Kariotic Moments and Small Potent Gestures

Good early morning,

Over the last hour or so (it’s 4:30 a.m.), the first fall wind and rain storm blew through. It was windy enough to wake me, and not totally unexpected because it was breezy as I made my home after last night’s late class to a grown wind and latte summer humidity. It was warm enough to open windows upstairs before going to bed and I might have left a door or two open also. The wind for the even cooled the house nicely. I love fall storms because they remind me of my time in Houghton and up in the Keweenaw, where the power of the largest of the Great Lakes made it readily apparent how minuscule our human strength against the fury of nature was (and is). As I listened to the gusts this morning, which were quite evident, I tried to imagine what 170 mile winds of Hurricane Maria might be like. I cannot begin to fathom it . . . the minutes turn into hours, and the hours into days, and then to weeks . . . again, I am still hoping to work on this. It is about 48 hours later and a lot has been accomplished. I am about  95% caught up in my grading. I have a bit to do tomorrow, but one of those kairotic times is upon me. Promotion materials are due next Wednesday and I am not even close to being where I need to be, so the marathon begins this evening. I got some other things done and the few remaining will be breaks as I move forward in this process to move to the next level.

I remember doing this for tenure a few years ago and just wanting it all done. It is something I need to slog through and it is simple as that. So . . . in my typical fashion, I am clearing my head before I have to concentrate on this daunting task. I know that people do it. I know people are doing as I am. There are moments that stun us, moments that leave us speechless, and moments when we are confronted with the reality of our lives (or the lives of those around us), which force us to step back and realize what matters the most. I have had two of those events this past week. I am always sad when people are dealt a hand that seems overwhelming, certainly unfair, and can only elicit one response when we hear the news . . .  something like “Shit . . . are you kidding me?” and you know deep in your gut there are no words, no emotions and quite simply nothing that is adequate in any communicative response. That was what I heard from a student this morning. It is how I felt when I read about two of my former students who have faced either illness or accident that has changed the course of their lives. It is at those times, the voice of the Psalmist rings out most clearly to me, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It seems that if such words were adequate for Jesus on the cross, perhaps they are  the best I too can utter at such a time. As we need into the fall season, I am reminded through the longer enveloping darkness that there is a coldness that will come. There is both a sense of longing for the light, but, more generally for me the appreciation, of a sort of melancholy that accompanies a windy, autumn evening. As I noted the other night it was a sort of storm . . . gusty winds and rain, but a coldness and reminder of what is yet to come in these Northern climates.

It was a milder summer than I can remember here in Northcentral Pennsylvania. The grass is still quite green and that is months longer than usual. It has also cost me much more than usual to keep things on the acre looking reasonable. Actually the leaves are just beginning to change, but the colors seem a bit more muted than usual. I guess that is okay. What I am realizing with the hectic schedule of the fall, I have not made it to Jim Thorpe once, and my somewhat yearly tradition of the Elysburg Haunted House might be broken this year too. Why? The Kairos of Promotion as I will call it. What has happened in the almost 5 weeks since Shiama left is I have used home again as a place to sleep, shower, and collect mail. It is amazing how when someone is in my house, I feel much more balanced and healthy. Those who have been reading know I had some significant vitamin issues earlier this year. I am almost two months without a B12 shot and I can tell. I just took my first Vitamin D in over a month and again, I can tell. It just seems like my office, which I love, becomes a black hole that keeps me from getting as much done as I should. I think much of it is certainly my own fault in that I need to prioritize and do what many of the other faculty do . . . guard my time a bit more carefully, but I have not really figured out how to do that effectively. I still struggle to say I cannot do anymore. I do not think it is about letting people down, but rather it is about lifting people up and trying in some small way to make a difference for them as others have done for me. This is what Cynthia Selfe, the chair of the Humanities Department at Michigan Technological University when I was a graduate student there, called “small potent gestures.” They are those thing that occur at that kairotic moment which make a profound and noticeable difference in the life of “the other.” I have been so blessed to have people do those things for  me in my life, often when unexpected and most certainly mostly when undeserved.

This past week, whether people imagine it as such, and there will certainly be discussion as to whether this address deserves such attention, but I believe it does. For a sitting Senator to question the leadership of the President of their own party in such a public way is unprecedented. I did some  research and the last time a Senator stood in such stark contrast to another within their own party was not about the President, but about another Senator. In 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (ME-R) took on Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) during the Communist Accusations, which led to the filing of what was called the “Declaration of Conscience.” While I am not a Senator Jeff Flake fan, and mostly because I do not fit the AZ conservative Republican mold . . . really, you ask?? 🙂 . . . I do think some of what he said about what we need to do in terms of our discourse and the urgent need to be more civil in what happens being it individually or nationally rings true for me. It pains me to see how we have become so uncaring, so self-centered, so unwilling to look beyond our own selfish hopes and desires. Whether it being something as simple as holding the door open for the other, offering someone a hand when their hands are full, or giving out of our simple having when the other does not have, it matters. It is that small potent gesture that might give another hope when they feel hopeless. What pains me is the willingness to attack the person with whom we have a disagreement rather than be willing to understand why they might see the issue differently than we do. This rude, callous, and despicable behavior, which I must agree does seem to emanate from the very person we have elected to represent us, does more than embarrass me. It has the ability at time to leave me disillusioned. I fight that daily, but there are times I find myself questioning if we have been debased to the degree there is no return. It is interesting that two Senators used that very work this past week, both Republicans.

At the very least, Senator Flake should cause us pause. What do we hope for ourselves as a nation? What sort of world do we leave for our children or our grandchildren? I might say, it does not matter because I have no children, and hence no grandchildren. I might say it does not matter because I have accomplished so much more than I ever imagined I could. I might be tempted to say I have done my work and as such, I can leave it up to those who will follow, but that is not how I roll, to use the vernacular. It brings be back to something that has found its way into my cranial pondering as of late. What do I have yet to accomplish that is not self-serving or perhaps selfish? More important in such a question is who decides? Again, I am reminded of how lives change and paths unpredicted become the norm. On Monday when began this blog, I can recollect, and perhaps pause in anniversial (is that a word???) manner. On the 23rd of October 1988, I was ordained a Lutheran pastor. As many know, much has happened since then, but today’s encounter with a student and health reminded me of that caring role and hope that often is such a part of pastoral care. It is 29 years since that ordination. That day I was so overwhelmed with the reality of the event and what or who I was, I was physically ill. Interestingly, the 31st, it will be 500 years ago that Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the Castle door at Wittenburg. I remember it was the 500 anniversary of his birth when I was in East Germany to visit that place. Luther knew his gesture was potent, but I doubt he understood just how potent it was. That Sunday in October of 1988, I remember clearly as my fellow classmates, already ordained, as well as the Rev. Frederich Peters and the Rev. Dr. Greg Witte laid their hands on my head and I listened to those words. I remember my best friend, who is no longer alive, singing John Michael Talbot’s “Prayer of St. Francis” and my listening to those words. The kairos of that moment is not something I will ever forget.  I am grateful for my friends, particularly Susan, who has always supported my identity, even after leaving the clergy roster, to see me as someone still called. More than a small gesture on her part, more than she might begin to fathom.

This past week as I walked around, I felt a certain loneliness. I felt a certain sadness in a sort of failing way. While the creating of the map assignment for my students was difficult for some of them, it allowed me to see just how many, in spite of their imperfect and perfectly human families, cared and loved their parents so deeply. Certainly there were families in which estrangements are occurring; certainly I heard some things that cause me to see how complicated their lives often are, especially outside the confines of my class. Yet, even for those who struggle with things, the love and care I felt in some of their words give me hope. Perhaps there is more to the world than the discord that seems to cover every inch of a news source, be it online or hardcopy. Perhaps people do think beyond the 140 characters that epitomizes the verbal capacity of our somewhat frightening leader . . . to those who support him (and I support and respect the office, but I am struggling to do the same because of some of what he has said and done) please accept my apology. What I know is in spite of all the good and less than, I have been blessed and amazed by the grace of that which I do not always understand. For the moment, that is good enough. With that, I leave this version of that amazing song for you to hear. This specific video of the song generally brings me to tears.

Again, as always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

Feeling Better . . . And Feeling Blessed

Hello from the Acre,

It is amazing what technology does; it matters not whether we are talking social media and our daily obsession or whether we are referring to what happens in a dctor’s office, an X-ray room, or a same-day surgical suite. This past week I have been a willing participant in all of them. I was in early adopter of social media, but if I’m to be completely honest I had no idea how it would eventually affect my life, my teaching, and certainly my scholarship. For some it might be difficult to understand how Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might be related to what I did in graduate school. On the other hand, for some of my graduate school colleagues and for my intellectual and academic soulmate, Dr. Timothy Oleksiak, and hopefully certainly the case for many of my students, the connection is like peas and carrots as noted so skillfully by Forrest Gump. It is also, in my opinion, a significant component in what had created the nationalistic fervor that seems to be so prominent in the world as we currently experience it. There is certainly much more that could be said about this but I will hold off. And I know that surprises some of you because I generally don’t hold off on much. . . . A week or so has passed and I cannot get this finished because so much is been on my plate. I have been in a doctor’s office daily for my B 12 shots, and for the most part, that has been rather non-eventful. The same can’t be said for an attempt for starting IV yesterday while I was getting an MRI. Honestly, I do not remember such difficulty growing up, but somewhere around my 35th birthday there seems to have been a change. At that point, my veins got a mind of their own and as soon as I walk into a medical facility, they decide to dive and roll. Yesterday,  however, might be a new record: four different people attempted nine times total. And some of those attempts were excruciatingly painful. Yet, all the same, by the time we’re done the tasks were accomplished. Today except for a few bruises and some telltale signs of a stick, I am OK.

Blessings come in many forms, but perhaps the most profound blessings are given through the people that we meet and the realization of how much they have influenced or blessed our lives. It is been almost 8 years since I left the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and more specifically the Department of English and Philosophy (and yes I know that is strange pairing within an academic department; I thought the same when I was there). During the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on many things. Putting aside much of the hurt that was inflicted by one person in particular, and through the ripple effects of that person by those within the department. The starting elements of that healing began at a KOA campground in Paducah, Kentucky, as I drove my Harley from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. And the times I’ve gone back to Wisconsin over the years I kept in contact with whom it seemed reasonable. There in the past 36 hours two significant people in that department with a long history of scholarship and teaching have both entered hospice. One is my former chairperson, who is an amazing scholar in his own right, and is also genuinely a kind and gentle person.  The other is the person of whom I have spoke in past blogs (or more accurately wrote), as well as my mentor, the person who help me navigate that last difficult and painful year I served there.  Together they have well over a half a century within that department, and the numbers of students and colleagues they have affected is profound. One of my most important colleagues here in Bloomsburg, preceded me both at Stout and as he and I like to say, he poached me away from there. More truthfully, he saved me. Yesterday we spoke about both of these people and how we had a somewhat reversed reciprocal relationship with them. His closer relationship was with the chair and as such this time and the loss of that person for him is much more personally profound. For me, it is the latter of the two. It was interesting for me, and helpful, to have that conversation, on a whole variety of levels. He and I had our own time to reminisce and get ready to mourn from a distance this change. To my former colleagues who read this blog, and with whom I’ve stayed in contact, please know that both of us hold you all in our prayers and in our own ways our hearts break with yours from a 1000 miles away.  To Sandy and Mary, as you prepare to say goodbye to someone whom you love so deeply, I pray that you might find strength and comfort in knowing that you do not walk this journey alone. That is one of the blessings we are given in community.

In terms of my own health issues and things that I’ve noted very specifically in the last couple blogs, we continue to do testing,; I continue to walk through appointment after appointment, hoping for and determining a plan on how my teams of doctors and my homeopath will manage my struggling yet resilient body and the long-term consequences of Crohn’s disease. Today I have begun wearing a heart monitor for the next month. As it is about 2:00 a.m. that I am composing this, my timeline is technically correct when I say last night, I was at an annual event that might be one of my social highlights of the year. The LBGTQA Comission on campus, had their annual gala and silent auction. It is the 9th year that I see many more of my colleagues from across the University’s campus than perhaps any other night. Last night they collected over $10,000 to support students on campus. That’s a wonderful thing.  However, as I walked around last night socializing and sharing stories,  it was impossible to not marvel at how amazing, committed and hard-working so many people are on a daily basis, and damn, this reminds me that somehow I forgot to fill out my Snyder amendment this past week. Oops. Another thing to add to my list. But again I am so blessed by so many people. A person with whom I seldom get to spend time, but I was blessed enough to have dinner with one night at the beginning of my third year here, was at the event with his wife. He is our athletic director and I respect and adore them both. I don’t think I’ve actually spoken to them with much more than a hello since they were over to my house for dinner last summer. It was a poignant reminder of how quickly things go and how little time it seems we have to be with those who matter. I had the opportunity to speak with the person, who is a newer faculty member, and she and her husband are the most wonderful couple. She recently gave a recital, and while I knew  she was a significantly talented musician, I have not been transported into another place while listening to music like that since I was in the Thomas Kirke in Leipzig in 1985.  Or listening to music air cathedral in Lubeck, listening to the music of Buxtehude in the very church he had played in and that was in January of 1981. And then there was the surprise of running into the niece of a colleague, who unbeknownst to me, had returned from a year in Spain. She is such a phenomenal young lady. Again, the opportunity to be among such astounding people should never be taken for granted, and to give thanks for such tremendous gifts seems so inadequate. And all of these gifts are just in my little corner of the world.

