Understanding Giving Thanks

Hello from Fog and Flame,

It is the day before Thanksgiving and I am working on a variety of things. I have pretty well completed one of my classes, at least finishing in terms of putting up any information for the remainder of the semester, and yet, I have a number of other things to manage. In spite of the hectic pace (which I have decided somewhat stubbornly to change), the holiday in its nostalgic way, has causes my thoughts to focus a great deal about Thanksgiving and what the holiday means to me. Because of some other work I need to manage, I have been pushed to consider the issue of thanksgiving even more. As I write today, the temperature is dropping and there are more things in front of me than all the things on the proverbial Thanksgiving table, but much in the same manner, I will work through them. Some of them remind me of what it means, however, to be thankful or enveloped with a sense of gratitude. More and more, I am realizing how fortunate I am. I have always been fortunate when I think about it carefully. Even in the most difficult of moments, I have had options. Never have I been told there is nothing to be done or never have I been faced with only consequences that would create more hurt than good.

As everyone has headed off to be with family or friends for our break, I am reminded and cannot help but reminisce about the amazing Thanksgiving feasts (and they were certainly that) from when I was growing up. As I have noted in other posts, my grandmother owned a bakery and there were more breads, pies and other things that graced our table than one could even begin to imagine. The aromas of bread, pies, turkey, cranberries, and all the things you want to each, but could never hope to manage (the proverbial eyes-bigger-than-stomach ~ oh if that were still the case) met you as you opened the door. Being on a 2,500 acre farm in South Dakota, Aunt Helen had a garden of perhaps a half of acre. This meant I learned to eat and appreciate vegetables in ways most could only ponder. Swiss chard is, to this day, one of my favorite veggies. I loved Brussel sprouts, any kind of winter squash, root vegetable, and most any manner you might prepare them. Certainly the food was delectable, and to this very day, there are some dishes that I believe the Thanksgiving tradition is not met without a bountiful helping of scalloped corn (as we called it) or the long-term, slowly-cooked cranberry sauce with amazing spices. Driving to South Dakota (even though it was barely an hour away) could always be an adventure. Winter storms on the prairie are quite different than what I have experienced here in Pennsylvania. I remember whiteouts and an auto accident trying to make the way back from Hot Springs, SD to St. Paul, MN. I remember barely making it to an airport to fly to Europe in 1985. I remember a 1957 Chevy blowing a piston when I was in elementary school as we traveled to Beresford, SD. Maybe it was that state. Hmmmm? What I remember more importantly, however, was the incredible love, kindness, and gratitude my Great Aunt Helen and my Grandmother Louise always showed to each and to all of us. They were so excited to have everyone gathered around the table. They illustrated in the most profound and inclusive manner what it meant to be thankful.

This now Thanksgiving morning as I walk around my house, an old farm house that has some characteristics of my aunt’s and my grad mother’s house, I cannot help but feel their presence in this place, and that gives me both a sense of joy and yet a yearning for that time when I understood and experienced unconditional love from two of the most incredible women, with whom God ever graced this earth. Together they demonstrated an amazing tolerance for others and the way the supported and loved each other was an example for all people, but especially siblings. They went through difficult times, but the love and support they had for each other everyday of their life was beyond palpable, it was fundamental to their very being.

On this day of Thanksgiving, at least the American version of it, I have decided to remain at home, in a sort of solitary and reflective way. That was a conscious decision. So much like Scrooge in his childhood, everyone has left school and gone to somewhere to celebrate, before you feel sad for me, fear not. I am enjoying the time to merely remember and intentionally recollect that matters to me, to consider what (as well as who) we have become as people, as a nation. It is 55 years ago today as an 8 year old I watched as the rest of the country (and perhaps the world) did as we mourned a President assassinated at 46. At 8, I did not understand either how young that was or the magnitude of the tragedy our country was feeling. I remember spending hours and days in front of the television. I remember being amazed by the pomp and solemnity that characterized the casket in a Rotunda, the procession of a horse-drawn caisson, a riderless horse and a 3 year old saluting his father’s flag-draped casket. I remember watching an assassin being assassinated on live television. All of this was shortly before Thanksgiving that year. Even for an 8 year old, I knew the world had changed. I would not understand the change then and I am not sure I understand it now. However, much like 911 changed our understanding of American and the world at the turn of this century, I feel 112263 did the same. Perhaps the loss of a President was profound in a different way because many felt America had come into her own as a power and democratic force for good and this fairytale existence of helping the world and the world being a better place was shattered. Again much like 911 burst our bubble of aqua-security, we were forced to see alternative forces in the world in which we live.

I am sincerely concerned about our democracy and the forces in our world once again (and yet even though the forces, while in plain sight) are more insidious than ever. The issue is too many do not want to pay attention, content with the latest sound byte or 280 character epistle. Instead of working on our mutual humanity, the seeds of division, mistrust, and suspicion are being sown at every chance. Before you think I am pointing fingers at only one person, or one branch of government, I am not. I will certainly not absolve that person or branch, but the problem began long before 2016. For the better part of the last 25 years, since the Contract for America, which I believe was a Contract on America, the tone and conversation that has come out of Washington has been anything but civil, anything but grateful. Ironically, at least for me particularly as a current Pennsylvania resident, the braintrust (and I was this term both as oxymoronic and terribly intentional) or person responsible for this collapse in civil discourse was born in Pennsylvania, and even in our state capitol, of Harrisburg. A state that was founded on tolerance and good will seems to have birthed someone who was hell-bent on implementing the opposite. A hypocritical person, who was instrumental in pushing an impeachment for lying about sexual impropriety was simultaneously doing the same thing while his wife was in the hospital with cancer, and yet he was held up as a moral paragon. Again, I do not condone was WJC did in this way as President. I believe (and others more astute than I have written formal pieces about this) that the 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives did as much as anyone to start us down the path that has led to the election of the outsider, would-be-politician. Again, I can understand why people of all backgrounds from every corner of this country are fed up with the politics as usual. There is a significant part of me that can understand how we have elected what I believe to be the worst grand experiment the country has every started or employed. As the attacks on the judiciary, the intelligence community’s conclusions, and on anyone who seems to disagree continue, what have we become on a day when we pause to give thanks?

