Being Grateful is both Singular and Plural

Good morning as I move toward the end of another journey.

The past few days have been packed with activity, and I have been blessed to spend time with a friend Who hearkens back to when I had barely begun my time at Michigan Tech. I am sitting in the airport in Alicante, continuing my culinary love affair with local cuisine. It seems I find something gastronomically inspirational from each place I visit. Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and Iberian Ham, with one more cappuccino fit the bill as I begin the two day journal that will return me to the Acre. It was a bit more expensive than Rome’s airport meal, but so much cheaper, and with so much more quality than my American airport experiences. As I have posted over the part three weeks, I have been so fortunate to be treated so kindly in every single place I have visited. However, being treated with kindness is not a surprising thing, in spite of the current tenor that seems present in many more places than the United States or Washington D.C. Trying to learn enough to greet someone in their native tongue, to say a simple please and thank you in their language is neither difficult or overwhelming. In fact, I will assert it is simple common courtesy, or should be. It is what we were taught (hopefully) soon after we learned to speak at all. While gaining access to the other’s language at one point took some effort, it is so easy today with apps and your phone, to not do so is incredibly lazy, and, at least in my opinion, insufferably rude. Each place I visit, I take the time to read about their history and their customs before arriving. Again access to such information is only a swipe or so away. It’s not rocket science, and it demonstrates some sense of appreciation for the welcome and the kindness you are bound to receive. Seriously, I have been treated with incredible kindness and with a willingness to assist me if needed. I think there are times I surprise people because I greet them upon arrival in their language and I try hard to listen to understand as much as possible. I have been asked twice in the last 24 hours if I was Spanish, Polish, or American. When I hand them my American passport and say, dzień dobry; jak (pan/pani) się masz? (hello sir or ma’am, how are you?) the double-take is always amusing to me, My phenomenally kind host in Ascoli Piceno FB messaged me and noted that I was polite and kind. It is what my grandmother taught me as a small boy. One was to use their manners always, no exceptions. In fact, the one thing that might have caused me to see her angry was if I had been dishonest or had been rude to someone. As a small boy, the one thing I was forbidden to say was to tell another person to “shut up.” While I was not aware of the infamous F-word yet, telling someone to shut up was probably as egregious to my grandmother.

This really does get me to the crux of this posting. Gratitude is to me a sense of profound thankfulness. It is understanding that the kindness you receive is not owed, but rather freely given. Gratitude is something I believe each of us possesses and it is a gift, a gift which we are tasked, if you will, to provide to/for another. It is not by accident that I start with the idea of giving someone this gift rather than being the recipient of someone’s gift of gratitude. When we choose to be grateful and display that feeling of gratitude to another, what we say indirectly is that we have been blessed by that person. It creates an interaction that can serve to uplift each person. There is also another important thing here. If it is something given, for gratitude to work as a gift, there is always the other. Like any gift unless given and received, the giftedness does not happen. What astounds me is how difficult it appears expressing gratitude has become. I hear the word entitlement thrown around like the blinking line in that initial game of pong, but most often it is aimed at those who fall into my students’ demographic. Yet one must ask from where did they learn this? Furthermore, I have some incredibly hardworking students who demonstrate graciousness on a regular basis. From where one learns this sense of always being the customer or that they are always right comes from example. We are not born with a sense of greed or entitlement; we are not born with a sense of privilege; in fact, our habits and our attitudes, each and everyone of them are learned. I could go into the social-psychology of all of it, but suffice it to say, we have created our own problems when it comes to how we treat, act toward, or encounter the other. Our seeming lack of decorum, civility, and complete inability to act in a gracious way has been learned by those around us.

Our sense of privilege or the argument that has been posited, and rather summarily rejected this past few days, that Western Civilization (as well as some other terms) is the only valuable, or most valuable, in history or the correct one is certainly one of the more egregious examples of this sort of behavior. For some time I have found the actions of the United States Representative from Iowa’s fourth Congressional District appalling. My justification for my attitude was not only the incredible insensitivity and intransigence of his speech, but the fact that he was from the state in which I was raised, and I was not raised in any way that could find his statements palatable. I remember raising my concern in the past. While I have not been particularly ardent in my support of most anything Republican, I am impressed that the Minority leader in the House and the Republicans stripped him of his committee assignments and there is move afoot to censure if not move toward his expulsion from the Congress. That is a significant move, and while it still causes me some personal embarrassment for my home state, I will be more impressed if he is sent packing. Again, gratitude and goodness is not only a Western thing; gratitude and goodness is not only a Christian thing; gratitude and goodness is not a male or female thing; and it is certainly not an American thing. It is a human thing. More importantly, it is the correct thing.

