More than a Dirt Nap

Hello from my office on a Friday afternoon,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Understanding Friendship

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Good Sunday morning,

I was hoping to be in Virginia last night and driving back this morning, but once again, my body seems to have its own plan. I guess a more efficacious consequence was I slept longer and more completely last night than I have for a while. I need to do some cleaning this morning and then I am going to spend some time in Jim Thorpe today. I need to touch base with my nutritionist and chat about some options. I will also get some school work done. There are two things to get off my plate this week: programmatic things and grading as well as some logistics.

The last weeks have pushed me to reflect on the true nature of friendship and one of the repercussions of attending last week’s conference has me considering the complexities of this relationship as well as to ponder what it actually means to say someone is a friend. I have long been cognizant of my own distinctions in terminology as well as how I practice the relational differences between friends and acquaintances. There are also connections we make between family members. What I am sensing for myself at the moment is whether we are talking about those we truly consider as friends (and those individuals are most rare) or those we are biologically, “adoptive-ly”, or even maybe “terminologically” offered the honor of family, being a family is a tough thing to accomplish.

Those are two different relationships and very different issues for me, but they are both paramount to me, especially as I am in a new phase of my life. If I consider my life in its entirety and determine friends, I think I have two life-long friends. These are persons I have known for 2/3s of my life and we have remained in each other’s lives. They are the two, who, no matter the space or time between our contacting each other, will know and understand me and vice versa. They have been there through all the phases of my life. One of them from preschool. There are a few people I have met later in life, and they have held more than one role in my life, often straddling the personal and the professional, but they have become treasured people. One in particular is a colleague, now one of my bosses, a brother of sorts, and a person I admire and trust without limits. There is a person who I met through Lydia, he worked for her and helped her with so much more than things around the house. He has also helped me and he is so gracious. He is a fabulous person and incredibly knowledgable and intelligent. I am blessed to have him in my life. Finally there are some people in my old neighborhood “on the circle”, they are astounding because of their care and love. They are people on whom I know I can depend. I have been blessed. Then there is my actual family. They’re people from my adopted family (the extended Martin family). There are my “technically” second cousins and two of those “cousins” are more important than any words will ever really explain. They really do get me as I get them and the one knows me so well that I am actually a little frightened and wish I could figure things out better than I have as of late. There are some immediate family members (or the closest I have at this point), a nephew and a niece and their mother. I am so blessed by them. What I realize is that I have richly honored to have so many amazing people in my life. Rob has worked so hard and is doing really well. Jennifer is an amazing woman in every sense of the word. Friendship is a gift and something that, much like trust, is earned over a period of time. It is something that is tended to and cultivated. It is something on which you can depend. It is there and it is as unconditional a thing we can create or as we can muster as the fallible humans we are.

It is now Monday and I am still writing. Today I was speaking with some staff people on campus about a former student who should have graduated two years ago. Some transfer credits and a PE course. Still working on it for her. Then I was in the ACT101 area and two people asked me about my work with a former Bloom student I have helped. It felt good to say that he is in a better place. It was interesting to hear some more pieces from last year that I did not know. While some of it caught me a bit off guard, some reflection on my part forced me to admit that part of his difficulties were because of his kindness and willingness to be influenced by others around him. I am saddened to hear some more of the pieces because it shows that I need to be more discerning on how much I trust. I have learned this lesson the hard way earlier in my life and now again I am compelled to realize I trust people too completely or I am willing to see the good and ignore the obvious flaws more than I should. The consequence is pain on my part and a sort of shaking to my core that requires me to face the reality of our human selfishness. Sometimes their selfishness is immaturity; sometimes it is a particular thought process that is a bit short-sighted. Those two things can be remedied. Sometimes people are not really good people, plain and simple. Those are the people you need to be able to be watchful of, the people who should probably be relegated to a safe place (I.e. moved to a marginal position which cannot cause you harm). It is a difficult thing for me to do that. Even when warned time and time again by one who knows, I continued to offer chances. It was today that I was actually hit figuratively square in the face, I did not bring this person up at all, but the individual was brought up in the context of the larger conversation. Things I have witnessed again and again, but did not want to admit to myself the obvious flaws, were noted by these two faculty/staff. I actually said little, but mostly nodded in affirmation. It was sad for me, but I tucked it away. It will be sadder for this person and that consequence will be sooner rather than later. While I do not generally wish anything bad on someone, the reality of continued bad decisions is going to cause some even bigger issues. I am glad in this case that I am not the parent. I think God was wiser than I (not surprisingly) as I am ending life childless. While I am not always as forgiving as I might be, the picture for today is about that need. Such power we have when we fail to forgive, but the damage we cause to ourselves and others.