What I hope is happening is that people are actually listening, paying attention and questioning, on both sides of the aisle. What I hope is that people will continue to question our elected leaders and hold them accountable. That is what democracy is all about. That is why we have the opportunity to go and cast our votes every couple of years. The turn out for this immediate past election gives me something for which to be thankful. While I am not into blue or red waves, I am into the waves of democracy rolling down like righteousness as noted in the Old Testament book of Amos. I know that was not what Amos was referring to, but he was referring to justice, and the importance of justice and equality in this world is what we believed in from the outset . . . I also realize we did not do it so well, in spite of the Hallmark version many want to believe in about those first Thanksgivings. What we did have in that first couple years was Native American people reaching out to assist, protect, and support those huddled on the Mayflower because they could not stand the winter. What we had was the Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how plant and survive . . . as noted in an article I read from the History Channel earlier today, it was, unfortunately, the only time Native Americans and we immigrants really treated each other with dignity and respect. Ironic that it was the immigrants that created the heartache and problems for those already here. Seems we believe much the same today. Ironic that we were all immigrants at one time hoping for something better, but we have lost track of what it means to hope for something better and seem to have little empathy or compassion for those who want nothing more than we did.

So . . . for what am I thankful when it seems there is so much to be concerned about? First, I am grateful that I have a job that I love. I am grateful that I have colleagues and friends who bless me with their presence in my life. I am grateful for a family that raised and supported me, even though it was not always as I thought it should be, I know I am much more fortunate than many. I am grateful that I can merely write this blog and question the path I believe we are taking as a country and it is okay to do so. I am grateful that in spite of more things that I could have ever anticipated in terms of my health, I am still fortunate enough to have good health care and manage those issues. I am incredibly humbled that I have been able to meet so many astounding people from around the world in my 60+ years and I have memories that I will treasure for every day I am blessed to still walk this earth. Happy Thanksgiving to all, be you in America or somewhere else. I wish you each a time to ponder and realize what gifts you have been given.  In light of us growing and trying to manage a better world with gratefulness and moral courage, I offer this. My thanks to a Lieutenant General for his moral courage and patriotism.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The Truth and Tragedy about Racism

Hello from back in PA,

As I spent the evening trying to catch up on the unending stream of craziness that seems to dominate the world, but what we call news, the irony of the day was as Starbucks closed its doors for a corporate training on what they euphemistically called implicit bias training while one of the top rated shows this season, the reboot of Rosanne was summarily canceled for a rather explicit bias and seemingly-untrainable tweet about Valerie Jarrett by Rosanne Barr herself. Earlier this evening I read a really thought provoking and painfully truth piece by Joy-Ann Reid, a political analyst, who today wrote, “Being black means constantly rendering yourself unthreatening to white people. [and she also states,] “To be white in America is to assume ownership of public spaces. To be black is to live under constant threat of removal” (NBC Think 29May18). Both of these statements will offend some; they will resonate with others; but regardless of how you respond, it is probably most important to search in your heart for the truth contained in them. As a 60-something while Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, there have been times where I wanted to argue the infamous reverse-discrimination card, but about four years ago, I wrote a blog about being confronted by a student and significant person about my privileged status. I remember feeling offended because I had worked hard to achieve what I had. I argued that no one gave me anything. Yes, while I had received help along the way, working as a GTI, managing a restaurant, and being a full-time doctoral student was no picnic and so I was not willing to be labeled as privileged. Certainly, I have received more help than some, but at least through school, I merely worked.

Now four years later, in a country where division and disrespect seems to be the rule rather than the exception, we have elected a President who seems to show little respect for anyone, anything, at anytime, and his election seems to be a direct consequence of the fact we had a black President preceding him. I also believe, in part, it was because the Democratic candidate was both female and named Hillary Clinton. I also believe those are all separate issues. President Trump’s remarks at Arlington National Cemetery were both discouraging and disgraceful. As I ponder the place we seem to stand as a society, as the melting pot created from the Grand Experiment, I am not sure I can give the founders of this country much credit for establishing a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included all people. Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln stood tall, literally and figuratively, in an attempt to create a more equitable country with both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, but until the quest of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s, there was not concerted effort to really accept the true racism of separate, but equal doctrine that was a fundamental element of our mid-20th Century America. I believe I was as naive as the next who somehow believed the election of Barack Obama signaled we have turned a corner for real. Finally, as a country, I thought we realized the racial inequality that held our country in our own collective stocks and put our democracy up for sale to the highest bidder. When President Obama used his office to ask us to thoughtfully reflect on the killing of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, I again hoped his being a Black President might help us see the difficulty of what young black, Hispanic, Asian, or other non-white males endure daily. Unfortunately , after some initial reflection, it seems it accomplished little, or I might even go as far as to say it was probably counter-productive. I would add this was little fault of the President, but rather because we have such an untruthful and chicken-shit racist underbelly to our country that few are willing to honestly and thoughtfully call to task.

I have stated this before, but I think I write it with more emotion than I have in the past. If you see someone who looks, acts, speaks, worships, or loves differently than you and that is how you first view them, or you consider that to be the most distinguishable quality about them, you are mostly likely acting in a discriminatory manner. The person who can honestly say in their heart they do not notice or even consider the difference is a rare individual. For the great majority of us, we are more likely to be that implicit racially biased person, and that is if we are lucky. The present atmosphere in the country, where disagreement makes the other the enemy, means most of us have probably moved beyond the implicit to the explicit. When we hear about daily incidences of rancor, disrespect, and downright hatefulness from the White House to the neighbor, can there be any surprise that corporations are requiring an entire workforce to receive training about their innate (but actually taught) prejudices or a company that is part of the Magic Kingdom of Disney cancels one of its two most popular shows. What does it say when one of the most popular sit-com people of a generation can refer to the senior advisor of a President as the cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes? Not only has what she tweeted reprehensible, the fact that such stereotypes are still promulgated is tragic beyond compare. It is those very stereotypes, the jokes, the whispered humor (which is anything but) that we allow to go unchallenged that keeps such bigotry alive. It is the stares seared into the psyche of our minority students in the small Pennsylvania town or warnings given when the monster truck show comes to the fairgrounds admonishing our black or biracial students to not be alone on the street that illustrates how pathetic our thoughts, words, or actions can be. It is when a avowed Nazi can run for Congress unopposed in Illinois, ironically both the Land of Lincoln and Obama, that should cause us pause as ask, what the hell are we thinking? . . .