Today as I was sitting in the Schippol airport in Amsterdam on two separate occasions, a stranger reminded me of something or realized something I had not. In the first case, I would have left my credit card. He caught me before I have even moved and I thanked him profusely. In the second case 20 € had fallen out of my pocket and a person behind me realized my loss and let me know. In both cases, neither person was American, they were simply doing the gracious thing and in both cases I told them thank you more than once. They smiled and told me they were glad to help me. I could tell from accents that one was probably Dutch and the other perhaps Spanish. As I noted in both a FB posting and in a previous blog, each place I spent any significant time during this journey, I was provided the most wonderful support by persons I had met earlier in my life, some as long as two decades ago, some within the last four years. Yet, again in each place I was introduced to still more people who blessed me with their kindnesses day in and day out. This trip I was both on my own, but never really alone long. In fact, today was the day I have been most on my own. As I write this, we about to land in Kraków. It is after 10:00 at night and I have one last ride to my hotel. We have just been informed it is 0 C and snowing, so it is the January Kraków I know and love. Indeed, it looks much more like winter than when I left only about two weeks ago. My Uber chauffeur said it had snowed quite a bit the last two days and it was supposed to snow for a couple more. However, by the time I got to Warsaw, the snow was gone. Perhaps one of the things I have found l perhaps less appealing about travel is the actual flying. I remember when, once upon a time (and it certainly feels fairytale like) that getting on a plane was exciting and rather sophisticated. Those days are gone for sure. I think the change post-911 has a great deal to do with that. In addition, navigating lines, smaller seating with more people and quicker turn around times all seem to raise the stress of this formerly exciting adventure. Today I am on a truly international flight as the plane is AirItaly, but the flight is managed by Polish Lot. We are on an Airbus 330 and it is an incredibly full flight. As I write now we are about 6 hours into a 9 hour flight. Perhaps 45 minutes off the coast of Newfoundland. I think I have been aboard a flight of the most restless individuals ever. The man behind me, who is a towering presence, and whose son must me next to me has spent more time standing in the aisle with his hand on the back of my seat than sitting. When I got up to go to the bathroom, it was impossible to get by him and he stood there and is so mammoth, he really could not move out of the way. He could have sat back down, but that did not seem to occur to him. On the way back to the bathroom, I encountered the same issue twice and when I returned to my seat, I waited in the central emergency door area waiting for the same man to move away from my seat. Twenty minutes later I finally returned and had to softly say, Proszę, paproszzm. Seems what I wrote a few hours ago has come back in spades to quote the saying. I think it must be exponentially more difficult to serve as a flight attendant when there is so much expected. To be continually gracious when the majority of those encountered are not takes some terrific discipline. Again they provide a gift of grace and gratitude as they often attend some who are less than graceful and absolutely less than gracious.

It is still about 6 hours or so before I will make it home. It is usually the case that I am up about 24 hours on these westbound trans-Atlantic hops. I remember two years ago being pulled over by Pennsylvania State Patrol because I wandered across a lane marker at 1:00 a.m on an early Saturday morning. Both Dr. P and a student were with me. I was 2 1/2 miles from my I-80 exit. Fortunately, I think this is where age assisted me. I told the trooper that I have begun the day in Poland and was a bit tired. I noted I had crossed the line. He took my information and when he returned he noted my insurance card had expired the week before. He was certainly gracious and issued no tickets. I was polite and thanked him for his kindness. Tickets, troopers, and traffic stops are definitely a time to use your best manners. I can say with the no milking of doubt that I have never gotten rude when being pulled over. It does not happen often and even less often as I have aged, but being gracious has saved me dollars and points in my license. In fact, twice in the State of Kansas, it probably kept me out of jail. Seriously!! Amazing how fast 280ZX could travel on flat open highway at 3:30 a.m.. I have made it home and it is about 1:00a.m. and contrary to the immediately prior sentence, there was no reason to pull me over. I am a bit more judicious about my driving at this point in time. In the spirit of transparency, there was a time I did end up in jail because of a traffic issue and even then I was told as I was released that I might have been the most polite temporary inmate they ever had. Even later when I dealt with the fallout of that transgression, I was honest about the circumstance, and polite, and the city attorney responded that he was sorry he even had to charge me. He was incredibly understanding and allowed me to postpone the reduced fine and sentence for 6 months in order to manage other issues I needed to manage.

The point of this post is simple, but, in light of our present national atmosphere, also of utmost urgency. What will it take to become a country, where currently anger, vitriol, and figure pointing are the order of the day, to return to a place where manners are commonplace, that even spirited discussion can create a common goal, or we choose to look for goodness rather than discord is the norm rather than the exception. It is something we are taught early on to be polite, to listen first, to question, but do so respectfully. What happened? I think the answer is complex and multi-faceted, but I also believe it begins at home. Teaching tolerance and acceptance, modeling love and gratitude, demonstrating charity and generosity are a beginning; then expecting that it be practiced (and that means required) regularly would go miles in reorienting our present national direction. I believe in freedom of speech and the right to assemble, but when what comes from such speech or assembly is ranting and unrest, it only exacerbates the problem. Too often mob mentality becomes the rule, but it goes back to this idea that gratefulness is a gift to be given. Anything we have has been given; yes, you have worked for much, but someone offered you the opportunity to work, regardless your station. You have perhaps saved and gone without, but someone helped you along the way. None of us gets where they are (if you have moved forward) alone. Somewhere someone helped you. Someone was gracious and gifted you. If we might all begin to gift back, what could we accomplish? Who might we collectively become? Not the usual sort of musical offering, but there is much more to Marley than some think.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

The World is a Provocative Place

Hello from Richmond,

I would like to take credit for the title, but it is something I heard someone say on NPR the other day, and it stuck with me. I think what causes me pause is to ask a question of whether one could always make such an argument or whether the degree to which we find it provocative has gotten more significant. What is provocative? What causes something or someone to be so? Generally, I believe that most of the time we have a tendency to use provocative in a sensual manner and there is a certain deliberative nature to the actions of a person. A second definition of provocative has to do with a specific irritation, a degree of exasperation, an annoyance, being incendiary, offensive or insulting. In our current national/international situation, it seems not only are these adjectives appropriate, but the initial definition of the deliberative nature of being such seems also apropos.

What causes all of this is about much more than a person, a position (generally of power), or a sort of posturing. In my opinion, it is much more about seeing beyond oneself and believing and practicing basic civility and manners. I am generally appalled by the increased lack of decorum of people in general. Let me offer some basic, and perhaps seeming mundane or minuscule examples of this. Seldom a day goes by that I do not open a door and someone is coming out the side opposite of what I was taught growing up to walk in or out of. The same can be said for walking down a sidewalk. A couple of summers ago, I was walking toward a group of five or six students. They were all on their phones and covered the width of the sidewalk. I moved as far to the right as I could and to move farther would have put me into bushes or scrubs and I merely stood there. The young man was about 6 inches from running into when he looked up. I merely looked at him and said nothing. As he stepped around me, he muttered, “Get the fuck out of the way.” At that point, I turned around an told him to stop. I will admit, my response was a bit sharp, but that had crossed a line I was not willing to accept. I would have never even considered speaking to an older individual in that manner, and even now, when I speak to my former professors, I address them still as Dr. Nielsen or Dr. Jorgensen. To do less would be disrespectful in my understanding of who they are and the honor they deserve. I remember as a child I was never allowed (and specifically taught not) to use the first name of an adult person. There were some individual adults in my church who specifically as our youth group members to call them by their first name, but I remember even with permission it felt inappropriate and I was never completely comfortable.

I certainly do not have an answer that can provide a reason for such a change, but I believe whatever the reason(s), it is (they are) complex and diverse. Much of it has to do with what we have be willing to accept or allow. In addition, I believe our ability to communicate in a plethora of ways and in a manner that seems to informal or person has erased the gap of public and personal in a way that feeds into this lack of professionalism that also eclipses our ability to use appropriate language, actions, or responses across the spectrum. I also believe it is caused by the examples so many young people see from the adults around them. When parents are charged with assault or worse at a little league game or a hockey game because they get angry, what do their sons and daughters see and what are they to think? When our legislators (at any level) use language, find themselves arrested, or engage in conduct that is considered generally outside the realm of decency, what are people to think about those who create our policies and laws? When multiple members of the cabinet, the West Wing, and the President himself can use names, language and behavior that many (and that is from both sides of the aisle or the political spectrum) consider below the office or position one holds, what are young people to think about what is acceptable. I am not willing to accept the adage that he is merely saying what we think. This past week at the morning breakfast where I meet with a number of other veterans, it is apparent that I am more liberal than most of them. I made a comment about Scandinavian countries that fired-up on of the others at the table. I could have got defensive and argued as passionately as he spoke out against what I said, but I decided it was probably better to step back and listen before I responded. While we did not and do not agree on most things, I still respect him and his opinion and will continue to do so. He is also a veteran and a Bloomsburg area native. I can understand why he holds some of the views he does. I can appreciate the passion with which he holds some of those views, but I can still disagree and get along with him.

Even when he asserted that college professors are a bunch of liberals ruining the country, I did respond and say that bunching all professors into one basket was a bit unfair and I spoke about some of the things I do in class. I did it in a respectful manner, but also in a way that argued that stereotyping or grouping all into a single basket was a dangerous and unfair thing to do. We did end up discussing, with a couple others chipping in, but they had to admit that such a position or statement was both unfair and not helpful. It reminded me once again that I live in an area that is both conservative and not that supportive of the place I work, which of course, is ironic because without the university there would be very little reason for the town of Bloomsburg to be what it is. Most of the manufacturing that was once part of the fabric of the town is no longer viable and without the university or Geisinger, there would be no real major employers. The reason I note this event at breakfast is it could have easily become a sort of heated debate or argument that would have accomplished little. The consequence would be that I have little to say to that person after that and there would be an estrangement and a difficulty that would create problems for some of the other people there. In another case, I was speaking with a former parishioner, someone I have know for 30 years. When they brought up their daughter, I noted that was not really speaking with them and the reason. I could have (and perhaps should have) not mentioned the reason for that lack of communication, but instead, I was both honest and yet kind about the situation. Long story short, later that day I got a text and an admonishment that I had embarrassed them and they no longer wanted to speak to me. I merely apologized and noted that I understood. I erased the text and will probably never speak to them again. I am okay with that. It is not my fault that a person did not do what they were supposed to do.