I am crazy-busy as some call it at the moment, but I am making progress. That is all that matters at the moment. Tomorrow I am taking my Bible as Literature class to the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg to research. I am also working on some of my own research. I am looking forward to the trip and chapel. I am also looking forward to seeing my colleague the Rev. Dr. Mark Vitalis-Hoffman. I have work to do in the morning before meeting students at 5:20 a.m., so I hope to be in bed shortly.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Wondering How and When

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Good morning,

While I woke up at my usual early time, I did not get up as soon after awakening as I often do. I finished on night out on my porch and must have fallen asleep in one of the rocking chairs. It seems I must be one of the more elderly members of The Walton’s . When I came in I just crawled into bed and went to sleep. I was hoping for a restful night, but it seems my body had different plans. Between another round of fevers and an unhappy digestive system, it was not one of my more pleasant beginnings to a day. I am still quite sure that I detest vomiting (sorry) more than most anything.

Last weekend was one of the nicest three day periods I have had in a very long time. To celebrate the day in another way with the gifts offered by all of the Galán’s meant more than any words could begin to express. The PowerPoint created by Jordan and Melissa was both hilarious and meaningful; the wine-themed gifts for the house are awesome; and the simple, but profound words, both in speech and writing, still create a lump in my throat. I am blessed.

I think a morning earlier this week might be a preview of what is to come, but I am trying to figure out the balance. Balance is such an important thing and something to which we often pay too little heed. What gives one a sense of balance is ever-changing and for that reason it might be something that is all that more fleeting or hard to accomplish. In addition, I think it is even harder to maintain. I want to manage that balance the best I can in the given situation and that means trying to merely go on doing what I do, but it seems that my body and I are a odds. I am reminded of the Ghost of Christmas Future in The Christmas Carol when Scrooge exclaims, I fear you more than any specter I have yet seen.” I do not think it is the end of which I am afraid, it is more the not knowing exactly how and when. I imagine we all struggle with that idea.

This past week I have had the opportunity to speak with my cousin and I think she is coming to visit. That will be a wonderful thing. I am not sure on the dates, but I am sure that it might be sooner rather than later. That makes me happy. My former colleague, her husband, and son are supposed to come soon also. Though I have not heard the exact dates. There is a lot occurring in the next couple weeks between visits (hoped for) and yearly celebrations, I think there is a lot to prepare for. I think that might serve me well. I am also excited that all the Deckers will be back in town this coming week. I have missed all of them more than words might express. As is often the case, I might not really understand the depth of my missing of them all until they are here and I have a chance to catch up with them. I am still supposed to consider a trip to Spain, but I am not sure because of the larger picture how to manage that. Today is a day where I feel I could sleep most of the day, but that is not how I want to spend my days.