It is now 24 hours since I was writing here and pretty well every news source has pontificated on the situation. SHS, who boggles me beyond compare, went on her own rant of why other forms of racism have not been called out to the same degree. I guess the positive is they did not support the egregious comments, but, as usual, deflected to argue something else was as terrible. I am continually stunned by the rhetorical strategy of the White House. Some will argue there is no strategy, but I will disagree. It is like being consistently inconsistent. The President calls our values, morals, and standards into question daily through his seemingly off-the-cuff tweets. Make no mistake, his questioning of all standards, standards which generally support a status quo as well as offering support for some sense of equality and justice, allows some of those who have been supposedly marginalized by this same status quo to believe a President listens to them and speaks their language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The scripture of notes even the dogs get the scraps from the master’s table comes to mind. . . . Another day and another version of America or the global community doing a collective smh. If you do not know this acronym, which I did not until perhaps a year ago, it means shaking my head. The unprofessional or completely void of decorum comments about an ally or Prime Minister of our closest ally as well as showing up late (twice) as well as leaving early from something that affects every citizen in our country. Issues of trade, cooperation, national security, and most everything that requires international give-and-take seems to have been ignored by our President. Where is the line between “America First,” the established Trump Doctrine, and America as a global leader? Between withdrawing from international agreements and the suggesting the re-inclusion of Russia in the G-7+1, what has the President actually done? The global order is changing, and the move to globalization itself has created an interesting backlash. This is also an interesting sort of discrimination. The global identity has often been those who have (the United States, Canada, the EU, and, yes, Russia) and those who do not (third world countries-most of Africa or Latin America, still developing countries from the former Central or Eastern Europe, and other geopolitical places left behind for whatever reason), but that might not be the most significant malevolent consequence of globalization, nor the most complex.

What about a disappearing middle class in the haves and a much less likely possibility for those in the countries of the have nots? I believe many citizens in a number of countries of the EU or in parts of the United States have joined the bandwagon of the rising nationalism because they believe nationalistic philosophy somehow gives them voice. While there might be some truth to this, I do not believe in the long run, nationalism serves any one country. Furthermore, when nationalism becomes the rule rather than the exception, those who have power will have more power and the ideal of democracy becomes more difficult to maintain. While Hitler was elected as chancellor in 1933, his consolidation of power and what he did from 1933 until the outbreak of WWII upon his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 is well documented. Perhaps it is time many read. When power is consolidated, those on the outside become powerless. When countries are so busy working to protect themselves, everyone else becomes the other. Certainly what has been demonstrated lately is being the other is not a good place or position to hold. It still stuns me that the number of Latinos/as, blacks, LGBTQA, Muslim, dis/abled individuals, (and there are people in each of these groups) still believe that the policies put in place recently will not hurt them, from trade, to tariffs, to taxes.

Issues like the #MeToo movement,the #BlackLivesMatter , the #OscarsSoWhite, #RapeCulture, or #NationalAnthem all  demonstrate that we are on a verge of a very substantial paradigm shift, but to where are we shifting? What is positive in the conversation and what is not? This is part of the struggle. There is so much more that we need to ponder and understand. From where did some of the actions, the attitudes, and the practices we now find so abhorrent originate. I listen to a number of veterans most mornings. They are a good group of people, but I am quite sure that I am the only person who did not vote for our current President in that table of 10 or 15 people. Some of the things said will shock me from time to time, but what I realize more and more is that I am pretty liberal in a very conservative area. I am not liberal in my own practices, but more so in my attitudes. What I know is while I might not agree with them, I still respect them and their opinions. I can see beyond some of the differences, and I can still sit and even disagree at times. Most of my disagreements are posed and what about another possibility. I believe we have lost the ability to speak about the other whether it has to do with race, politics, religion, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity or any other thing that might create a difference. Rather than seeing difference as an opportunity for growth, our nationalistic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, or any other ism that elevates difference, we see the other as the enemy, something to discount, disavow, disrespect, discharge, and, somehow hope they will disappear. The resulting fragmentation of who we are as people is certainly not what I believe our heritage has been most held up to be. The words on the statue of Lady Liberty seem to have been ignored. The problem is very basic in understanding what it is, but incredibly complex when it comes to changing it. Most of us are afraid to admit, or too ignorant to realize just how racist most of us are. Until that changes, we are relegated to hashtags and outrage.

With that in mind, I offer this video and thank you all for reading.

Michael (the summer person who is not teaching for once)

The Power of Words

Hello on the last day of my Summer Session,

My students are packing, considering their last six weeks and what they have learned, wondering what the fall holds for them. Some did their work well and some where capable of more, but didn’t manage as they could, some worked incredibly hard with a deficit from the outset, but there is always the entire gamut. What is most amazing to me is that within a few weeks of graduating from high school, these young people, many  of them still 17 are required to act in a manner that is beyond anything they have done, but with more significant consequences than they can even fathom. Then there is the entirely other issue that they are required to manage two classes, which are 15 week semester courses in the matter of 6 weeks. That is a tall order for most students, let alone a summer student who has been often been the recipient of what I call the  “merely-turn-it-in, be-a polite-student, fix-the-errors, and come-to-class” high school experience. When they see the syllabus and hear what is required, most think I am ridiculous in my expectations. Yet, it is amazing when they push themselves what they can actually do. The second lesson is realizing I will not give them a heads up every day telling them what to do nor will I accept late things without a penalty, if at all. It was a sort of six week academic boot camp, and unfortunately for some of theme having an ex-Marine as their professor made it that much more real.