I have had to learn a number of lessons the hard way, but that seems to be more to norm than the exception for me. Those of you, who have known me for a significant period of time, are probably shaking your heads and nodding in the affirmative. On the other hand, I am learning, albeit slowly. There is something that needs to be acknowledged when my bank branch president makes me promise to not help other out anymore. Of course, that is a topic for another time. I am really quite blessed that is what I know and I have tried to be a blessing to others because that is what I was taught. That gets me back to where I started this post. What are we teaching? What happened to parents teaching manners, honesty, respect (ironic as I write this that Aretha Franklin passed away today) and also making sure that their offspring practice it? I knew this growing up: if I got in trouble at school or in town when I grew up, I was in trouble when I got home. That was the way it went. My parents were not going to call and ream someone else out for my misbehavior. If any call was made, it would have been to thank that person for letting them know. I was quite sure my mother had paid spies in the neighborhood, at church, and at school to work as informants. I also was quite sure she had eyes in the back of her head when I was little. So, back to my question: what makes things provocative or annoying, incendiary, and simply offensive? We have lost our manners. We have lost the ability to disagree, but remain civil. We have allowed our sons and daughters, our colleagues, and our government to treat each other with such disrespect and disdain that we have forgotten the things we are taught shortly after we learn to speak. Did you say please? Did you say thank you? While I am aware that it goes much further than that, it is as basic as that. Can you think before you speak? Can you use decency and thoughtfulness in whatever it is that you feel compelled to say? Can we be respectful of the other and lose some of our self-centered attitudes that seem to permeate every corner of our society? Why is it when there is a disaster or some horrendous event we find a way to come together and offer a sense of care and concern, but a great deal of the remainder of our lives we too often fail to give even a second thought to the consequences of what we say or do? It is only when we face a consequence for our actions, but then too often we want to blame rather than take accountability for our part of the problem. It seems that the discord and disrespect I find in the daily paper is now the norm rather than the exception. I believe we need to step back and reconsider. From Washington to my neighborhood, from my colleagues and friends to myself. We all have a duty to change this destructive path we seem to be on.

There is no democracy without respect; there is no civil society without honor and decency. It is time to be something besides provocative. And in respect to the Queen of Soul, I offer this.

Thank you as always for reading.

Michael (a single person, and yes a professor, but that makes me no better or worse than the other. Finally formerly a Lutheran pastor, but I never deserved a pedestal and wish I could have done even better than I did).

Grateful for a Life, but One too Short

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Hello on a cold, but manageable day,

It is in the single digits outside and for Pennsylvanians, but I actually like this kind of weather. Perhaps it is because it reminds me of being small. Perhaps it reminds me of the times I would play in the yard one particularly snowy winter and we made snow forts and tunnels in the yard. Life was simple then, or at least I thought so. Today is a day for me to focus and catch up. It is a day when FB has helped with its little Valentine’s wrapping of a message to make them more festive and to offer thoughts to those who matter to us. I remember as a small boy always feeling different about this day because my father would get chocolates for my sister and my mother, but we did not really get as much, so I learned indirectly (or directly) that Valentine’s Day was about females and not for males. Not that I felt that left out after the first time or so, but rather it was a different time I think. I am pretty sure my father was not trying to slight my brother or me.

As I have sort of a propensity to give to others, I tried to make sure that I did not forget Valentine’s Day for that other person when I was an adult. There was once before I was married that I did not to a particularly good job of managing this holiday and I was in deep trouble. That left a lasting impression to this day. I remember another time that Susan, my ex-wife, got her hair cut really short a day or so before Valentine’s Day and I did not know this was in the mix and she came home. My response, unwisely, was something like, “what the hell did you do to your hair?” She began to cry and there was no making up for that on Valentine’s Day, which was within a couple of days. It can be a difficulty for us as humans to adequately express our feelings. Then there is the sense of shouldn’t we just let the people we love know this daily. I am certainly not the first nor the last to call this Happy Hallmark Day. . . . What does it mean to love someone?  I have learned all too often that my love, or what I believe to be love, is sometimes selfishness. Not that I hope to be selfish or that I would intend to be so, but rather that my love is not nearly as unconditional as I might want. Perhaps that is the question, can we be unconditional in our love or in our giving to another? I certainly want to believe in the possibility, and yet I know even when I’m most well intended, it seems I’m always hoping for something in return. At this point, maybe it’s because I’m just merely getting old. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide if I want my solitude or I’d rather have someone around. Yet another Valentine’s Day has passed and according to some research in my class the other day over $1 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly not saying we should fail to demonstrate the love or care we have for those who are important to us. Perhaps when I am questioning is what it really means to genuinely love someone. I think, in part, is that I still have this hopeless romantic inside of me hoping for that head-over-heels person. There’s also the realist in me who feels such a situation at this point in my life is unlikely at best. It is not that I’m depressed by such a reality, but rather I wonder how my life (and as I originally wrote, in a Freudian-way, “wife”) might’ve been different.