I do have some things I want to get accomplished today, including cleaning the house, cleaning the refrigerator, and I need to go over to the other house and do a little work. I think it is again a question of balance. I need to get somethings done and while I have probably been the most laid-back I have been in years for the last month, I also struggle with that sense of guilt for being lazy. Again, it is always interesting how the head and the heart are not always on the same page (for me it seems they are seldom there). I have so much I still want to accomplish yet this summer, but how much of it will make a difference in the long term? That is always a question for me: what ultimately makes a difference for another person? What might profoundly affect him or her in a manner that their life is significantly (and hopefully positively) changed? I was reflecting on the conversation I had with Sr. Galán yesterday and what he shared about his life and what he thinks about life at this point. It is always interesting to listen to another perspective (and particularly when the person has such passion about life and truth). He has so much to consider. I feel like my life is pretty simple. I merely have to go about my work and my life. Sure, others are affected by me, but not in the same way. Much like when I left Wisconsin, there was one person in particular whose life was profoundly affected, but otherwise, that town is not really any different. I think it is the reality be ultimately being a single person and a person who never had children. While I am sure that a few people might lament my absence, in the long-term or the larger picture, life will continue and I am not so arrogant or prideful to believe that other’s lives will be profoundly altered by my presence or absence. Perhaps that is the most important gift that I or anyone can offer in a profound way. I merely hope that people can go on with their lives.

There is one person in particular that I wonder what it might have been like had she lived longer and that is my grandmother, Louise. I wonder what we might have thought of each other later in life of how we might have interacted. What I do know is that I did not visit her the last time I promised to do so. I remember calling her from a phone booth on Highway 71 (I think that is the highway going into Atlantic, IA). It was next to a Hardee’s Fast Food Restaurant and I called an apologized for not coming to see her. That was the last time I actually ever spoke with her I think. I still have a sweater that she bought me the last Christmas she was alive. I have never been able to part with it. What I know is that I loved her as much as I have ever loved someone, a relative and someone who actually made a profound difference in my life. I wish I still had all the letters she wrote to me in the service. I remember one in particular where she apologized for having to give my sister and me up for adoption. She knew of the abuse we endured and she felt terrifically guilty for subjecting us to that. I am not sure I have ever said this, but Grandma, I forgive you. I love you. What I know now and this is through a pretty amazing conversation I had last week, that I need to forgive more and try to understand more. That will be in a forthcoming post.

While there is certainly more on this version of a “convoluted mind”, I think I will pause.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Creating Memories

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Good morning on a cloudy and humid day,

This morning began early 4:23 a.m. to be exact. It seems an aspirin taken to manage a fever last evening decided to raise havoc with my stomach. So after a bit of puttering around the house this morning, including a load or two of laundry, I went to the diner for breakfast. I thought some food might alleviate the upset stomach. No such luck. I am afraid this morning is a harbinger of what is to come. I detest throwing up more than most anything in the world.

I worked on a number of necessary tasks yesterday and today will be more of the same. This afternoon I am meeting with a Lutheran Brotherhood (my old school term)/Thrivent agent to make sure some things are in order. I want to try to make sure that some day I leave no debts or problems for others to have to manage. This past week, the fact that my sister did not do this so well came back to haunt me. It is one of those moments when I am aware that I am almost 60 and then I am trying to figure out how I got this old. I know that 60 is not old, but when I was in my teens or even perhaps my early 20s, it certainly seemed a long ways away.

As those who really know me are aware, I am a process person. I have to figure out how things work and why they work that way. I wish I had answers for some of that now? “Why am I still here?” is one of those questions. I have been told by more than one doctor “you are a miracle”. I have never really felt that miraculous. Perhaps a bit of an anomaly, but that is I guess because I think that I think differently. I have been trying to figure that out. How and why did that happen? I think merely trying to live each day as a someone who wanted to make some small difference kept me most often from thinking about who I was or what I  was about. I don’t really think most of us are that different. We merely go about our lives.

That brings me to my focus (the title of today’s post). Some of my earliest memories are of my grandparents and living at their house as a little boy. The best memory is of breakfast and soft poached eggs, a half of grapefruit, and a piece of some kind of toast (from the various bread options from her bakery). What is perhaps the most important memory or realization of my living at or visiting my grandmother’s house was that she loved me, and she loved me regardless. I am still amazed by her capacity to love and give. She, in spite of her difficulties, never quit giving. I remember the summer I lived at her house between my junior and senior year of high school. I think I grew up more that summer than I have actually realized. I worked at the bakery from 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning until about 3:00 in the afternoon. Then I went to a second job and worked from 5:00 in the evening until midnight or so . . . and I did that 6 days a week. It is actually one of my favorite summers. I was all of 16 years old and I never felt like I was working too hard or had it rough. I bought my first car and I learned that hard work was an okay thing. I am not sure I always remembered those lessons as well as I might have.

