Considering Success or Has it Returned?

Hello on an early Friday morning,

It has been a long week . . . starting out with a sinus infection, one of my patented fevers, and deciding to take a day and a half off as sick days, now for the second night in a row, I have managed to sweat through sheets and wake up freezing.  It is reminiscent of three years ago, and that scares me. I need to probably call my doctor and get in for a check up, but I am not sure I want the answers. What if what I suspect has returned? It astonishes me how much more I seem to need sleep than I used to – I am often in bed before 9:30 and while I might wake up, as I am now, I still get back to sleep and I am often sleeping  7-9 hours versus what was a life (at least from my mid 20s until now) of 3-4. What frustrates me is I still have enough work that if I were sleeping the lesser amount, I might be more caught up than I am. Certainly the early week’s unexpected day and a half hiatus from any meaningful work has taken its toll and the coming  weekend will need to be sufferingly sedulous. That is if I hope to make next week any less than unbearable. And it is not my classes, my time spent n class is sort of my personal oasis from the rest of the craziness that permeate any tenure-track or tenured faculty person’s life. Those three areas that make up our professional week have no limits or time constraints. The two outside the classroom sit there in front of you almost taunting you to attempt to thwart their impending time-drain on your daily calendar. They are the service items on your CV, or the extra-mile that so many faculty go to make a difference in a student’s academic or personal existence as they spend their four years (more or less) on campus and in our offices. They include the scholarly work that is both exhilarating and exhausting because you need to shoe-horn it in between all the other requirements.

As I am less than 24 hours from another commemoration of entering this world, I find myself pondering where I am and what seems to be different from even a few short years ago. Certainly, there are many ways or points by which one can make the comparison.  However like the theme of my Google Map, I think the “auguries of loneliness” phrase still fits my life quite aptly. This journey of a sort of melancholy can be examined by a consideration of the number 10. I think I might do a bit of it by each decade . . . from 2 to 62. Just this morning I was noting that hopefully someone would not remember what happened to them at the age of two – something for another blog posting. Amazingly, I do remember something about being two. By the time I was two, I and Kris, my younger sister was less than a year had traveled more extensively than we realized. I had traveled from Texas to California to Nebraska. Now we had been moved in to live my paternal grandparent’s house. It is the house I have in someways tried to model my home now after. That sort of hominess that comes from making what is natural to the home come alive. That house in the Leeds area of Sioux City was the last house on the hill located on Harrison Street, sitting on a small acreage as it was called then. I remember a breakfast of poached eggs, a half grapefruit, and a piece of toast that was toasted from bread made in their bakery. That breakfast is, to this very day comfort food for me, but more importantly, that house was a house where love reigned supreme, or it sure seemed so to me. It was the house where by two, I already attempted to dress myself and make my bed. Where I went down the steps from my bedroom and sat there waiting for everyone else to get up. See that sleep thing began much earlier in life. It was the place where my grandfather sat with me on the back steps showing me that I did not need to be afraid of the great-horned owl who visited us nightly. Looking back, it was a time where I felt safe and loved . . . What more can a two year old want?

By the time I was turning 12, life had changed drastically. After losing my grandfather shortly before my third birthday to cancer, and I remember him being ill, but certainly not understanding he was dying,  Kris and I would be adopted by a couple who were still family. My adopted father, of whom I have written often in this blog, and my grandmother were first cousins. As I noted can in my freshman classes today, explaining how they might approach an element of their Google Map/Memoir assignment, the day I left Leeds and moved to Riverside as an adoopted child was a life-changing event. There is much that has been written on his topic in former blogs also. By the time I was 12, what was evident is I would be one of the smallest and shortest people in my class. What was also painfully evident, though I did not understand it then, was my mother’s forced single-parenting because our father worked in Northern Minnesota 12 hours a day, and 7 days a week, made daily life in Riverside anything but ideal. On the other hand, there were some positive things. I had become one of the best trumpet players in a town of 100,000 people, and I was in both Sioux City Children’s Choir and the Choldren’s Community Theatre. While, I was not feeling really all that safe anymore, I did know that my grandmother was still there and I knew she loved me as much as ever.

