cultural. This summer program is tough because we are not only working with students who are required to take two courses and condense all of that work into 6 weeks. I assigned a major assignment and worked on the requirements of the assignment over the last two days in class, but they are required to have it completely finished in a week. That is tough turn-around time, but there are few options to do anything else. A number of students did not get the easy work done even the first week, so this weekend will be a sort of make or break for the remainder of the session.

Today is my eldest nephew’s 45th birthday. How did that happen?? I remember that summer so well. I was working at my grandmother’s bakery and my older brother and Carolyn were living in Lawrence, Kansas. My parents went down to see them. That was when my father had a heart attack. I have written about that summer at other times. It was a growing up time for me. Of course, there have continued to be those times, and for anyone who thinks there cannot be significant growth times later in life, let me clue you into something. There are. It never really stops, and more importantly, I do not believe it should. If we are not learning and growing, we are not living. Indeed, you might be moving and breathing, but there is so much more. It is hard for me at times to realize how long some of my family has been gone. Rob’s father, my older brother has been gone for more than 40 years now; and it is almost the same for my grandmother because she and my brother died the same year. My mother has been gone for almost 28 and my father will be 20 later this year. My sister was already 9 years this past April. The assignment given to my students this week was to create a Google Map of their lives up until now, a sort of cross between an autobiography and a memoir. It will be interesting to see what they do. I have had good success with the assignment, and I need to give Moe Folk, a MTU colleague credit for turning me on to this possibility.

It is becoming more apparent to me how fast the days, weeks, and months continue to speed by, and that sense of picking up speed is something that I am certainly cognizant of. When I turned 60 a couple of years ago, I remember saying the second 30 years had gone by must fast than the first 30. Now it merely seems there is no slowing this train down. That idea has given me an idea for the music video at the end of this blog posting. Again, it reminds me of a much earlier time in my life, when I was stationed in Hawaii and I was such a kid. I was in the Marine Corps, but I was a kid, plain and simple. When I think of what I was tasked to do and the seriousness of that position, I certainly had the skills, but I was not sure I had the emotional maturity I would need. Learning that I did have that was quite a surprise to me, if I am to be honest with myself. What creates emotional maturity? What is it that allows some people to see the big picture and realize consequences much sooner than others. I have a student in class now that demonstrates that ability. I call it a 4o year only in a 20 year old body. Those people amaze me, but I also have great admiration for them. I think some of it has to do with personality. Some of it has to do with nurture versus nature stuff, but how does it all work? I was certainly not that person. In fact I might have been the exact opposite. I have noted some of this in earlier blogs, but it took a long time for me to get to the point where I believe my age and my maturity have finally equalized.

This morning I have worked to get some semblance of order to the next few days. I will have to do some intentional work over the weekend. There are things I need to get done both on the home front as well as in the office. I also want, (perhaps need) merely to get it off the list, to drive to Rhode Island. I might try to do that this weekend, though I am not sure how long it takes . . . map quest break . . . hmmmmm . . .  less than 6 hours. Doable. Maybe I will go tomorrow and get a motel for the night, do some work, find a nice restaurant. I need to check in with someone I know. If I remember correctly, they either have property or some substantive connection to Providence. Of course, they are cruising around Europe at this point. One of the things I look forward to most is traveling because for me it is another way to learn. There are so many places and things to do yet. I wish I was 20 years younger merely to have more time to do it all. First things though, perhaps we make it to Rhode Island this weekend. In the meanwhile, I am back in my office and reading and responding to the hard work of students this past week. Here is the song from a well-known group. The first time I saw them was in Hawaii in 1974, as they backed up the Guess Who. Steven Tyler was a brash of a personality then as he seems to be now. Still rocking   . . .  still “the same old song and dance.” This is at least in the same time period I heard them.

Thank you for reading as always and I hope you have a good weekend.

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)

Managing it all; Understanding what really matters

50 foot woman

Dear Self . . . (Without the selfie),

It is time to get organized for the remainder of your existence. That is what it seems you need to hear. Being over-extended, struggling to focus, and consequently, feeling overwhelmed will not work long-term. It seems you are barely getting done what is necessary for the day let alone for the remainder of the week, the remainder of the month, and certainly not managing the semester at this point. It seems needing to sleep more and again, consequently, somehow not getting as much accomplished is what you have been reduced to being. There was the caring admonishment that if you were sleeping more you are actually helping yourself. You can imagine that is probably true, but you did not always need that amount of rest.

This weekend began with a wonderful little Friday’s soirée where a number of colleagues gathered in your honor. You have been so blessed to have such amazing colleagues and friends.  Today it is off to a birthday part for a little man 1/20 my age. Say what?? Yes, three versus sixty. That ratio stunned me and when thinking about the numeric differential,  you were stunned. For the most part, this past couple weeks your mantra has been, “How did this happen?” It seems the unpredictability of our futures has been something I have found myself pondering. It appears that you are always surprised by what might have been expected and the reality of what actually occurs. In a recent blog you noted that my life has not turned out as “planned.” The more important thing you have come to realize is you did not really have a plan when you were getting out of high school; in fact you were rather clueless(there are moments you still question that.).

The fact that you have worked for more than two weeks to get this blog done, much like your students. Hitting that block, so much that you actually started a new posting and it is up for view. As you know, the teaching of writing is often paradoxical or certainly autobiographic experientially. The very things you are teaching, you are learning, or more likely reminded. You  need to practice what you preach to your student. Indeed, you should never just finish a paragraph and leave it there. Perhaps it is old age, perhaps it is merely as you have noted many times. If you do not continue that train of thought you will lose it; if you are going to be honestly introspective at this point, it is probably a combination of the two. Today grading and pondering, some of that pondering related directly to the title. It is likely that the probable use this title again and again is just reality. As you are in your office (known by some as your living room and others as the museum), you are working on a myriad of things, but you need a break, so you write. It is amazing how this writing can calm your mind, your soul, perhaps lower your blood pressure and other positive imports. As you are typing, listening to “Heat of the Moment” by Asia on Pandora, you find your mind drifting back to your time in Iowa City as a junior honors student at the University of Iowa. Now you have an amazing great-niece there, which reminds you to ask her about the honors program. Working almost full time and going to honors classes, you learned so much when you were there that semester. It has caused you to think about someone you first met in Ames at Iowa State University, but then again in Iowa City. She was an amazing person and someone you still wonder about. There were other learning moments. Working at University Hospitals was an eye-opening experience. So much to learn even now. Every time you begin to consider that you have figured something out, you realize there is more . . .  every time you learn something you learn something you do not know . . . . are you feeling like you are working backwards . . . that is something understandable.

It is perplexing, maybe even more accurately that there is a certain being flummoxed by the fact that the idea of “what next” is constantly a companion . . . . A few nights ago, after stopping by my colleague’s house to drop something off and the reality of how much some things can change was so apparent. The last six years have been so significant in my life as far as my professional (and personal) development. A seventeen year old has changed so much in the six years you have been here. She is not that enjoyable at the present time and the relationship you had with her seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps the most important thing you have learned in the past couple years, however, is to not take these things as personally as you would have. It is apparent that this change in you has been noted by said person though because she believes you have been self-centered. If she only saw the bigger picture. It is her own struggle with life in general that has caused her to pull away and choose to not be as outgoing as she once was. It is evident as you continue to age that God was wise when it was somewhere decided you would never be a biological parent. While being a surrogate parent has been an amazing growing experience, perhaps the belief that you are self-centered  is more accurate than you might believe. You do note often that you are content to go home and close the door. That is another one of those realities. I want to do more of that and there is feeling of needing to pull back. This is not in your nature, but Lydia used to encourage this regularly. There have been some moments lately you have wondered about being alone for the long haul. You have reached out to change that. One over the last year (eight years), and perhaps that was not one of your wiser moves. There seems to be little that can or will change. There are others that speak with you and you speak with them, but nothing seems to be possible there. Perhaps you are the newest generation of the Martin family to be “Uncle Clare”. There are certainly ways that is not a bad thing. He was actually quite intelligent and he had a good heart. He was a bit curmudgeonly at times, but he was also genuinely grateful for those who were around him and he was thankful for what he had. Still feeling badly that an airport connection issue caused me to miss his funeral. This week has been one unexpected thing after another. While productive, it seems that things have gotten thrown into the mix that were not planned. Your friend, Mr. Crohn’s has acted up more than once, another fever, and trying to stay head of getting whatever crud is going around in the class is one thing. Dealing with the project at home and trying to keep those affected happy (good luck on that) have become a much greater difficulty that I might have imagined when first moving in. It seems no matter what is done to demonstrate a sense of trying to understand, there is little reciprocation. It is apparent no matter what is done, it will not be enough or good enough. Then what was considered to be a non-working sewer shut off was no such thing. Therefore, spending time with Roto Rooter today was necessitated. There is nothing that ever really goes completely as planned. That being said, you know that you are still blessed by so many things.

As this is written there was yet another mass shooting/killing in Oregon yesterday. Have not listened to President Obama’s comments, but will do so yet today. Other things like committee meetings, observations, reports, documents, and only God knows, perhaps fortunately, what will come next. You have often noted that if you knew everything that was coming, you might have chosen a different door. There is no change in that feeling or consideration, but there is always the others side of those things you call AFGEs (another f-ing growing experience). It is a good thing that those are not literal things because you would be 50 feet tall (which btw prompted the initial picture for this posting). You might remember that this poster is in the men’s restroom in #Zanzibar back in Menomonie. Somehow thinking of Menomonie and some of the week’s connection to there again has caused me to ponder. There are those people we meet who amaze us and astound us, but we do not always communicate that well and then wonder what if we might have done things differently. You might remember the words of your “surrogate older sibling,” Judy. She once when you were staying at their house counseled you on those you have probably loved, but the timing was not correct. Perhaps truer words have not been spoken. There are a couple of those people. If I think of Ames, there was one. She was in the Alpha Phi sorority where you worked as a waiter. There were a couple of people in Iowa City, one you have already considered earlier in this post, and the second person was an amazingly beautiful person. There were actually two or three persons at Dana. One you are still in contact with, the other two you are not. It is interesting that the two you are not in contact with are probably friends even yet. There are a few other people, but again, the issue was timing. Yet, if you think about that carefully enough there are even a couple from the old neighborhood growing up. It seems as is often the case, a tangential thought sent this writing down yet another path. The beginning of the paragraph had to do with the fact that a number of people are again the victim of violence. Finishing up another meeting about an observation, there is yet one more meeting for the day. Waiting for the next meeting and writing, after reading a couple of news tickers and it seems the shooter (a 26 year old) had 13 weapons, all purchased legally. It begs a number of questions. If what was read earlier, just as a quick glance noted that the gun culture of this country has a disconnect. Nothing could be more accurate. It  is the ability to get weapons so easily (and you are aware that the qualifier in the statement will create difficulty for some) has to be part of the discussion. Again, there is no arguing this constitutionally. As you know, the constitution is exactly that. The right to bear arms is there, but there is so much more to the discussion. What happens to the discussion in so many ways because of special interests and money is appalling.

When does human life, and its value, which Republicans argue is so valuable, at any stage, trump (and it is a struggle to use that term anymore because of the bully with the same name) the “right to bear arms”. Again, there is no argument about the right, it is how the right manifests itself. Realizing we live in a culture here in PA, similarly to where previous residences in WI or MI were, where this ability (right) to own a gun was so valued, the conversation too often becomes an instant argument. That is not what is hoped for or desired. When does the ability to have a gun move into a more complicated discussion or want or need? Are they related? Some will say, “no.” While it is realized you would say, “yes,” perhaps the more likely conversation needs to be if not, perhaps they need to be. There will be, as you know, pro and con pundits deciding why this should be considered, but when will the society decide it is enough? When will life and protection of life (and you know some will argue that guns are for protection, which is true in some cases) created enough push back again the powerful NRA? There are lots of things to consider in that discussion. It seems we all need to take an inventory and decide what matters? We need to argue for the protection of life. Seems a bit disingenuous to be both pro-choice and for stricter gun control, but as  I tell my students, “While I am pro-choice, I am not pro-abortion.” Life matters. All life matters and when our culture seems to value an object more than life, we need to reconsider. Those are my thoughts as I turn now to get back to work.

So as always, thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Oh yes, a small post script: One last thought: the other day was National Coffee Day: it is still one of my favorite things. This little video was posting on FB lately, and in spite of some changes, I appreciate this.