In my elementary and into middle school (as they call it now) years, I think my best memories are being in the Sioux City Children’s Community Theatre and in the Sioux City Children’s Choir. A fellow member of both groups was a girl named Miriam Oesper. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was the first person to kiss me. I was so amazed and frightened. She was an amazing person. I still remember her birthday (March 3rd). Her family moved to Des Moines (Urbandale to be exact) and I never saw her again. I did actually catch up with her by email a few years ago. Amazing how the memories and even the feelings of she must be wonderful were still there somehow. However, unlike some I know, if it is in the past, it is probably best to leave it there. There was also another person from that group and her name was Carolyn Wayman. She was another person I found to be wonderful: smart, funny, and beautiful. I have wondered from time to time about many of those theatre persons. I realize that experience was more important to me than I ever imagined.

When I came home from the service, there are memories, and perhaps the most important one immediately was meeting the Peters family. David and I still communicate until this day. His sister, Barb, was the first person I might have really loved. I remember this picture of her (it was a school picture) with the most amazingly beautiful long hair. I can still see it clearly. I also learned an important lesson to never like your best friend’s sister. However, emotions are seldom rational. There are certainly memories from beyond high school and into college and other places, but they sometimes seem to blur together and I am not sure that there is something that really jars my memory or emotions the same way. Perhaps my trip to Europe with Dr. Nielsen during the January interim class of 1981. Interestingly, again, when I think about the events, there are so many things that flood back . . . . Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE) team, summer Greek class, East Germany, Oberammergau, Denmark, Garmisch Partenkirken, meeting biological relatives, college, graduate_school). Over the past week, I have connected with my cousin to chat about things. I noted her in my last post. She has been kind and texted me almost every day since our talk last week. She noted that I am the one who really understands her. She is one of the few who has always accepted me. The memories . . .  Grandpa’s, Firefall, The Marina, the white Buick Regal or the green Cadillac.

As I noted, I have a number of tasks to try to manage today and some time will be spent in my office organizing and getting things off my plate. I also have to go to the bank and get some more things managed there. I am merely hoping for a productive day. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to spend Memorial Day with Mr. and Mrs. Galán. I had the most wonderful food and the greatest conversation on a number of levels. At one point, Mrs. Galán and I spoke for about 45 minutes. She does not really speak English, though I think she understands more than most might think. My Spanish is nascent at best, but we were able to communicate and understand each other for the most part. It was actually quite amazing and it created another important memory for me. It meant a lot for me because it required me to use my beginning skills, but I hope that she realized how important I believe she is also. Too often I believe she is marginalized because of the language issues and that is not acceptable for me.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to create another memory. It was unplanned, but it was poignant. Muchas gracias por los 45 segundos en la mesa y la mirada en su cara. Gracias por sus palabras y sus rasgones. Soy bendito usted está aquí. Nunca olvidaré. Well, it is time to do some work. Thank you for reading and for those who have commented, thank you also. I am fortunate you are in my life.