By the time I reached 22, there were a number of events I remember that significantly impacted my life. My older brother had died tragically from the consequences of a construction accident. I had graduated from high school, enlisted in the Marine Corps, came home from experiences I never expected to have, did not understand who I was, where I fit, managed to flunk out of college, met the first girl I truly loved, and realized more fully that my adopted mother really didn’t like me. Does that sound disjointed? It should because that was my life. I had no direction; I was frightned and I felt like my life had little purpose. During that year (in fact, less than two weeks after my 22nd birthday) my grandmother passed away. I believe I cried harder that day than I have perhaps ever cried in my life. The one person who loved me unconditionally was gone. I felt a loneliness and fear I had never felt before. I was not even allowed in the house of my best friend because of my own immaturity and inability to handle another situation. It would take forty years to actually figure that all out, and thank God for someone giving me a chance to talk it all through. More about that to come. Again, not that far into my 22nd year, another potential tragedy served as a wake-up call, when a friend and work friend pulled a gun out one night. Suffice it to say, I grabbed the gun and it went off. He would end up in surgery to remove a bullet and I would end up rethinking the direction my life would take. What was missing at this point was that stabilizing force in my life . . . A person who truly loved me.

By the time I reached 32, the cascade of events that would influence where I might end up were so numerous, I could probably write a book about that decade alone. After wandering pretty aimlessly for a time, though some amazing skills were gained even then, I found my way back to college and even graduate school. I would be married and finishing seminary. I found that college actually “fit” so to speak. I loved learning and I loved the intellectual stimulation that courses and lectures created. I found that traveling and languages became a passion. I would end up working a great deal on my German and took Latin and Greek. Greek, after being the bane of my existence the first time I attempted ended up being something I loved and would end up teaching that summer before I was ordained as a pastor in the ELCA. Learning to be married was something I also worked at, but what I think my life would epitomize at this point was I was becoming successful professionally, but personally, not so much. Again, I think the lost of a grandmother even a decade earlier had still caused me more profound loss and sense of security than I had realized.

I feel in some ways like I am giving my typed version of the Zager and Evans song, “In the Year 2525,” for those of you who know that one-hit wonder, you will smile. If you really want to smile, look of the music video of that song on YouTube, the bustled-shirts, the pastel colors, the hair, and the sideburns are worth the look. What a terrible style we found appropriate at that point. By the time I was 42 my adopted mother would pass away. That was a difficult time for me. I would fail in a first marriage and be in a second one. So much can be said, and I have written about some of these things in the past. During the time I was in graduate school at Michigan Tech, my life was a whirlwind of events and health issues. The Crohn’s that I had fought since my late 20s seemed to be winning and the personal world that I had attempted to create with a second wife was crumbling and something that was much more traumatic that I had hoped for. In addition, my adopted father would pass, and if it were not for my schooling, I am not sure I would have survived. Schooling and weekly counseling by an amazing man named Don. I have told more than one person that those weekly sessions were my one hour of sanity. Little did I know what was still to come. I would become a troll as I followed my second wife to Oakland County Michigan and I would end up back in Iowa – back to Michigan – to Texas and back to Michigan, but this time back to the Upper Peninsula. The longing to be loved or feel lovable continued to be a struggle and what I realized in all of this was how much I felt my own inadequacies, and how devastating that was for me both personally and professionally. The words of not being worthy, good enough, smart enough, or whatever enough were my constant companions. I think I also, for the first time realized I would never be a father. That was more of a problem than I anticipated.

By the age of 52 I had achieved something I had never expected as that 17 year old who entered the Marine Corps because he did not know what else to do. I had finished by Ph.D, in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and I held a tenure track position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I thought I had finally figured it out. While there were still health issues, I was single in a small Wisconsin town and thought I had finally achieved something. What I did not realize was there was still so much to learn. While I had learned more about church politics that I had ever hoped to know from my time as a parish pastor, I would soon learn that the academy was not really very much different. However, something new, or more precisely someone new entered my life. I gained a surrogate parent and somehow I would become the parent to her before it was all finished. What I have noted in my own piety is that I believe the position at UW-Stout had a dual purpose: first, it got me to Menomonie, WI, which was necessary for the second part yet to be explained; second, it also prepared me for the position I currently have, which is to direct a digital rhetoric and professional writing program, here in Pennsylvania. What I truly believe now is I was provided the position at Stout to meet Elaine and Tom Lacksonen, and by extension, Lydia. It is amazing yet how this little wisp of a person would change my life, yet again. When I talk to people about my life, which I seem somewhat fraught to do, and with more anxiousness than you might believe, they tell me I should be a few hundred years old. Yet, as noted above, I am only to the 50s of my life as I compose this chronological blog. Interestingly, Lydia took over my life; yet this is something I allowed/permitted/unwittingly encouraged. Even after leaving Wisconsin, my life was centered around trips that focused on her care and maintaining a promise made one more at Perkins as she devoured potato pancakes. Again, I have written much about her, so suffice it to say, “my life was Lydia’s life” for the better part of a decade.

Now I am 62 . . .  more changes seem to be on the horizon, but I am not totally sure what they are or how they will manifest themselves, but that is nothing new. I think what is new is they seem more significant, and I am not entirely convinced, if I were to write another decade of what has happened, that it will even occur. For the first time in my life, I think I can honestly say I am tired. I do not have the stamina I once had. I do not have the focus or ability to stay engaged hour after hour as I used to. This is frustrating to me, but is it perhaps my body trying to tell me something I do not want to hear. I am not afraid any longer to consider myself as getting old. This past summer at school, a colleague and I were watching the summer students and parents walk around. I asked in a pondering way, “I wonder what it means with the parents look young to me and the mothers are more attractive than their daughters?” His rather immediate response was “it means you are f-ing old.” Point well taken. This past year, as noted earlier, I had the opportunity to reconnect with that person from 40 years ago. Conversations, both through electronic media and phone ensued and I think it was the best thing that happened to me in a personal realm. It is amazing that we are such different people with so much life since then, but the conversations regarding our care for each other at that time will be held in my heart for the remainder of my days. We have not spoken lately, perhaps because neither have taken the time and life gets busy, but I need to reach out because I am grateful beyond words. All of which brings me to an important reminder or revelation that I need to remember in my own life.

We certainly go through seasons and phases and the relative importance of people changes. I know this, but it is always something with which I struggle. Yet, I do it to others as it is done to me, and I do not mean that it is intentionally done, but it is just the reality of things. One of my former students is living in my house during a five week pharmacy rotation. It has been a joy for that to occur. We have learned much about the other. It is her and I together in the picture above. She looks minimally different. Me . . . . well . . .  The past week has also been one of the times I am reminded of my fragility as someone, who matters beyond any words because of her care for Lydia, has seemed to retreat beyond what I expected. I understand busyness; I understand feeling overwhelmed. I understand rethinking something, but merely stating what needs to be said works better than avoiding. My fragility takes avoidance personally. That is my fault and I will own it. While I continually make progress in managing my fears, somehow they still find me. My newest, or latest more accurately, because it is certainly not new are the fevers that are back. My life is always a balancing act between healthy and less than . . .  but the wire upon which I travel is slender and frayed. I wish that were not the case, but it is. So as I countdown hours to another anniversary of arrival, I know that tomorrow will come and it will go. While there is little to physically show for that advancement, when I look at the 3 score and 2 years I have been here, it has been quite a journey. I am grateful to all who have played a role in making me the person I am at this point. I have been richly blessed and hopefully I have imparted to some significant degree as much for those who have been in my life be they in Wisconsin or California, Montana or Pennsylvania. With all of that, I offer this song. For those who have tried along the way and I was too stubborn or proud to listen, forgive me. I think this perhaps describes me too often. And still I miss her love . . .