During the past year, the conversation in many of my classes has focused on the power of language. That should not be surprising to anyone who has read my blog or to anyone who knows about my academic interests. I am fascinated by words, all of them, any of them, but also how they work in terms of how they affect audience(s) or how they work when it comes to creating ethos or identity. I once wrote, we use and study language to make sense of both ourselves and our world. It is both profoundly simple and amazingly complex. How do the words we use help us make sense of the world in which we live, and more importantly what is necessary for someone’s words to have a particular puissance. Sometimes it is merely the eloquence of their prose; sometimes it is the context in which the utterance occurs; and sometimes it is the consequence of their station or appointment. I often note that there are places I will not frequent in the town in which I live because nothing positive would come from my going in that establishment (e.g. a student bar or hangout, either of the two local strip clubs . . . and I can probably come up with others). My rationale is not only that nothing positive would happen, but it is because it matters not whether I am in my office at school or in town, I am still the professor. If I were ever to be arrested, the local Press Enterprise headline would not read “Bloomsburg Man Arrested,” it would say “Bloomsburg Man Arrested.” And it would run like some bawdy celebrity rag doing its best to make sure I looked as badly as possible. The point is simple; being a professor is not what I do, it is who I am. It never goes away . . . much to the chagrin of many of my students (and friends). There are parts of us who are basic to who we are. It might be called personality, propensities, consequence of experiences, or . . .  you fill in the blank, but we are certainly complex. I often tell my students I was both a pastor and a Marine and they can decide which part of me they would prefer. This morning I was having coffee with a colleague, and as he often does, he merely rolled his eyes and says, “Dr. Martin . . .” I respond as I often do . . .  I can only be who I am. Certainly my summer students know this all to well, as do some of my former students. As I often tell them when I attempt to describe my own self. I have reduced it to three words, or two specific characteristics. I am genuine and I work hard. I certainly am not perfect, and, in fact, I am a rather flawed human being. I am much more shy than many believe. I am much more fragile than I often reveal. I feel less capable that is often apparent, but, indeed, each of the three previous statements are more accurate of this aging curmudgeon than 90% of those who believe they know me would realize. However, I digress.

The power of words seems to continually raise its head. While I will not blame everything on the current administration, I do believe his (perhaps) off-the-cuff remarks or tweets are much more significant than some one to believe. One of the difficulties of being in a position of power, be it the professor or the president, depending on the person’s previous experience can be more of a sequela than one might expect. I know that I forget this at times, and that can be damaging to a student in my class. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, I am not sure our President knows there is such a possibility and perhaps more egregiously does not seem to care. Concomitantly, we have the current escalation of a rhetoric of violence, be it concerning North Korea and Charlottesville. What do we say to a first semester student who did not live through selective service and has no idea of what would happen, as do any of us, should North Korea actually first something that has a nuclear warhead. China this week said if North Korea starts something they would be neutral . . . there is no neutrality in a nuclear war. One the other hand, they said if the United States starts something, they would defend the North Koreans. Fire and fury . . . which seems to be another plagiarism from Harry Truman, or any of the ramped-up comments of this past week have consequence, and more than merely a sort of tit for tat between a dictator and the surprisingly-elected most powerful person in the world. This is more than playing “my father can beat up your father.”  sort of school yard game. The consequence (seems there are a lot of consequences here) of hateful speech, regardless of who says it, or discriminatory doctrine, which does seem to characterize the current administration, is coming to roost in many and various ways. How does a 20 year old find it even humanly possible to believe running down people with a car has any sense of appropriateness? What do his parents think? What was he taught or how was life modeled for him? These are the questions that come to mind for me. I know people who live or lived in Charlottesville. I can guarantee, this is not what they want to be known for.

I remember being in Richmond last year and driving down Monument Road . . . I am not sure if that is the actual name of the road or it is just called that. The statues or monuments are amazing. Again, this morning in that same conversation previously mentioned, we spoke specifically about the commission that is in place there to consider what to do with all of that statuary. Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy. The Civil War and all it stands for is part of our history. Words like slavery, mistreatment, racism, bigotry, hate, underground railroad, Stars and Bars, emancipation, or abolition are all part of that history. Each of these words mean something different, depending on one’s experience and perspective. We cannot sweep them away . . . we cannot pretend that what the founders of this country did when they themselves owned slaves did not have consequence. Where is the line between historiography and hate? I am not sure I always know. I do know that history like language is fluid. History is generally recorded by the victors. Words have power, but like anything that transverses generations, the understanding of that event or word is certainly affected by context. I noted for someone yesterday that while I was taught in early elementary school that using that certain N-word was never appropriate, I can say with more certainly than I wish that the father who adopted me, and for whom I have amazing respect, was much more bigoted than I would care to admit. On the other hand, he was much more left leaning in some things than I am . . . seems like an oxymoron, and that is not the only place we would demonstrate that complexity than some might realize. While I think he might argue I am a Republican because of some of my conservative leanings or practices, I am more liberal than he was on many social issues.

While I am all for being lawful and appropriate, I am also all about being thoughtful and attempting to understand the complexity of a situation. Those who know me well know I am a pondering person; I am a questioner. My Dean, who is so understanding and willing to listen sometimes just shakes his head at me. I am sure I give him more gray hair at times. I am the person who thinks outside the box and wonders. While I certainly do not deserve to be compared to this person, I am reminded of one of the most amazing rhetorical pieces of all times (this is the short clip; YouTube the complete address if you want, it is worth the 10 minutes it will take to listen to it). If I can come anywhere close to this in my own little corner of the world, I will know I have accomplished something. As I close my ramblings of the day, I have a simple request. Can we please listen before responding? Can we try to imagine the other’s situation before we discount their ideas, concerns, or hopes? Can we respect “the other” first, regardless of what they have done, rather than see them as the enemy? These are some of my thoughts as I am waiting for BOLT, our course delivery tool to come back on line. Thanks as always for reading.

 

I wish you all a thoughtful and blessed day.

Dr. Martin

 

 

Planning for an Uncertain Future

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Hello on another Sunday morning from the Fog and Flame,

Technically, it is a few minutes after noon, but I have been here for a couple of hours working on things to prepare for the coming week and my classes; it seems to be my weekly pattern (including listening to Pandora – I know some say I should switch to Spotify, but I am a creature of habit – and I am listening to various Broadway show soundtracks). Amazing how much I have learned about Broadway since coming to Bloomsburg. I am fortunate to have worked with the BU Business LLC for that last 6 years; it has exposed me to many things I did not know. Continuing with the idea of where have four decades gone, growing up, this was the day we had a vacation from school because it was Lincoln’s birthday. It was also my Great-aunt Martha Hannestad’s birthday. She was born in Norway and immigrated to this country as a young girl. She was born in 1877. She turned 100 the day my elder brother was buried, and I remember her saying she should have been the one to be leaving the world instead of a 26 year old father of three. What I know looking back at this time was it was my first real “adult” lesson in realizing or accepting an uncertain future. I did not realize that at the time. As noted in my previous post, I was merely overwhelmed and angry at God.

What I know now, and I am well aware of this simple reality for all of us, I was born with an uncertain future. Undoubtedly, we all have an element of this, but being born weighing 17 ounces and only 26 weeks of gestation in the mid 1950s created another level to this human unpredictability. After 5 1/2 hours of surgery in 2004, the surgeon noted that I had probably been born with Crohn’s Disease rather than having developed it later in life. This was because of symptoms that I had a propensity for as a child. At the time, and I remember some of these painful incidences well, I merely lived through them not realizing (nor did my parents) there was something much more sinister amiss. I am trying to remember a time in my life when I was asymptomatic for Crohn’s and perhaps in my early 20s and when I was first at Dana. Now, however, since fighting this disease in conscious way (circa 1984), I do not really remember having a “normal life” in terms of my health. Some of you who know me in more completely personal manner are probably smiling and questioning any normalcy in my life. Fair enough. For some time the larger question for me has been simple enough. What are the consequences of this abnormal birth weight or gestation? What are the long-term consequences of nine abdominal surgeries and the removal of significant portions of an intestinal tract? Too often (myself included), we see this digestive tract as simply a tube that takes in food, processes it, and expels what is unneeded. It is so much more complex. It is a fundamental part of our immune system.  The surface area of the digestive tract is estimated to be about 32 square meters, or about half a badminton court. With such a large exposure (more than three times larger than the exposed area of our skin), these immune components function to prevent pathogens from entering the blood and lymph circulatory systems.  Fundamental components of this protection are provided by the intestinal mucosal barrier, which is composed of physical, biochemical, and immune elements elaborated by the intestinal mucosa. Microorganisms also are kept at bay by an extensive immune system comprising the gut-associated-lymphoid tissue (GALT) (I owe this previous couple sentences to Wikipedia). After doing more reading, it is not surprising to me, I seem to susceptible to every damn germ that comes my way. This now partial digestive system is fighting the best it can, but between its precarious beginning and what has happened since, I am pretty blessed to do as well as I have. Things were uncertain from the outset, much more parlous than I ever knew. What is much more staggering to realize is how resilient the body is and how my particular body has managed in spite of this malady than I could have ever imagined. While it seems that most of us understand the importance of hydration, what happens when your body does not know how to manage hydration because the main component in hydration no longer exists? The conversation with the gastroenterologist this past week was telling. No real surprises, but facing the reality of the consequences means coming to terms with that uncertain reality once again. Most of the time, I do not focus upon it, but some of the long-term reality and its affects on my daily life have made that more difficult.

What I know most importantly is I have been blessed to live the life I have. I have been so fortunate to meet tremendously talented and good people. I have been able to learn so much about the world in which we live. I have been able to sit at the feet of amazing professors from undergraduate school through a doctoral degree. I have been blessed by phenomenal students in my classes. I have been favored by the presence of terrifically caring people (thinking of so many wonderful people at Comforts of Home); I have been able to travel and meet exceptional people from California to New York, from Texas to the Canadian border. From 1980 to now, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe, including East Germany in 1985, more times than I might have ever imagined. Those journeys have always changed my life, from language acquisition to an appreciation for this world in which we live. From food to simple customs, each time there has been a transmogrification from a sheltered NW Iowa boy I once was to someone who has learned things beyond my wildest imagination. As I have noted in many of my earlier posts, the upbringing I had in Sioux City was a typical childhood for someone in the 1960s. We thought life was about playing in the yard, riding our bicycles, coming home when the streetlights came on, going to school and church daily and weekly. And so it was. In spite of things I have written in the past, I was fortunate to grow up in the world I did. I see that as I ponder a world today where so many people in this country are unsure of today, let alone a future. It hurts me as that white person that the country I call home seems so afraid of those who do not look like me or believe in the same God as I do. This is not the world or country in which I believed I was raised. There have been times during the past couple years where I am afraid to read the news, fearing what the newest craziness might be lurking on the daily headlines, but I do not think I am alone in this concern. While it would certainly be easy to point fingers in the current atmosphere, I do not want to do so. As most unmistakably know, I have a certain political bent,  but it is more complex than many might realize. My niece, whom I adore, stated it quite well today. She voted in the past election because she is not a conservative Republican and note, I leave that to interpretation. Fiscally I am more conservative than many might think, and while I am more socially liberal than my fiscal-nature, I might not be as liberal as everyone might assume by my academic profession. What does that mean? It is another example of how I have never been able to be easily compartmentalized. It is because I ponder and try to think beyond the obvious. I do fall into the easily categorized at moments, but that is generally when I am overly frustrated and write or speak before I think as carefully as I should. Sucks to be human at moments.