Michael

Beset by Irony

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Good evening,

As I write this there is a group of students working on their Odyssey of the Mind project in the next room. I have watched the movie, The Last Samurai, for the umpteenth time, but it is a movie that inspires me. It inspires me to work to be a better person and to be someone who digs deep to try to improve. I wish I had the discipline that those amazing men must have had. I guess my being in the Marine Corps offered some of that. It is interesting that the Marines talk about honor, discipline and tradition. Once before I wrote about the Japanese group of warriors called Samurai. They have a code by which they lived called Bushido. It was based on principles and those principles , or that code, is something that I wish I could adhere to better than I do. These eight virtues are still the principles of Japanese culture in the 21st century. There is something to be said for a code of life based on honor and respect. To live a life of rectitude and loyalty is quite admirable. It is actually the respect the movie seems to have for the Japanese culture that most resonates with me. I am not a huge Tom Cruise fan, but I must admit there are times in this movie I respect how he goes about his craft. His work to use the Japanese language and demonstrate a sense for the Samurai culture was impressive. There is a scene at the end of the movie after the final battle, where Algeran (Cruise’s character) presents the sword of the Samurai leader to the emperor. The emperor, realizing some important cultural issues at hand, asks Algeran to tell him how this amazing warrior (played excellently by Ken Wanatabe) died. Algeran answers, “I will tell you how he lived.” Such an important statement. It is not who we are, it is much more about how we have conducted our lives that is important. Those who have children leave more than heirs, they leave examples of their life. We are the products of the lessons we have been taught.

I have thought about that a lot lately. What do we leave behind. As I noted in an earlier post, if I have no children have I lost out on a legacy? Yes, perhaps in the most profound way, but I do hope that things I have taught in my classes has an influence. I do believe I have had an important influence on at least one of my nephews or nieces. I am relatively confident that I have. I was once told if you profoundly influence 3 or 4 other people in your life you were successful. I am not sure I can claim that, but I would like to believe I have made some difference in the lives of my students. I have been told that my classes are difficult, but that when a student walks out of my class knowing that they learned something of importance. I think of it as he or she got the education they have paid for. This is important, especially when the cost of an education has become so prohibitive for many. The amount of debt they will carry for the next twenty years or more is substantial. What has a person learned in the time they are in college. It is certainly more than what their books offer. It is my hope they have begun to understand who they are and why what they do matters. So many are focused on only the piece of paper. College is so much more. Life is so much more.

So much of my life I have worried about what others thought or about what others wanted me to do. I am confronted with choices once again, but they are choices of consequence. They are choices of eternity, and again I can hear my colleague Dr. Lee arguing that idea with me. I have to decide the best course of action to take. I spoke with my cousin today. She is one of the couple people I trust implicitly. She is a person I love deeply. She is a person who has cared for me almost 2/3s of my life. She is a nurse in California. She has been there for me on two other occasions and I remember crying with her on the phone. Today there was a third time and she was as supportive and caring as she has always been. It meant a lot to hear her words. She is a wise woman and she has been through a lot, but in her own words, her plate is large and she can handle a lot. I am grateful for her counsel. While I have not made a final decision about the course of action I will take, I am certainly leaning toward a particular course. It is a course that allows me to take charge of my life. It is a choice that allows me to move forward with my own understanding of dignity.

What I know is I have a lot to accomplish yet and I will work diligently and intentionally to accomplish those things. I wonder what it might be to have some small measure of peace, a peace that I believe “we all seek, but few of us ever find” (The Last Samurai). I wish at times I was a better person, a more profound and intelligent person, a person who made some significant difference, but I know such ideas are a bit foolhardy. They are selfish and self-serving. I do believe I am merely a person who found his way into the world, a bit by accident when you consider my beginning. I am a person who has defied death in, through, or by my very birth. That along with some of the other things that have occurred merely remind me of the blessings I have received so many times and in so many ways. I am still blessed. I have friends, and I have a family, albeit an unexpected one. I have my extended family and I have amazing colleagues and a great place to work. All of those things together give me much more than many have.

I am not exactly sure what the next weeks and months will bring and, again, I am not sure what my decision about these newest issues will be. I will have to ponder and process. I am good at that. I am pretty comfortable pondering and wondering about the “what if” questions. As I have noted, that has always been part of my life. It will continue to be so. The picture is of me a few weeks before I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which eventually turned out to be Crohn’s. It is one of the last “pre-IBD” pictures I have. My hair was certainly a different color back then.

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael