Being Thankful

Hello from my kitchen in the morning,

Hard to believe it is already Wednesday of our break. Harder to believe it is almost the end of November; and perhaps hardest of all to come to terms with we are finishing the second decade of a new millennium. I was speaking with Al, the person in charge of technology for my department (and building) and reminiscing over our experiences of Y2K. This morning I am realizing that the great majority of my freshmen did not live in the 20th century. Yikes!

As I sit in my kitchen, breakfast pretty well prepared, I am waiting for a 17 year old to manage to get up. In spite of the fact, we agreed on a 9:30 breakfast, he does not like to get out of bed, so I am being productive and working on this blog. Thanksgiving, being the latest day of the calendar it can occur, seems to usher in both Advent and the holiday season this year. It also brings back all those memories of holidays gone by, and causes me to ponder how differently I might understand the holidays and their significance at this point in my life. As a child, it marked a school vacation and Black Friday shopping. My parents put money away every paycheck to help have money for the Christmas tradition of buying presents. They never owned a shopping credit card. My father had one gas credit card, and that was it. Thanksgiving was an incredible meal, especially if we make the trek “over the river” (there were no woods) and went to my grandmother’s, sister’s house. I have noted on many occasions how those two were the most fabulous cooks.

While I have often lamented some elements of my being raised as an adopted child, perhaps the occasion of this Thanksgiving is a time to consider the fortune of being raised in the Martin household. As I realize now (and that is not a first time realization), I think there were different hopes from the two people who had a adopted a first child and then a pair (being my sister and me). In the late 1950s, having children and being a family was part of being successful and living the American dream. As I look at my parents, I am not sure parenting was appreciated equally or was the desire to be a parent on the same plane. Regardless, knowing all the things I know, I believe I was overall fortunate. I was speaking with my sister-in-law recently and she noted that my older brother and she considering adopting us (as a second adoption) to get us away from some of the struggles we had endured. Though I am sure if that attempt had been made it would have been an undoubtedly tense and ugly situation.

In spite the myriad of issues, we still had some relative stability. I had the essential things I needed to be healthy and cared for on the basic levels of food, shelter, and opportunity. I had extra things provided like private music lessons, the chance to participate in a variety of events, and both a good school and church family. I understand and perceive things so differently now. Perhaps most important, I knew that even when I was lacking emotional support at home, I had surrogate parents who gave me a lot. I had a church youth group where I found acceptance. I know now there are things I lacked and it is interesting that I find myself trying to provide that for Anton, even though he is only in my care for a year. Tomorrow that year is already 1/4 complete. Amazing that three months have come and gone. What I know is I have been so blessed by people in my life. Growing up in Riverside, I think of the Sopoci family and their basement recreation room, where I spent many an hour. I think of Sheldon and Janet Reese, who always demonstrated care for me, listened to me and showed me I mattered. Of course, Marge and Jake Goede were like a second family to me. I realize now how much my church youth group did to keep me healthy emotionally. In addition, as I got older and worked at my grandmother’s bakery, I was fortunate to be around a person who loved me deeply and unconditionally. That was the most incredible blessing perhaps ever bestowed. She taught me how to give and to treat others with kindness. She was always willing to go above and beyond in her giving to others. I would like to believe I emulate her to some degree.

As I moved beyond high school, I had so much to learn about the world. To my parents’ credit, and perhaps at times to my detriment, I was not very prepared for the Marine Corps – though you might ask, is that possible – or even life beyond. I would come back trying to figure out who I was, and being blessed by yet another family outside my own. A new pastor had come to Riverside Lutheran. Little did I know how impactful they would be. The eldest was not around, but the next three would be central to my trying to acclimate back to being a civilian. I know now that is much harder than one realizes. Fred, the pastor, became a surrogate father and did more to help me mature than perhaps anyone could have. Ruth, had more of a hate/love relationship with me (and my ’71 Chevelle) than one would hope. She petrified me, and simultaneously caused me to think about who I wanted to or should be. David is still a friend I treasure and Barb found her way deep into my heart beyond anything I had known. She was that first love, and I had no idea how to manage that. Trial and error would be an understatement, but I am thankful to this day. Nancy, the youngest was smart, kind, and did not know what to do with her brother and me together. I will forever be indebted to the Peters family. Even to this day, I realize the integrity of Fred and how blessed I am by him.