A few days have passed since I started this post, and ironically the experience that I wrote about in my immediate past blog has ended. Rebekah has lost her battle to remain on earth with us. She passed away this afternoon, after battling as well as she could against enormous odds. To lose someone in their 30s, in such a shocking and unfair manner, is always difficult. As my father said almost 40 years ago, “Parents are not supposed to bury their children.” There is nothing that can prepare someone to face such a tragic circumstance. It was heartbreaking to see her last evening, but it was abundantly clear that death would be a compassionate visitor rather than something to push away. That being said, nothing can remove the hurt or sadness that comes when someone so young faces the end of human existence as we know it. Could it be true that Bekah happened to be in that laundromat for what would occur this week? If I had not met her that day, the last 5 1/2 years of her cleaning, calling, coffee-ing would not have happened, but perhaps more importantly, in my own piety, God would not have been able to use my background in being there with her and her family. As I often say, I do not believe God causes bad things (again, my piety and my opinion), but I do believe that there is the possibility to use whatever happens to bring us together in ways that we are able to support and care for others in ways we could have never anticipated. Why is it that some make it through things that they never should and others have a seemingly simple thing be life-changing?  . . .  It is now Thursday morning and a phone call last night, which was wonderful and needed, kept me from writing, so before I dive into the other things of the day, I am hoping to finish this and post it. Looking in the paper this morning, there was no announcement or obituary for Rebekah, but last night I found myself merely being quiet, listening to some music, and allowing those songs to be my own Psalms of lamentation. Music is such a wonderful thing because it touches the soul in the way few other things can. When, as scripture tells us, that the pain is too great for words, the spirit speaks on our behalf. I believe the way music affects our spirit is exactly that happening when we cannot find the words because we are so overwhelmed. I spent time reading the responses and outpouring of care from so many people. That is one of the positive possibilities of social networking, but it certainly demonstrated the impact that Rebekah made in what most would consider to be a relatively short life. What has been particularly interesting to me was that she was not a picture posting person, particularly of herself. The number of pictures that appeared in the last week were quite significant, but to see the transformation of her over the years was really quite fun for me, as someone who did not know her nearly as long. I think that is what is so momentous for me. While I am a people person, though not as much as I used to be, Rebekah had a way of disarming one’s defenses. Her infectious smile and her willingness to be just who she was, as well as her ability to be feisty/spunky and simultaneously compassionate/charitable, could not help but draw you in. I often told her, on the other hand, I would not want her angry at me. Again the passion that was such an integral part of who she was could be a double-edged sword. Her eyes, which were the most amazing color, could telegraph exactly what would soon be spoken.

It has been wonderful to meet her brother-in-law, Bill and her sister, Chandra. The other evening at the hospital as I listened to Chandra speak, the voice was a carbon-copy of Rebekah. Perhaps I should say that Rebekah was a carbon copy of Chandra since Bekah was the baby of the family. The way in which they have received me into their midst has been such a wonderful gift. There is so much that can be said about Bekah, but I can only say this: Bekah, you allowed me to be in your life as you took care of part of mine. You shared your wit and humor; you shared your fears and hopes; you shared both the important and the seemingly mundane; through it all you touched my heart. I am a better person for it. You knew your time was precious and you talked about that. There are times when we fail to realize we are in the face of such beauty, grace, and goodness. As I have looked at pictures this past week, you have had a beauty and elegance to you from the very beginning. Indeed, you were such a person, a person of unparalleled charm, beauty and love. I will miss your kindnesses; I will miss your ability to make me smile and laugh; I will miss the times you called and said, “I need to speak to Michael.” I will miss our meetings at DD or CB. I will miss seeing the red VW that turned into the white Bug that followed me into my driveway or old barn. I will miss the smell of a clean house and the notes on a table that told me what I needed to do to get my act together. You are loved, and that will never change. Bless you, Bekah.

I share this with Chandra, with Bill, with Bekah’s parents, with Kayla, and with all of those for whom she made a difference.

To the rest, thanks for reading.

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Believing the Best

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Good early morning,

It is 3:29 a.m. and I have been awake for a bit . This past week has been a whirlwind. I am supposed to be in Kentucky right now, but that took a back seat to other more pressing things. Hurricanes disrupted travel, and delayed connections meant sleeping in an airport before I would ever get to a conference. Tuesday I realized I had a basement full of water and Thursday it was discovered that what was thought to be a dead former sewer line was actually still being used. So sump pumps, dryers, Roto Rooter,  and dehumidifier are the companions for the week. It is raining steadily and I can hear the wind as it rattles my windows like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I did not end up with so much of a blockage that things backed up, thank goodness, but if my contractor who happened to come into the house had not given me a text, I would have not realized the impending problem until it was a much more unfortunate situation.

This is the second time this past week I have been awake or up at this time. This time I woke up, but earlier this week I was just going to sleep after a long conversation. That conversation took personal turns I could’ve never imagined. It was an important conversation, which I believe was prompted by a series of times of talking, listening, and wondering that have occurred for more than eight years. It always amazes me that I have a degree in communication, but sometimes I communicate very ineffectively; sometimes in my humanity I make choices that cause me pause. When what I have done causes another to hurt or question, I genuinely hurt in those times or occasions when I am party to that hurt or confusion. In this instance I’ve created confusion for myself also. I am genuine, or try to be such, but when I feel that I have been less than or I have damaged my own reputation through my actions, it is terrifically difficult for me. I am often too willing to offer my hand, especially when I care deeply, without considering consequence. As is always the case, time will tell exactly where it all stands. . . .  it is later in the morning and I am now in my office working. I had hoped in spite of the craziness to get to the OSCLG Conference this weekend, but the weather created enough delays and difficulties that I would have not gotten there until today. Somehow going for barely 24 hours and what that would do to my body made me reconsider. That reconsidering is even a step in the right direction because I generally just go and do whatever it takes and suffer the consequences later. As I once told someone, I am not a consequentialist when it comes to my ethical stance.

As I sit in my office, it is still raining and this morning earlier I was listening to the news and seeing the eerie parallels between the cargo vessel missing in the Bahamas because of Hurricane Joaquin and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was forty years ago next month that the great iron ore carrier broke up and sank in Lake Superior. The haunting phrase of that song that keeps playing through my head is “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours” (Lightfoot)? I also thought of the movie, The Perfect Storm.  In fact, in honor of those from both the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Andrea Gail, I offer these videos from YouTube. The first is in honor of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which ironically was the name of a restaurant where I worked while at MTU:

And a second video of what it would be like to be in a fishing boat out in an actual storm. Rather frightening . . . where is the love of God at moments like this? (As an update, they are pretty sure the El Faro has sunk.)

Again, we want to believe the best. We want to trust and sometimes that trust puts us in situations we do not expect, situations where we are outside our comfort zone and we do not know exactly how to navigate the waves or the storm. . . . Those storms can overwhelm and frustrate us. Over the weekend one of my fraternity brothers, Major Justin Fitch, US Army (ret.) lost his long battle with colon cancer. This hits particularly close for me, for a variety of reasons. He is (or now was) the age I was when I began my significant fight against Crohns which has taken me down numerous paths. Why is it I am still fighting and someone,  who dedicated himself to others in ways I can only hope,  has lost his battle much too soon? His strength and perseverance, his willingness to see beyond himself, and the example he is set for others, is unparalleled. It is the third time, that I am aware of, that the Michigan chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has lost a brother too soon to cancer. Here is a little of his story:

http://activeheroes.org/2015/10/remembering-justin-fitch-active-heroes-board-member/

While I am unable to go back to Wisconsin this week for his service to all the brothers and family who will gather there, you are in my prayers. I remember being there with brothers when the chapter lost the DeCleene brothers. Those bonds were and are strong as I see people from around the world remember Justin. Too often we hear only the negative things about Greek organizations, but there is so much more. I saw that at MTU and I still see it now. I remember the words and care in particular of my brother A.J. Lee. To this day, he is one of the people I most admire. Both he and Justin are people in whom you can believe and witness the best. So much to do this week and to try to finish up. I have student conferences today for a Bible as Literature course and my Foundations students are working on peer reviews. Last night I had class, but also had the opportunity to listen to a reading and meet Phil Klay, the 2014 National Book Award winner, as he presented excepts from his book, Redeployment. It was quite phenomenal and the insight he gave about writing was wonderful. He is an United States Marine (retired) and as such I had great appreciation for him on a variety of levels. A nice contingent of my students were there and I think they heard some important things about writing and the importance of reading. Mr. Klay gave credibility to many of the things I say in class.

It is hard to believe we are half of the way through the semester and while there is much accomplished, there is still so much to do. I have another paper to present this coming weekend. There seems to be little down time before the next thing is upon me. The yard project continues and I am just wishing it could be completed. I do think some significant work will be done this week. It has kept me running up and down the street more than I would like. Weather has begun to change and it certainly seems more like Fall. The evenings and mornings are crisp, but the afternoons have been delightful. We did get significant rain last weekend from the low and the hurricane, but nothing like South Carolina. I think they are struggling with what we did four years ago. As I noted earlier in this post, the weather is certainly powerful. I remember when I was in graduate school in the Upper Peninsula. The power of Lake Superior is actually awe-inspiring. To this day, I love the season and the beauty of that peninsula. From the amazing almost continuous light of the mid-summer to the harsh reality of 270+ inches of snow in the winter, they are equally beautiful and breathtaking. The colors of the fall along the portage and the tapestry of the rural-scapes can only be created by something more amazing than any human touch (the picture above is from that portage.). Spring does not really exist much, so it is a sort of three season place. If I could bring that lake here, I would. On the other hand, the beauty of this state is also quite astounding. The hills, trees, and the sort of mountains (certainly much more elevationally diverse than the Midwest) are quite inspiring.

Well . . . the writing has once again cleared my head. I am ready to face the plethora of things that are facing me for the day.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Being Worthy

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Good morning from the airport in Charlotte, NC,

First, thank you for the texts, the comments, the tweets and the other ways in which so many of you have reached out and shared your kindness and concerns over these past days. I actually stopped to see Lydia one last time before I left Menomonie at 1:15 this morning. She was sleeping and yet seemed to be leaving this life at the same time. It was snowing steadily as I drove the 70 miles to the airport, and it was nice that it was 2:00 a.m. so there was little to no traffic on an interstate yet to be plowed. I listened to music that comforted me and allowed me to ponder as I crawled my way, figuratively speaking, to MSP.

What is abundantly clear to me is the simple fact that I have been, yet again, given two amazing gifts from Lydia. The first was to have 8 days with her and to be with her as she prepared all of us, both the staff of COH, who have been her family for three and a half years, and me, who became the son she never had, and has spent the last ten years with each other, to let her go. To say there were poignant moments during these past days comes no where near explaining the words, the expressions, and the tears that have been shed in the last room on the left at the end of the hall. The second gift, because in spite of the fact she told me that ” I had a shit temper”, she also knew that I would be an emotional wreck should I be in the room when she passed. Therefore, I believe, and I was told by both the caregivers, the nurse, and the administrator (and now by Melissa and Maria, through José) that she waited for me to leave. I never told her I had to leave on a particular day, but she held out. What people did not realize about Lydia, unless they were blessed enough and therefore allowed to get close to her was that she was an incredibly loving person. I wrote about her compassionate nature in other blogs, but whenever anyone was hurting, it affected her to the very core of her being. Her eyes would well up in tears and her voice would tremble as spoke in her Austrian accent, “Michael, it is just terrible.” And she always rolled those Rs. Kevin, her painter, tells of the time she took a large amount of food to the food pantry in Menomonie. As she saw the people waiting for basic staples, she cried and wanted to go buy more food to take back to the pantry.

Yet, to be fair, she was not always easy; she could be incredibly tough. She expected a lot from people, but nothing more than she expected of herself. She worked tremendously hard at creating a life for herself in this country and in 29 years of work took only two sick days. I think, in spite of her independence, after George passed away, she was unbelievably lonely. I did not know her for about 10 years, but I have a pretty good handle on who she was. I think Dennis, who spent 13 years in the carriage house, was important in that transitional time. I think Shelley , who probably treated Lydia better than Lydia treated her, was also important. I think the hard work and companionship that Shelley gave was important to Lydia in the time following George’s passing. I think Lydia was continually reaching out to people and simultaneously pushing them away. Somehow, and for some reason, she did not do that to me. The other three (technically four) people who managed to keep Lydia’s companionship and she never pushed away were Bill and Maryann (Bill and Lydia were colleagues at Stout and actually started at the same time.), Becky (Lydia’s department secretary), and Elaine (her next door neighbor). For some reason, and I am not sure she would use this term, but we somehow demonstrated a worthiness and as such, she trusted us. When she trusted someone, by extension, she loved them. In spite of the fact she never weighed more than 100 pounds until the last couple years of her life, and ended her life under 5’0″ tall, her heart must have taken up most of that space because it was incredibly large and strong. I also think it is what kept her alive these last days.

While I have noted this to people before, I am not sure I wrote it publicly. I do believe there are events that occur in our lives that we do not really understand until much later. I think my coming to UW-Stout is such an event. What I know or believe now is that Stout merely served as a vehicle to create other possibilities. First, while I learned important things at Stout, both positive and not so much, the learning I achieved was significant. It afforded me the opportunity to meet Mark and Gayle Decker and prepared me for coming to Bloomsburg, where I would be with the Deckers (although more of them) again. It prepared me, albeit primarily through observing others, about how I might develop and support a program. However, perhaps the most important and unexpected event was a chance conversation with Elaine that led me to Lydia. As I noted in a recent blog, I had no inkling that we would become a family. I think, and not meant inappropriately, I became her caretaker, her child, her spouse, all in one. It was both a blessing and a curse of sorts. I think of the morning I woke up and she was standing at the side of my bed staring at me and asking if I were awake. I think of driving her around town (much like driving Ms. Daisy) on her errands. I think of fixing her breakfast every morning or mowing, or walking along the roof with the blower, cleaning out the gutters so she wouldn’t. I think of raking leaves or snow blowing and shoveling to try to keep her from doing it and freezing. I remember going to her house for a glass of sherry or fixing dinner so she would eat more than grapes or bananas. I remember taking her out for rides in her 1977 Oldsmobile Ninety-eight and her patting the robin-egg blue dash and exclaiming, “Michael, it’s a beautiful car.” I now believe that Lydia was, and is, the real reason I came to Menomonie. Indeed, epitomized in the last 8 days, it was in sitting by Lydia’s side that the event of 11 1/2 years ago finally became crystal clear to me. Menomonie=Lydia. Regardless her penchant for independence, God knew she needed someone to be there consistently. For God to believe I was worthy of this calling is humbling to me because I am not extraordinary and seldom do I think about any kind of worthiness.

It is now the 28th of December and I am back in Bloomsburg and Nate has taken over the vigil. I am not sure how he will manage things as the family is with him and they have relatives in the area. I called COH a couple times yesterday and I spoke with Nate also. When I called this morning there was no substantive change. Lydia is Lydia; there is nothing more that can be said. I think she will wait Nate out also. The idea of being there is much difference than merely physical presence. That is what I believe. Lydia inside her deteriorating cognitive capacity is as sharp and determined to manage her life as always. Perhaps our worthiness is the actual witnessing of an amazing lady who will live her life completely and also completely on her terms. Perhaps it is that she allows us to participate in such an extraordinary event that offers us something of worth. She is not in pain and she rest comfortably; she is still lucid at moments and even poignant and witty, though that comes primarily through her eyes and her smiles, frowns or other body language at this point. Yet, as I noted in her comments like “no kidding” or “I know” or her patting my head lovingly as I cried on her shoulder demonstrate the worth our relationship has to both of us.

As I got up this morning, it was also a Sunday 17 years ago that I received the phone call that my father had passed away. He had dementia also, but actually succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I have wondered if today will be Lydia’s day and it would merely connect us in yet one more ironic way. Today I will try to focus my energies here and organize some things before I am on the go again tomorrow. I need to manage a half dozen things specifically first thing in the morning. I have appreciated all of your comments, your prayers, and the various ways you have made me feel worthy of your gifts and friendship. I will be communicating through FB and this blog over the next week. I will have photos of my researching and working on more of Lydia’s story in the next days. May we all find our places and things that give us a sense of worth. Sometimes, probably usually, they come when we least expect it.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

Freedom . . . from what? for whom?

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Good early afternoon (on the day after the 4th of July),

The fourth of July brings back many memories for me. The earliest, and reoccurring, memoryis that of going to McCook Lake, SD with the Goedes, our family’s closest friends (both of our parents were perhaps major amigos). The other reason we went to South Dakota, which was only 5 minutes away from where I grew up in Iowa, is they had much laxer fireworks laws. However, every 4th for many years were spent at the Izzak Walton Club on the lake, swimming, grilling out, and shooting off fireworks most of the day. That is one of my favorite memories as a child. As I write this I am thinking of my best life-long friend, who is also part of that same Goede family as he struggles with ALS. Hard to believe in our 50s so much as changed. Here is a picture of when I actually had color besides gray on my head and in my beard.

As you who read know, I have been distracted and I am now just finishing my blog posting. Today is a day to get a number of tasks completed and I will try to get back to the initial intentions for this blog, the idea of freedom from what? or for whom? On the 4th I actually drove to Philadelphia and picked up my cousin, Diane, who has come to visit for a few days. It was probably the easiest trip I have ever made to Philly as the traffic was almost non-existent. On Saturday we went on a pretty long ride on the Harley and it was a beautiful day to do that. Sunday included a trip to NYC and a venue called Small’s Jazz Club, where we had the opportunity to listen to some amazing music and a participate in a colleague’s book signing. Some amazing food, a ferry ride, and a really long walk would describe the day, but it was a good day. Monday and yesterday were spent just enjoying time together and listening and sharing. I might have created a dilemma for myself in allowing two of the most important people in my life the opportunity to compare notes, but that is a chance one takes I guess.

It is actually about 2:30 in the morning (on the 9th) and I have been awake for about an hour, so I figured I should be productive. I started to move offices yesterday and I hoped to have that completed by week’s end. They are finishing some work on the little house today, and I sat down yesterday and mapped out the remainder of my summer. It is time for me to get back to work. I have actually taken quite of bit of time to relax this summer. That is a first in many years. I do have colleagues from WI here next week. I am hoping to acquaint them with the group I am putting together to help me manage what is to come. Diane asked me a number of times, “who takes care of you?” Well, I think after meeting Deckers last night, she is feeling better. Last night we got a dancing demonstration from Carolyn and Rosie. It was quite amazing and endearing beyond words. I am cognizant of a reality that I have let people into my life in ways I haven’t for a long time, if ever. There are times I am glad, but there are consequences too. It has made me more vulnerable, and I find that more disconcerting than one might think. It forces me to give up some control of my existence, or at least it seems so. That does not make me entirely comfortable. However, going back to work will help me manage some of that.

I guess that brings me to the posting title? What is freedom? Is it something individual? Certainly, it is. Is it corporate? John Locke actually addressed this in his “Second Treatise on Civil Government”. Indeed, when we are a society, whether that be a small group, a few like-minded-people or a larger entity, we give up things by the fact that we “bind” ourselves together. I cannot help but see Mel Gibson in the movie, Braveheart screaming out “freedom!!” as his last word. A bit melodramatic, but profound. What really provides a sense of freedom? Is it knowing what is to come? It is accepting what is to come? Is it the realization of knowing in an individual way what ultimately matters? What I am beginning to believe is that it is more than merely acceptance, but it is a belief and a comfort in the phrase “well-done, good and faithful servant”. But to what or whom are we in service? I believe that the term “serve” is often misunderstood. I think it is in serving or caring for others we actually begin to understand freedom. It frees us from selfishness. It frees us from always wanting more. A server has more power when she or he is serving than realized. She or he has much more influence on the circumstances than one might believe. I have the ability, the power if you will, to make some difference in another’s life when I care for them. It certainly has some other more difficult attributes or characteristics, but I think the positive far outweighs the negative. As I eluded, I am quite sure this specific element of my being was scrutinized the other afternoon. I understand my propensity for this more than might be realized. I also realize that fear hampers the very freedom I have been pondering. I can name that fear. I could before the conversations of the last few days, but Diane’s visit has validated some of the things I have puzzled upon for many years of my life. My biggest fear is a simple word, but a profound concept in my life. It is abandonment. It can have other synonyms, but that is the most accurate and comprehensive of the options.

To be abandoned is to be given the message that you are unimportant, irrelevant, discardable. What I have realized is if I move, walk-away, hide before someone can do it to me, I keep from being hurt. If I give versus being given-to, I protect myself on one level, but I expose myself on another. Being exposed is frightening; it is something that has often crested pain. It might be that unexpected problem of taking a chance and allowing another into your life or space. To be given away or ignored has been a safety net at times, but then again, it has been hurtful at others. Am I in the midst of walking away in a more profound way in this present circumstance? What happens when we are required to move, perhaps like when I left Wisconsin? What happens when other things force us to prepare for the other? Have I lost my freedom or have I gained it? It is 3:40 and I have to drive to Philadelphia and back today, perhaps a bit more sleep is in order. As an afterthought, I did go back to sleep, but was up at out of the house by 5:50. Perhaps a nap later will be in order also.

Thanks for reading.

Michael