The next weeks will hopefully allow me some more certainly. While I thought I had every imaginable test done to my altered GI tract, there is the possibility of a new one, encapsulated cartography. What is this you ask? It is actually swallowing a camera and allowing it to take pictures (or is it movies) of my entire (or partial) gastroenterological system. I am not sure this will happen because it is dependent of the endoscopy and ileoscopy that is scheduled soon. I read an article in Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology titled “Crohns (sic) Cartography: Mapping Disease Patterns and Trajectories Using the Lémann Index; Are We Finding our Way?” If you are so inclined you are welcome to read it. If you find it a bit much, it is using a camera to see what sort of patterns they might discover after my three-plus fight with Crohn’s  after examining my insides. It seems like science fiction on one level, but it is actual medical care in this 21st century. That is the thing. If I had been like this even a few decades earlier, most likely I would not be composing a blog in my 60s. The intestinal issues are both at the crux of my concern, but on another level, the easiest to manage. I have been managing the consequences of Crohn’s as an intestinal companion for over 30 years. It is the next level of symptoms that seem to be more problematic (as well as increasing the morbidity). Up to now dehydration has been a inconvenience, but now it has added to the uncertainty that has been another companion. Ostomy moments are one thing to manage. Headaches that create a lack of hearing, an absence of sight, and a complete lost of equilibrium are an entirely different issue, and both a figurative and literal severe pain. Hearing that the consequence of this dehydration are now apparent in my brain matter serves as yet another disconcerting consequence. One of the things I have been able to do, at least until now, is merely live with the consequences and see them as a part of my life to manage. These latest revelations put me in a different place, but, honestly, I am not sure what that place is. That is new for me. It creates an uncertainty I am not sure how to manage, but it is something I have to manage. It is another hurdle to jump. It is something that scares me a bit. I do not remember being scared when I first went into surgery in 1986 for the beginning of this surgical journey that has had 9 major chapters (and numerous footnotes). I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling me I was very brave in 1991 as I laid in a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. I did not feel brave. I merely felt that I wanted to somehow live a better life than I was. At this point, I am not sure the goal is that much different. I merely want to know the best way to manage this lasting and unwanted companion. Ultimately, the future is uncertain, but that is not any different from anyone else. We are all uncertain and more or less unprepared for tomorrow,  because for the most part, we have less control that we might believe. That is the giftedness of life. It is more unpredictable than we might think. When people complain of boredom, I find myself asking where they live? I have never really been bored and I do not anticipate that will happen anytime soon. However, it is time to get back to the task at hand: grading, writing, commenting, and living this amazing life I have.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

Attempting to understand what appears to be absurdity, but perhaps isn’t

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Hello from my getting home after a long . . .

I am not sure if it has been a long couple days, a long month, a long campaign, or seeming to be perhaps a long life. That is my perception of both the election, the campaign, and certainly what will be a terrific amount of prognostication from every corner of the country, if not the world. I actually walked into my bathroom about 7:45 last evening and noted specifically to look at the time when my thought was that Donald Trump was going to become the President-elect. I had said throughout the campaign, even in the primaries that he was not as stupid as people wanted to claim or believe. While I believed the actions of Mr. Trump to be embarrassing and shocking, perhaps I am not as typical in my thoughts as I might have imagined. While I thought his disparaging comments towards too many would have had a cummulatice consequence, that was not the case. That in an of itself speaks volumes about the present atmosphere in our country. I am dismayed, unsurprised by the atmosphere, which is even worse, and as we are two days into the transition watching things I have never witnessed following a presidential election. Certainly I have seen pain and sadness when one’s candidate loses, but I do not remember seeing or reading about such vitriol and protesting (and some that has become a sort of rioting) after the election of a candidate. Then again, I know we have never witnessed the sort of offensiveness or unseemliness in a campaign as we have just witnessed. My niece or great-niece, I cannot remember which noted that the media certainly has a role to play (and I might argue a significant one) in how the campaign unfolded. There are so many ways to consider this, but this is only one blog, so I cannot got into it all. (I am adding to this post on Saturday, now four days out.) I do believe there are more reasons than any one attempt to characterize the rationale for one side’s victory or the other’s defeat. While I am a life-long Democrat, I am fiscally conservative. While I believe in helping the other, I do not believe in free handouts. One of my more conservative friends have noted things about the protesting/rioting (and I do believe there is a difference). I do not have a problem with peaceful protest. I do have a problem with rioting or with destruction of another’s property merely because someone is angry. There are two things I would like to note, but then I will be quiet. I believe it is paramount that we come together as a country and listen – not merely hear the other as some kind of noise, but truly listen – to what our equally valuable citizens have to say. Again, I grew up in NW Iowa. I grew up in what is considered to be rural America and not every farmer or small town person or white person is red-neck, uneducated, and racist. On the other hand not every metropolitan black, Latino, or Muslim is anti-white or an illegal or terrorist. How did we get to the point that we seem to go there before we think or listen, and then think again? The second thing is this: when considering the candidates, I must admit in retrospect that there was a sort of coronation of Secretary Clinton as the only possible standard bearer of the Democratic party after she left the State Department. I feel some of this because of the Wikileaks and the hacking of the DNC or the DSCC as well as the response to Senator Sanders. Arguments made about how the campaign was managed have more credibility that some might want to think. Second, if we are to examine Mr. Trump’s rhetorical strategy in his addressing the issues of race, religion, economic inequality, immigration, gender, and you can probably add to the list, what is evident in light of the result is this, and while I say this with a significant amount of chagrin, and particularly in light of his comment in the last 24 hours (I won), one has to either call him a genius or despicable, or both. It was certainly a winning strategy in that he tapped into the anger of a great number of our fellow citizens. From where all that anger comes is certainly open to discussion and will be the fodder for a great number of pieces, scholarship, and a number of other responses. Second, it can be considered despicable because it appears to have created an even greater divide in our country (or, at the very least, exposed it for what it is). I am the soon to be elderly (and some already say older) white man, but I am educated. I do not consider myself to be an elitist, but that does not mean that others might not see me as such. We understand people for where they are when we meet them and we too seldom take the time to see the more complete or complex picture. The consequence for that lack painted a very different picture, but perhaps a more accurate one of who we are as Americans. The paintbrush of the American electorate is complex, but November 8th we created a picture of ourselves that has our entire civilization shaking their collective heads. Do we know who were are? Our popular vote painted on picture, but our electoral college created a different one. Regardless of where you stand, the final result says something both powerful and conflicted. How will we move forward. It begins with each person from both sides listening to the other. Perhaps that is what we might learn most importantly. It is not merely Hillary Clinton’s job to quell the protest, nor is it Donald Trump’s. It is ours as Americans. The protest is palpable. Rioting or damaging property out of anger is not the answer, and if you did not vote and you are out there rioting (again I see a difference), STOP IT!

(I am back to what has been written previously) However, as I wrote yesterday, it was the 241st Anniversary of the Marine Corps and as I write today it is Veterans’ Day. Both of these things are important to me for a variety of reasons. My adoptive father served in WWII and after my birth father passed I found out that he had been in the Marines as I was. As I noted in my Facebook post, I was a scrawny 17th year old who left my home in Sioux City for my first plane ride to MCRD in San Diego in June of 1973. I think my last posting has my boot camp picture, which illustrates clearly I was still growing into my ears. Sad, but true. For some it was absurd that this squirrely 17 year old boy believed he could make it in the Marines. As some of you know, I did not make weight when I first went in and had to go eat a lot of bakery food and drink water to make the minimum guidelines for weight. I wish I still had that problem. Difficult to accept what age and metabolic change does. It was also the 533rd anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther yesterday. As I sit in my office this morning, I remember so clearly yet my trip to East Germany in 1985 and to many of the Luther places. I remember my trip to Buchenwald, which was where Bonhoeffer, the eventual subject of my dissertation, was incarcerated before his move to Flossenbürg where he was hanged. I remember listening to a lecture about Luther as the first Lutheran socialist. It was actually a pretty brilliant lecture, particularly in light of some of the more disturbing and racist things Luther wrote at the end of his life. Finally yesterday was the 41 anniversary of the sinking of the ore ship the Edmund Fitzgerald, during a November winter storm on Lake Superior. It is interesting to me how this one date has such a varied significance in my life. Today it is 98 years ago, almost a century that Armistice was signed in Versailles, a treaty that would actually led to the rise of Hitler, the Nazis, and eventually create the Holocaust. Again, it is absurd to believe that one person could lead such a cultured country toward the extermination of a particular ethnicity. but it happened. (I am back to writing on Saturday, November 12th.) I have been enamored with the German culture since I first got out of the service and my pastor’s family had come to NW Iowa from Germany. Their decision to continue speaking German on certain days of the week started a love affair with other languages and cultures that continues to this day. In some ways it led to my becoming a Lutheran pastor, to my dissertation and my continued study of this amazing country. The Germans also had a significant event in their 20th century history on November 8th (1923). It is worth considering.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with one of my dearest friends who I have known since I was barely in school. It was a blessing to speak with her and hear her thoughts. Partly because it allowed me to commiserate the week, but she was more liberal and open that I had actually realized. It also helped me understand that we make such assumptions about the other, even those we have known for decades. She noted she was probably the only person of her family who voted for the Democratic and she claims to be Independent, which I do not doubt. I am pretty sure that I am the only one in my family to vote for Secretary Clinton. None of them have said anything to me this week, but then again, I have not said anything to them either. I also realize this is contrary to the other things I have noted earlier in my posting. Part of that is I do not merely want to have a superficial and quick conversation They are too important to me. It was such a breath of Fresh Aire (pun intended for those understand it) to speak with her. I am increasingly cognizant of the magnitude those times in my life meant (and still mean to me) when we have had the opportunity to share time from sitting on a dock the summer of 1984 to dancing at Grandpas or The Jockey Club in the late 70s or early 80s, from chats on the phone to visits during the increasingly infrequent times I have been back to my hometown over the years. Amazing how one of the first recollections of my childhood has provided such a sense of comfort and care. In the conversation yesterday I was surprised to see how similar our philosophical bents are. This is actually a good example of the very disconnect that I address when considering the Presidential election of the past week. It is my narrow-minded elitism that I want to believe I do not have. While I have always known her to be thoughtful and considerate, I have not always given her credit for being as philosophical in her approach as she is. Part of that might be her faith background, part of that is because we have never really discussed things as we did this week. What I have always known about her is her pure and caring spirit, her unequalled love for her son and her family, and her amazing beauty and grace. What a joy to learn more about my life-long friend and sort of soul-mate.

If I return to things I still need to get done, it seems there are more things being added than subtracted, and I am not sure that will change anytime soon. It is where we are in the semester: between a strike, an unparalleled election process, and four preps, the semester is kicking me. I must also admit a good part of it is I am getting older. It is also in that I have been struggling a bit again with my health. This is the consequence of a couple of things. Managing my health, which is always an issue, and then finding that I am allergic to cats, which I did not know. It is amazing how that exposure affects my breathing, swallowing, my eyesight and a tightness in my chest that is different than anything I have ever felt. It has been a difficult time because I am committed to helping my friend,  but trying to figure out the logistics is becoming more perplexing, more indecipherable. Certainly some things have been accomplished, but progress seems to be slow; yet, I am more aware of why that is than some might think. There are so many demons that one must confront and about which one must be honest . . . and while we would like to believe that honesty is something we should just reasonably do, perhaps nothing is farther from the truth. It is so difficult, taking more of a herculean effort that one might expect. It is because honesty requires accountability, something that scares us. While there is much more I could write, I want to get this out and then move to the next thing on the list. It has been an interesting week, and it seems that will not change soon, either in Bloomsburg or in the wider state, country or world. As I finish this post, a couple more days have passed and today would be my sister’s 60th birthday if she were alive, so this is a shout out to her. She did have an incredibly giving heart and she was an even more tremendously intelligent person. Happy 60th Kris. I wish you were still here and we had talked more. She was an enormous fan of Anne Murray, so I offer this video for her in remembrance of her birthday.

 

 

Thanks to everyone else for reading.

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin)

Remembering and Wishing

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Hello on a Sunday afternoon, an anniversary the 21st Century’s Day of Infamy for America,

I am in my office and working on a number of things, planning to be here more than most of today’s remaining hours. It is a typical weekend of catching up and working on a number of things. As I consider the day and what I was doing 15 years ago, it is easy to remember,  but what I think is more important (and perhaps as tragic as the day itself) is how in the following days as a country we came together and supported each other. In fact, I think it can be safely said that the majority of the world supported the United States in a manner that perhaps had not happened since the end of the Second World War. In the days that followed people spoke with other people they did not know. If someone could help another, they did it no questions asked. People reached out to another because it was the right thing, the humane thing, the reasonable thing to do versus to wonder and ponder first in suspicion about what the other might be thinking or planning. Congress even joined together on the steps of the United States Capitol in a bi-partisan manner noting that we are all Americans. Isn’t it amazing how much has changed in 15 years? Isn’t it sad how much we have lost from those days where cooperation and mutual goodness seemed to be the order of the day versus where we are now when one side calls the other side deplorable and the other side is simply racist, sexist, xenophobic, and certainly many of the terms being used. Yet then again both seem to lower themselves to the lowest common denominator that has epitomized this election?  In case you cannot imagine Congress actually acting in some other manner than their seemingly common acrimonious personality, here it is:

It is true . . . They actually stood there on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. President Bush’s approval rating was a 86%, which is a number almost unimaginable for any president. Rallying around a phrase of “United We Stand,” Americans of all ilks stood shoulder to shoulder willing to put race, gender, economic status, or political bent aside. In the Upper Peninsula, where I was in graduate school, people reached out to see what they could do, even if it meant going to spend time in NYC to help in whatever manner possible. The Red Cross in the days that followed collected 36,000 pints of blood in NYC alone. In the fall of 2001, 600,000 pints of blood were donated in the United States. Around the world, we also experienced unprecedented support. 200,000 Germans marched in solidarity in Berlin; and in Paris, the French newspaper Le Monde declared in their headline, “Nous sommes tous Américains.” Of course, in the Middle East, the reaction was not quite as supportive, but the history behind that area is much more complex. The reaction against Middle Eastern people in this country was also difficult. Dearborn, Michigan, a place I had worked and part of the state in which I lived was like a ghost town. The reaction against Muslim people or anyone appearing to be from the Middle East, to this day, is probably only paralleled by what happened to the Japanese during World War II.

Of course, the reasons we are in such a different place than those surreal days of September and October 2001 are complex or complicated, an intricate mosaic, if you will. The world changed dramatically that day. Note, I did not say the United States, I said, “the world.” In 2008 a book titled, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, chronicled the consequence of being Arab in the United States in a post-911 world. Needless to say, the espousal of a particular candidate that seems to lump every Arab/Muslim person into one large basket does not help our national xenophobia tension that has never really disappeared since that fateful day. Would the middle name of a President created the “birther controversy” in a pre-911 world? One cannot prove either way, but somehow, I cannot imagine such a thing. In some ways, and there is not enough room to prove all of this, though it would be an interesting things to consider rhetorically, I wonder the parallels between the psyche of the country post-Richard Nixon and the distrust that helped propel Jimmy Carter to office and the post-George W. Bush and the distrust regarding WMD might have done to propel Barack Obama to office. Hmmmm. I see an academic paper in the making. I think the complexity of the Bush years and the role of his vice president certainly affected the attitudes of many Americans toward the administration. In addition, I think the fact that the Legislative Branch of the government demonstrated an inability to work with the Executive Branch, probably not matched since Lincoln and the Civil War established a rancor and divisiveness that quickly snuffed out the good will that so was predominant in those weeks and months following the September 11th attacks. A multitude of scholarly articles that focus on a rhetoric of terror or violence illustrates this somewhat invidious climate that began to hang over our politics and our world. By the end of President Bush’s second term, our world, and now our crumbling economy, created a calumnious world where rancor replaced reliance, dubiety replaced dependence. In spite of that, there was a hopefulness as we elected a 44th president, or at least I thought there was.

More than people realize, there have continued to be attempted attacks on the United States. While I am wise enough to know that we do not know of all of them, in the remainder of the time during President Bush’s presidency, there were 16 confirmed attempts. Up to this point, during the presidency of Barack Obama, there have been another 14 . . . and those are only the ones confirmed. How many more have been either foiled, abandoned, or unreported? As I noted earlier it is a more confusing, multifarious world in which we exist. It is a country that has, for a second presidency, witnessed a dysfunction on our national political stage that seems to have outdone the one aforementioned. While I voted for the President both times, I will admit that I have been disappointed in how the last eight years have played out. However, while there is certainly enough blame to go around, it seems that the obstructionism that has occurred during the majority of the last eight years is unequalled in my lifetime. The tea-partiers, the self-serving national politicians, and the bigots, who now seem to have a voice on a national stage, together have created a toxic atmosphere that should frighten most anyone willing to imagine the consequences. What happened to the world of “United We Stand?” What happened to the world of “We are all Americans?” In the 15 years since that fateful day in NYC, Washington, DC and the fields of Pennsylvania, where I now again live, we have lost this sense of singular purpose to make the world a better one. We have lost this sense of purpose to make the world a safer one . . . I understand there are those who hope to wreak havoc or destroy a sense of interdependence. I believe in making sure that we are not being naïve; I believe in disrupting or the targeting of those who are determined to cause us harm, but there are so many people who do not intend us harm and still see America as something to aspire to. We have not lost our greatness, in spite of a particular slogan emblazoned on a bunch of red hats. I have students who are Latino/a and they are not in this country illegally, nor are they criminals or rapists. I have Muslim students who, though faithful in their beliefs, mean this country no harm and are wonderful people. I have black students who work hard to try to move beyond the ghettos in which they have grown up, but to believe that all black people are in the ghetto is another foolishness. I have rural white students who have also grown up impoverished, but hope their opportunity to attend college will create a different life than they have experienced. I am a first generation college student who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, but with a family, while far from perfect, provided values and a foundation that somehow gave me hope. Because of an amazing grandmother and her sister, I knew I was loved and that somehow it would be okay. While I have read the comments that because we are Americas for generations, we are not immigrants. Indeed, that is true, but that does not make our disregard and disdain for those who hope to come to this country, regardless the path of their journey, reasonable or helpful (and in spite of the term here, I understand there are limits).

I guess the question for me is a simple one, but with a complex solution. How might we get back to where we were in the difficult, but astonishingly cooperative days of that fall of 2001? How might we find the ability or the determination to make this world a more tolerant and hopeful place in all corners of this global community? Selfishness, xenophobic slogans or calling those with whom we disagree deplorable as well as disparaging any person or group after they question something is not the answer. I wonder what our ancestors would think about our current election? I wonder what our children’s children will hear when they find out how one of the two most distrusted party nominees in history somehow became our next president? While I certainly would never wish for another 911 tragedy in this country or anywhere in the world (i.e. France, Belgium, or you fill in the blank), I desperately wish we might return to the positive outpouring of goodness that followed that fateful day. I desperately pray that we might understand our common humanity and the need we have to believe in the goodness of the other be it in our own country or the larger world. Imagine the goodness, believe in the change. America . . .  use the light of that statue once again to proclaim both our greatness and our goodness.

As always, thanks for reading. The picture is my boot camp picture from the Marines when I was a merely 18 year old boy.

Michael