I would eventually go from Ames back home and that was a difficult time due to the death of both my brother and my grandmother. Somehow, on a lark, I was blessed again; this time to be offered a chance to travel and work for an organization called Lutheran Youth Encounter. This was also the time I was spending significant time with a 2nd cousin. She was a very good influence on me and again I was blessed by her love and care. The year of travel caused me to do a lot of self-examination, as well as a time to grow, and I enrolled in college. This was a second time, but this time would be different. I wanted (needed) to prove to myself I could be successful. It was the begging of a process that has led me through seminary, to the parish, back to the academy, eventually a PhD, and from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania.

These previous paragraphs are rather broad strokes, but what is consistent is there have been people every step of the way who cared for me, who cared about me. I did not get here on my own. It has been because of dozens of individuals. Some have moved in and out of my life and I have lost touch or one side of the relationship moved beyond. Some have remained and some have re-emerged. Our lives are an astounding number of threads woven together, sometimes tightly, sometimes with some sense of order, but loosely. Other times, the threads become tangled, snarled, or even frayed. Yet they all matter because they illustrate the complexity of who we are.

As you know by my last blog, a superb teacher, professor, and colleague has passed. I have pondered his passing from a variety of views. He was only four years older than I. To be honest, that disturbs me; it frightens me a bit. On the other hand, he left a profound example of what it means to be here for his students. I hope I can work to carry on some of that in my own teaching in a more successful manner. Last week as we honored him and students spoke about him, I tried to imagine what he might say. I think he might say, “Awe, shucks! Thank you for your words.” And he would leave it at that. Dr. Riley was (and is) another reason to give thanks, both for the time he was with us – also by what he has left us. Before we return to classes, we will have a memorial service. The weather, as can often be the case “when the gales of November come stealin'”, and move us into December, does appear to be an issue. And yet, we will gather to give thanks for a colleague who taught us to never be complacent, to never quit striving to learn and implement new things. As I finish this we are completing a Thanksgiving break. In spite of the craziness in so many places, and inside the Beltway perhaps being the craziest, I find myself wanting to focus on being thankful. There are so many people not mentioned here, but you each matter. Bless each of you for your kindness and the gifts you have shared to make this small, adopted, struggling, boy from Northwest Iowa be able to grow, flourish, and be allowed to live a blessed life.

Thank you as always for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

Being Grateful is both Singular and Plural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

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

An Amazing Dèjá vue

Hello from the porch of the Highlights Foundation Barn and Lodge,

Earlier this afternoon I was honored to attend and witness the marriage of a former student to her love and the beginning of their lives as formally known as husband and wife. It is amazing how differently I look at the events from periods in my life that are long past. Amazing how I felt, in some way, like my own child was coming down that aisle in the Catholic Church this afternoon. Amazing how I was not that interested in how all the other people looked or who was there, in part because I know only a couple people from either the bride’s or the groom’s families, though I expect more of them have heard of me. Not because I am famous or amazing, but because a young freshman student in a writing class allowed me some sort of entreé into her life beyond merely being a student in class. It is always beyond our immediate comprehension how people might enter or (for that matter) leave our lives. Mariah, in spite of being a business, and ultimately supply chain management, student, her work in the writing center and her work in the then named Living and Learning Community (LLC) offered continual opportunities for our lives to cross paths more extensively. Phone calls on more road trips than either can count, dinners with small groups, conference photos being sent from southern beaches and a motorcycle ride on Harleys with her father allowed Mariah to become more than merely someone in a class. That is one of the richest blessings that can happen for us as professors and mentors. So to be here this day is both joyous and humbling.

The Catholic Church in Honesdale exhibited both traditional Roman iconography, but also illustrated, as I examined the sanctuary, a strong Irish presence. Almost every stained glass window was a memorial to someone with an Irish name. The statuary in the chancel and the stations of the cross were appropriately somber and neo-classical and the painting of the apostles in the upper reaches of the nave were also impressive. As the service began and Mariah entered the sanctuary with her father, she was even more radiant and beautiful than I could have imagined, and that is saying something. The sparkle in her eyes and the radiance of her smile would have brightened the entire church without a single luminary needed. The conversation as a musical number based on 1 Corinthians 13 was sung actual added the Mariah-touch I expected to manifest itself somewhere. Her being completely silent and not adding commentary (if only between the two of them) and beaming that astounding smile would have been miraculous, but also sad, and certainly not appropriate as there was no reason for sadness.

As I write this, the sun is shining, there is a nice fall breeze, and sitting outside the venue waiting for others to arrive is calming and enjoyable. I will admit knowing so few is a bit uncomfortable, but I will manage. There was an option to stay here for the evening and I have chosen to do so. I am hoping to get some work done, and I often accomplish more when I go hide away. . . . it is about 5 hours later and the meal and the people I was sitting with were so wonderful. I am about 75 yards from the barn and the party is cranking up . . . it is sort of fun to listen to them as I sit in my little cabin and do some work. It is barely 8:00 p.m. and I am actually pretty tired. I am seriously considering taking my evening meds and going to sleep. I think I would probably be asleep in less than 15 minutes. It was really quite the wonderful day. The weather was fall like, but the sun and the breeze were just cool enough to let you know there was a season change, and with the sun and the protection of the trees, it was more than pleasant. The day has been a wonderful 12+ hours of conversations with friends and colleagues at the @APSCUFLA and then a drive from Harrisburg to Bloomsburg, a quick stop, where I saw a glimpse of another former student who stayed last night even though I was not there. Unfortunately, and quite sadly, I did not have time to wait for them to get up, and had to leave for the wedding. The drive to the northern tier of counties in Pennsylvania was quite nice. There are a hint of colors beginning, but I am afraid all the precipitation we have had might mute the fall splendor. However, as noted above, the wedding was very nice. Simple and somewhat expected in terms of scripture and music, but I say that as a former pastor and one who has been in more weddings in my life than I probably have fingers and toes . The move toward barn receptions (I think this is the third one I have come to) is really quite wonderful. I was also at a barn dinner for the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble about two weeks ago. Barns are such amazing structures, and even if they are new, in a relative sort of way, there is this feeling of bygone times, of history and events that made people who they are and they were the thing that keep families together. I am reminded my visiting my Uncle Melvin’s and Aunt Helen’s farm in Southeastern South Dakota. I remember going their once with a friend and loving walking around the farm with her. It is one of my favorite memories.

At this point you might wonder what the dèjá vue part of this blog is. Well, it is quite amazing. On an October day in 1991 I was driving from Lehighton, Pennsylvania to outside of Pittsburgh to participate in a Catholic wedding for a family friend, and as I drove across the state on a Friday, I listened with almost complete attention to National Public Radio and the Senate Judicial hearing with Dr. Anita Hill and then nominee for SCOTUS, Judge Clarence Thomas. Thursday and Friday of this week, I listened to almost the entire day’s hearing between the same committee, with some of the same members, and Christine Blasey Ford and the latest nominee to be accused once again of sexual improprieties (and I use this term with a complete tongue-in-cheek manner for a reason, which I hope will become clear), Brett Kavanaugh. What pushes the repeating nature of this is again, I am at a wedding in a Catholic Church that I had to drive to, and once again, I am in Pennsylvania. The numerous parallels are striking, and astoundingly, so are the responses of the Senate, the country, and what is being debated. Certainly, it was the Senator from Pennsylvania, the late Arlen Specter, who eviscerated Ms. Hill. This time, the Republicans ran for cover when it came to questioning Dr. Ford, but did their level best to poke holes in what she had alleged happened to her. My sister-in-law and I, it seems fall on the diametrically opposite sides of this debate as I found out in a FB post earlier this evening, but I think what I find most perplexing about this current debate can be spelled out in three points.

  1. First, the fact that Dr. Ford had spoken about the attack years ago, but chose to keep his name confidential demonstrates some class on her part. The fact that she spoke on more than once occasion in the past that her attacker was a high-powered judge, who might be elevated to the Supreme Court cannot be ignored, and finally, the fact that she came forward only after being “outted,” by whomever it was, again, illustrates that she preferred to allow it to be investigated behind close doors versus what has happened. Again, there are a number of things to be considered here, but I am merely noting this as a general point. Finally, I think her testimony was calm though emotional, respectful and questioning only when she was unsure of something, and finally, done in a way that did not seem to try to overplay anything, but try to be truthful and honest. Again, I could argue a number of things rhetorically, but will not.
  2. Second, I did not see the initial part of Judge Kavanaugh’ s response, and had only watched clips, but before writing this, listened to his entire statement. What I hear is a classic version of “he said/she said.” Again, stepping back a moment, who has something to lose in all of this. Dr. Ford gains nothing by coming forward, but notes she felt it was a civil duty. She, I think, would not claim she has won anything by doing this. In fact, the denouement has required her family to move from their house and now have security guards, and that was before she testified. She will forever be a footnote in the history books regarding the confirmation, or lack thereof, of Judge Kavanaugh. On the other hand, what does he have to lose? A great deal, and I do understand he has lost a great deal already. Should the now ordered FBI investigation shed light on the more than one assault of which he has been accused in a way that deems their allegations credible, he will not be confirmed and I would imagine there could be additional consequences. One of my colleagues, who has a JD, noted that Maryland has no statute of limitation on sexual assault. If Dr. Ford was 15 years old, I would imagine there are other possible complexities. Simply put, I do believe Judge Kavanaugh could lose much more than he already has. So would it be more possible for him to feel the necessity of hiding something? No brainer. Yet, there is, for me, a much more difficult issue in his response, and it is not his denial. It is the tone and the language he used to deny. His anger, his vitriol and the partisan accusations that go back 20+ years were a bit over the top. Can I understand his frustration, probably not to the degree I should, but regardless, the demeanor he exhibited in the hearing was completely unprofessional and as much below what I believe someone serving on the Supreme Court. Of course,  I feel much the same about the the unprofessionalism and ridicule that often comes from the person who nominated him. So much more that could be said, but I will not.
  3. Third, and this is the most troubling point for me of the three. What we have witnessed in our United States Congress is also below what anyone should believe appropriate or be willing to accept from our elected leaders. I have no problem with spirited debate. I have no problem with disagreement; and finally, I have no problem with questioning the positions and ideologies of the opposition, but the manner in which it has been done over the last three decades needs to stop. For the Republicans to keep Judge Garland from even getting a hearing and then arguing a week longer to investigate when there is a serious character concern is more than disingenuous. It is unconscionable. For Lindsey Graham, for whom I have some very strong appreciation, to act as he did the other day is embarrassing. What has happened to the nomination and confirmation process of the Supreme Court will have long-term consequences that will probably last longer than I might be alive. To have so little civility or decorum among our elected leaders from the very top down only serves to tell our citizens there is no need to be civil or reasonable in their own lives. Again, common sense says something very different, but I fear for where we are headed.

The repeat of history I have experienced over the past few days does not create any sense of comfort or hope for our collective good will. Regardless of what happens with this FBI investigation, the damage done to the Congress and the Supreme Court is already being felt. If we fail to listen to yet another female, who is brave enough to come forward with nothing to gain and most everything to lose, we set back some of the progress that has been made. Yet, I do not believe we live in that same world that Professor Hill had to navigate as I was making my way across Pennsylvania almost 27 years ago to the day. We are in the different place, but we have a long ways to go. It is not easy to come out of the shadows of sexual assault. It might be even more difficult when you are a male. If you have gotten to this point of my post, I will ask you to be seated.

When I was still eighteen or maybe barely nineteen, I was stationed at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. I was younger than many in my Battery, and certainly smaller. I also did not know how to drink and had minimal tolerance. The beginning of one weekend I came back to the barracks and I was more than intoxicated. I was flat out drunk. I had gotten into the shower to clean up and then go to bed. I was naked as I walked back to my bed and at one point needed to be directed toward my rack. I crawled into bed and was about 90% passed out. That is when another Marine, a Corporal, who had been selected as the Marine of the Base for his outstanding work and character, showed up by my bed. He pulled my arm up behind my back and told me if I did not get up and dressed and come with him, he would break my arm. He was both bigger and stronger, and I was not sober. I did as told and he took me out the back steps and we ended up in his car and then down by the beach across base. At that point, he forced me to perform oral sex on him and he anally raped me. He told me if I told anyone he would kill me. This happened on one or two other occasions and I worked hard to make sure I was never alone again for months. Did I think about telling someone? Yes, but he was an awarded Marine across the base, and I was not nearly as amazing. I was also new. I said nothing, but tried to figure out how to protect myself. As noted, it did happen at least one more time and perhaps a second. I am honestly not sure. Up to this point, there are only three people who have ever heard this story. Now many more will. Do I remember everything that happened? I do not. Even when I was not intoxicated. I remember being fearful; I remember being humiliated; I remember feeling shame and rage, but also feeling helpless to do anything. This happened in 1974 during the summer, but I could not tell you a specific date or time. I could tell you the person’s name because it is burned into my memory, but I choose not to do so. I could tell you I believe he was from around Chicago, but I am not 100% sure of that.

Some of you will be shocked by this revelation. The few of you who know might be shocked that I have actually admitted this in my blog, but there is a certain sense of freedom in finally saying this happened to me. Did it have consequences? Of course it did. Do I know what all of those consequences were or are? Probably not. I remember when I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I was asked if I had ever had sex with a male (this was in the early days of understanding AIDs). I did not understand the question, but I lied at the time because I was embarrassed. I could certainly say I did not have sex with a male willingly. Since then, I have been tested more than once for general reasons, and fortunately there was no such consequence of that assault. I have also learned to forgive and move on, but this admission allows that moving on to be a bit more complete. Do not feel sorry for me as I am okay, but there is so much more to our lives than people often know.

In spite of all you have read here, I am blessed to be here and alive. I am blessed to be at the wedding of my former student, Mariah. I am blessed in so many ways. I hope we might find a way to come together as a country regardless of what happens this next week and put the good of the country before our own partisanship and difficulties. I hope we can move forward and treat each person with the civility and respect they deserve. I hope we can find the good in the other rather than work to see what we can pick on and tear down so that all that is left is a shell of a human. I think on that note, I will lay my head down to sleep and pray for a better country tomorrow. What I know for the day is it has been a wonderful one to be allowed to share in the lives of so many.

Thank you as always for reading,

#MeToo,

Michael

The World is a Provocative Place

Hello from Richmond,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you as always for reading.

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

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Writing to living or living to write

   Good Saturday morning,

I am trying to manage, arrange, and accomplish all the things that need to be done and have my life in some semblance of order by one week from today. That is my desire and, depending on the moment, such a goal seems modestly obtainable. There are the other moments it seems to be but a pipe dream of the most exponential level of difficulty. As I sit in the corner of Dunkin’ still realizing the changes in my life in the past month, I waver between smiles and tears. When I spoke with Chandra this morning we spoke about the struggling to grip the reality of the morning and the moments where reality seems to be suspended. It is at those moments I find the need to write. 

The interesting and oxymoronic daily routine we commonly call life seems to confound me at times. I am not sure if it because I do not think about things as clearly as I could or if it is because I ponder then too much. It is probably a combination of things and it depends on both the day and the thought process. Maybe it is because there is more truth to a diagnosis I was given in January of 2003 than I would like to admit. I do know I struggle to be consistent in my behavior and my management of life at times. I also painfully cognizant that I take things to heart more than I should from time to time. Learning to let go of the things I cannot control will be something I will always fight. . . . It is now almost 10:30 Monday night, but I am a few hours ahead of EST. I am at about 32,000 feet over the coast of Wales on an Aer Lingas flight to Cork. I was planning to rent a car, but there was an issue, so I am rethinking that. I think if I can get a ride to first nights accommodations, I can walk to the bed n breakfast where I will stay the remainder of the week. I do not really have a plan for the next few days other than get caught up and try to do some writing. Part of the method to my madness on this trip is both what I have been told as well as ancestry.com notes that County Cork is part of my heritage. The article I have been bouncing around for years is about the rhetoric of place. As such, it is entirely apropos that I should write about place on location of my ancestral roots. . . . Two days have past and I have been working on school things and also merely wandering around Cork. It reminds me of my first visit to Poland – just enough to get a flavor and creating a yearning to return. I am merely walking about today. Hard to believe I am on a plane again in less than 48 hours. I love the accents here and I want to come back in the summer. As I have traveled more internationally in the past two and a half years, I am continually impressed with the genuine goodness of so many people. It is easy to become a bit disheartened by some of the lunacy that seems to be permeating America’s own politics, even those campaigning for the nation’s highest office. I am old enough now to remember when political office was something a young person could, maybe should, aspire to. I think that is, in part, at least for me, that I hoped then President-elect Obama had brought back, and while I am certainly not asking him to shoulder all the blame for where we are politically, I believe all branches of the government, as well as the American populace must bear some of the guilt for the monster that has become the 2016 primary and campaign. It has been somewhat eye-opening to listen to the people I have met in Ireland speak about what they see. Their responses have been measured, but their looks are also of almost asking, “Really???” The violence that has occurred at rallies and now the cancelation of them over the weekend, has not really occurred since the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It would be an interesting political examination of conparing the two reactions. The seemingly-liberal student response to Vietnam and the police an the seemingly-conservative (not sure what term to use) response to our current government appears to use similar tactics. I wonder if these older conservatives were the same liberals of the late 60s? Dr. Strine, it would be an interesting research project and article. 

I should note it is now again a Saturday morning and a week has passed by more quickly than I hoped. I have struggled this week to understand why, even as a veteran and patriotic American, again I seem to be more comfortable outside my country than in it. I am reminded of a line in the movie, The Last Samarai, when Algeran is asked what America had done for him to hate this country so (a paraphrase). I certainly do not hate my country and I am most cognizant of the profound structure created by our founders, structures that allow for the very variety of tactics used in the above mentioned campaign. To have two Cuban-Americans, at one point two women, a Jewish Democratic socialist, or a black neurosurgeon throw their energy into taking on a presidential campaign is certainly inspiring on one level. Yet, there is some disillusionment with the tenor of the campaign and the sound-byte culture that seems to characterize our politics. What happened to actually answering the questions posed? What happened that canned-answers are what we can expect? What happened to thinking and really knowing the issues? I know these are not new questions that I am posing? Is it merely my idealism shining through yet again? Is it my wishing that the good in people might “trump” the foolishness, the ridiculousness, the bullying? It is the lack of decorum and the complete disdain for rhetoric as an Aristotlean art that dismays me. 

This actually gets me to the title of my blog. It is through writing I reflect; it is through writing that I think the most clearly; it is through writing I believe to understand both the world and my place in it. It almost hurts me when my students say they so dislike writing. It is because writing forces one to think more carefully, more completely, more engagingly? What I realize more and more is that my writing helps me critically understand this complex and shrinking world. People in the Dominican Republic, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ireland, or the Unoted States are not really as different as one might think. We all desire contentment. We all desire opportunity. We all wish for a world where we might be valued. It is what I hope for. It is what I think about. It is why I write. Off to London and then NYC shortly. Time to post.
Thank you for reading,

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin, the wanderer)