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Show me the Way

Hello from my upstairs,

It has been a day of reflection and a day of feeling I am too far away from where I  believe  I should be. As I was telling my colleague, Mark, this morning as we shared our thoughts about Dan and Mike, or Drs. Riordan and Levy, a bishop might have demanded the resignation that removed me from a clergy roster, but he could not, did not, and cannot take away the profound and central part of my piety and soul that still has me providing pastoral care to so many people I meet. Certainly, I no longer wear the funny turned-around shirt and I’m no longer called, or referred to as, Pastor, but perhaps, just perhaps, some of the most significant and poignant ministry I have done has occurred in the Bible as Literature course, happened when I emotionally supported or demonstrated care for a struggling student, or lived the gospel in the manner that made someone reconsider God rather than ignore, or run from, God. In fact, it was 19 years ago this past week I was given a new commandment by an earthly person, one who enjoyed playing God, demanding I resign and forfeit my ordination. I certainly did some things to make him question, and for that I am accountable, but as many have said, he did not have to do things the way he did. Ironically, I had tried to resign the clergy roster only two weeks prior, but he would not accept it. I know now it was because I had taken his power away if I resigned on my terms and he couldn’t allow that. I have been asked more than once to consider applying to be reordained or reinstated, but having the title of pastor or the ability to do sacraments once again is not something I need, if I am to be fulfilled. There are certainly times I wish someone would just show me the easiest way to move forward, or as I tell my students, “please just give me the recipe card.” All too often that’s what we what. But there is a simple and profound problem with getting a recipe card; we are prone to blame whomever it is giving the card, especially when things don’t work out exactly like we thought. What does it actually mean to be shown the way?

I spent a good part of the day doing schoolwork @FogandFlame. When I was by myself I had my earbuds in and I can just disappear into my work. Part of the time was spent however again being somewhat of a surrogate father or providing some sense of pastoral care without ever really mentioning God. It’s not really that I am particularly brilliant or even very amazing, but I think I’m honest and genuine and the advice I give for the most part is accepting and pragmatic. It’s not a matter of rocket science it’s a matter of being honest with the situation and accepting accountability for the choices we make. I believe many times it is merely showing a person’s pathway, making it clear to them that there are options.  To help them believe they have a right, even in the midst of difficulty, to make a choice that is hopefully in their best interest and in the interest of those around them. seems to be the right thing to do. Too often we are paralyzed, unsure if there is the best option, and by our paralysis we lose our own way. This happens way too many times. One of the things I most admire about my former colleague and forever- mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, is how he has managed his diagnosis with prostate cancer from the very beginning. He faced, and fought, this disease gallantly, honestly, and on his terms, to the best of his ability. Through his letters, his emails, his posts, and his indutibly beautiful spirit he has shown many of us the way to move forward and live life as it is meant to be lived. In his fabulous gift of photography and his willingness to share it with others, he reminded, and will continue to remind, us of the beauty, which is often directly in front of us on a daily basis. I still remember the first time coming to Dan’s and Mary’s house I was introduced to the newest hatchlings of bald eagles. I remember looking out from their amazing view what a town that woukd change my life. I have often said that the job at Stout prepared me for my job now. My being in Menomonie introduced me to Lydia and the consequence of Lydia can never be overstated. Little did I know the way I was being shown. I should note that the Riordan house was always a point of refuge for me, and that has been a wonderful gift. Mary and Dan are an amazingly wonderful couple. It was apparent, even the last time I was in their house this past January how much they loved and supported each other.

This morning I wished a belated Happy Birthday to someone who turned 23 years old. It reminded me of when I was 23 and I wondered momentarily what I was doing. It is an easy year to remember because of the consequential nature of it. That was the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team called Daybreak. It was the year I was blessed to meet the Swenson family, my first host family. Through breakfast conversations and return visits, somehow I did not quite follow my intended path, or the one I was imagining at the time. Indeed, Lee and Judy Swenson persuaded me to consider other options. Perhaps the most important thing they taught me was about family and sharing and the willingness to open themselves up to other people. To this day I am grateful for their involvement in my life. And yes, for more years that I want to admit (and only because it will reveal age),  we are still friends. We still chat on the phone and those conversations are so treasured. Hard to believe the four-year-old I first met is now also a college professor just as I am. I do not want to tell you how old that makes me feel. I am pretty sure that is not what either one of us saw at that time. How do we determine the way? I am a firm believer that life is not deterministic. While I am certainly a cause and effect person, a process and product person, as I’ve grown older I’m quite sure that there’s more left to chance than we could ever imagine. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure it is, but it certainly creates many more questions. For us as individuals, perhaps it is a reminder that we have less control than we think and we should exert less control over others then we often want. For me, what is more frightening is what it does to us societally, or as a country. By our votes we give power, and yet we have very little control. I already know that someone say we can just vote differently next time, but two years is a long time, and four years might change the course of history. What is the way and how are we shown a reasonable path when there are so many visions? And of course everyone wants to believe theirs is correct. Theirs is the way, just ask them.

Well, I have laid in bed working on this a bit longer than planned. I need to get some more things off my plate. I have gotten up, cleaned up and now back to @FogandFlame. As long as the day is productive, the week will go well. I have a number of student conferences this week for my Freelancing class and I need to do some things to prepare for that. Then there is just the grading that still needs to happen. Grading is such a difficult thing. I am reminded of the conversation with and for students that tries to help them understand the difference between evaluation and assessment. Students are so grade driven, they forget that classes and education are about learning and competency. When I ask students the difference between education and work I get some interesting answers. Education is for the sake of learning and understanding; it is not about skills, it is about what you have incorporated into who you are. If someone is learning, comprehending, analyzing, the grade will generally take care of itself. There is no one way; there is no recipe card. When students ask what I want them to do or implores me to tell them what to do, there is an issue? When they are more interested in the number of words, pages, or sources, they are asking for a recipe card. They want someone to not only show them the way, they want someone to walk it with them. That is an interesting struggle between being independent and dependent. That is an entirely separate issue and something that seems to be an oxymoronic process for most of my students. Of course, we did not have the communicative options students now do. I remember the last time I spoke with my Grandmother. It was from a phone booth just outside of Atlantic, Iowa, late in the morning as I pulled over on my motorcycle and called her because I had failed to stop and see her. Of course, I did not know this would be my last words with her. There is that uncertainty again. We have no way of knowing what lies ahead. How do we know the way forward? Perhaps it is not the path, but rather the direction.

What I am painfully aware of today is the tenuousness of life and that those who are alive ahead of me are fewer in number than those who are behind me . . .  I am not elderly, though there are moments, and I am certainly beyond middle aged, so what am I? How do I understand the way or the direction forward? I know that I have some things squared away and in place, but there is still more to do. To whom do I turn for direction and advice? This is a tougher question than some might imagine because I am using giving advice rather than taking it (I can already hear some of you, so stop!!), but truthfully, the position of being an advisor, of being a surrogate parent, of being the elder, and of having a number of experiences has created a sort of interesting position for me. How do I reach out when I am uncertain, and to whom? I guess that will be the thing to ponder today, but for now, it is back to work. In the meanwhile, here is another video that offers some sense of my dichotomous struggle with being part of the church and being tired of the institutional aspects of this needed community. I guess it is not surprising that I find Bonhoeffer so compelling for many reasons.

As always, thank you for reading my blog. I have appreciated your comments and what you have shared with me . . . you all show me the way more than you know.

Bless you,

Michael

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