It is unfathomable that we are already to April 1st, and that is no joke, but the passage of time certainly fools us. It is also the day that my Dominican family and I are launching our little travel company. Called Galtín (Gaul TEEN) Travel, we are specializing in vacations to the Dominican Republic. In fact if you followed by this blog long enough, I have written a number of entries from there on more than one occasion. If you want to know more, please go to galtintravel.com and check things out (If you get a password protected issue, that will change within the next few hours as we had it protected until launch). I can promise you an amazing time in a fairytale setting. An all-inclusive long weekend or week or 10 days, it is all up to you. You can go by yourself or with another person; you can take the family or group of friends and we can accommodate your needs. Yes, this is my unabashed advertisement. And if you book during the month of April and travel before the end of 2017, we are offering a 20% discount.  It is possible to get straight flights reasonably priced from JFK, Newark, or Philadelphia. You need to book your flight and have a passport. We’ll help you with the rest. I have traveled there three times now, and each time was more amazing than the first. It is honestly like walking around in a fairytale world for a few days where every need is cared for and every desire pampered. The current strength of the American dollar does not hurt a bit. Between that strength and the discount, there might never be a better time to book your travel.

If you go to the site, I have blogged there also about why I might undertake such a venture with my Dominican family. Together we hope to make a difference for others offering something that might seem impossible. In some ways it is sharing how we have been blessed together with others. Working with them on this process has been a learning experience, and there have been some minor bumps, but that is always the case when you do something the first time or when you try to move dreams into realities. It has been the hard work and many hours of pondering the actual doing. I must give credit to the two younger persons for getting things actually into a place where we can actually do this. Then there was additional rethinking, revising, and reconsidering that has gotten us to this point.  Once again, I have realized for most of my life, I’ve never really known what I expected or even where I was going. All I know is that I’ve been blessed in many and various ways, but many and various people. People enter and leave our lives sometimes because of our own changes and sometimes because of their’s. Two people who have profoundly influenced me, and my development as a scholar and a professor, are, in their own ways, preparing to leave and by similar paths. To both Mike and Dan, thank you for mentoring me and sharing what you have. To Sandy and Mary, my wish for you is a sense of comfort and strength in your time of sorrow. To all the children and the grandchildren, I’m sorry for your loss. I know all too well how difficult it is to lose a parent. I cannot help but feel both deeply sorrowful in their passing, yet profoundly blessed by their influences in my life. The interesting thing about being blessed by something or someone is that it is almost always unexpected and probably even more undeserved. These gifts actually occurs more often than we might ever know because we simply don’t realize how simply blessing are provided. It could be a gas station; it could be coming home and finding new people. It could be leaving and moving and losing and gaining at the same time. It has happened again these last few weeks as an unexpected reintroduction has come to pass. The conversations,  the sharing, the reminiscing, and the relearning has brightened up my days, lifted my spirits, and reminded me of how deeply I loved someone. It has transported me back to a time in my life where I was searching desperately trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. It has been good just see how another person perceived me at that time. It has been helpful to know that what I felt, I did not feel alone. As I was blessed by their presence then I am blessed by their presence now. Once again I’m reminded that I never know what to expect in my life and the twists and turns it might take. But through it all, it is evident to me again that we do not walk alone. We do not fail to influence, or be influenced, by the other. So yes, I am feeling better, but more importantly, I am feeling blessed. The picture above is of a car I once owned. The video below is of a group whose concert I once attended. I still think Nancy Wilson might be one of the most attractive guitar players in the world. Just sayin’

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael