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)

Realizing a Mistake and Blaming Myself

Hello from the acre,

It has been a busy day and a disconcerting one. Progress has been made in so many ways, but progress in the world of imperfection is always fleeting and tenuous. It seems that might be the situation, but one time or misstep does not negate the advances accomplished . . . but it does require an inventory to understand what created the newest problem. In the meantime the first step of powerlessness is painful apparent for all of us. Tonight along with the others who care, we wait and we pray. . . That has been a couple of Tuesday’s ago and indeed, the frailty of our humanity was illustrated once again, but as it the case we learn and continue on. I learned, as is usually the case, more about myself once again. Since I started this, the never ending reality of life’s marching on, and seeming to pick up speed, continues. School has begun,; the hope for some small semblance of order to the fall continues and I have spent the majority of my Labor Day weekend doing precisely that: laboring. The lack of planning from another has required the revision of a new prep, which was itself a sort of draft, now three times. I have spent close to 20 hours in just the last two days. However, at least I now feel like there is  something reasonable to work with. The first week of school is always a bit of a whirlwind, but this past week seemed even more so, it that is possible. The fall always gives me pause, but simultaneously a sense of hope and excitement. Many academics look forward to commencement/graduation. I look forward to the fall and the commencement of the new year. I remember in my undergraduate years having a fall convocation and I looked forward to that as much as anything of the entire academic year. This fall, however, has a sense of tension as we continue to work without a contract and little progress or sense of good faith bargaining by the State on our contract. We are four months from two years of negotiating and as has been the case, at least in my time here, the State drags things out interminably to make money off the faculty and then offers a simple unacceptable and egregious set of contractual options to make the process even more painful.

The weeks ahead are going to be stressful as we vote on the various campuses this week to authorize a strike. I am quite sure that vote will be supportive of moving toward a strike on the fourteen campuses of the system. It is my hope that will prompt a more serious negotiating posture from the system than has been exhibited up to now. Letting my students ask the questions necessary has been one of the things I have done as well as speak to students, colleagues, and townsfolk at the diner and elsewhere about the specifics of the sysrem’s disrepectful offer that is currently on the table. As I move into this fall, I thought about times and dates as I am often prone to doing. I am not sure if it that former history major or merely my penchant for reflecting and remembering. It was 30 years ago that I was in Big Lake, Minnesota as an intern pastor and I met such amazing people. During the past couple weeks I have reacquainted with high school classmates and some people I knew when I lived in Houghton. It is interesting how things have a way of coming back around. It is that coming back around that is really the focus of this blog. Particularly when I have lived a sort of itinerant lifestyle, it is easy to believe that once you are gone you can leave things behind, but that never really happens. We are influenced, and often affected more than we realize, by our former actions. I believe that coming to that conclusion is another way in which I am slowly becoming a bit wiser. As I consider this life I am aware of my mistakes and coming to terms with those mistakes has been a difficult, but important process.

A couple of weeks ago, somehow within the period of a week, I was asked three times if I had ever been married. I asked one of the people, after their inquiry, if there was something on my forehead I could not see that said I needed a date or something. What the heck?? However, it did get me to focus on the last 16 years since I was last married. For those who know me well, the fact that I was married twice is no surprise, for some of the rest of you, perhaps it is. I was almost 29 when I got married the first time. I had dated a person the last year I was in college and beyond. We were engaged for more than a year. We chose to get married because, at least from my much latter perspective, we believed we loved each other and we had dated and been engaged for quite some time and it was the next logical thing to do. What is interesting to me now is that I am not sure I was ever in love with her (and that is not her fault, it is mine). What I realize at this more elderly point of my life is that I was in love with the idea of being in love and I was in love with the idea of creating a marriage and family. I must admit that I failed at both things. There are a variety of reasons for that, but it is interesting to me that someone tried to talk me out of getting married only minutes before I was at the front of my home church waiting for her to walk up the aisle. I must admit that while I tried to be a good husband, the baggage carried because of earlier experiences in my life had never been dealt with and I was not a prince of a husband. While I am aware of things done on both sides of our relationship, I know that I could have been much more understanding and supportive than I was. I could have been more faithful than I was, and that is a difficult admission for me to make. While I am aware of things on the other side – so was she – and we failed each other in a number of ways. What I know now is I should not have married her and I am accountable for that choice. That decision had its issues and the consequence of those issues had/has affected me both at the time and even since. One of the things still haunting me the most is that her parents were really good people (and I hope they are yet, meaning I hope they are alive). Her father in particular was/is an amazing man. He is insightful, honest, hardworking, and the kind of person I would want in my life. By the time we were divorced, I was not feeling sad or disappointed, I merely wanted it done. That says a great deal and most of it is sad. In the 23 years since we have been divorced, I have spoken with her fewer times than the number of fingers I have on one hand. That too says something. I went on with my life and found myself actually in love with someone as I was almost turning 40. While she had been married before (and twice) so I knew walking into that relationship, and she certainly gave me more than one indication that I should have probably gotten out while I could have, I believed I could fix anything and we would be alright. That marriage was certainly done out of being in love with someone, but neither she nor I were in a healthy space. Again, I cannot blame her for the mistakes I made or the rather naïve belief held that I could make anything work. I remember my therapist telling me I was really good at high maintenance people. I am not sure to this day that is a compliment. What I know is again as I was hurt and felt like there was no winning, I struck out in ways I should not have. I have talked about that in earlier blogs and I paid dramatically for that mistake. Again, sometimes I still feel I am paying for it. I lost an ordination that meant more than words could have ever express. I also lost a sense of direction in a number of ways after that divorce (and in terms of finances and property, I lost a lot more). I always say that every thing I owned fit in a pickup truck and I did not own the truck. It is always easy to point a finger at the other person, but in both cases, I had my own mistakes and places or occasions for which I must take blame. What it has caused is this feeling that I am both better off and safer by being alone. Yet that too has consequences and there are times where the loneliness causes more pain than I let on. That loneliness has caused me to reach out – only then to pull back when I am afraid. By doing so I have hurt others and I know that. I am sorry for that pain, and those to whom this has happened, please forgive me. You know who you are; of that I am quite sure.

It is always dangerous to let another person into your life on any level because it changes the dynamics. Whenever another person is offered space in our lives it changes our lives and it makes us vulnerable. That is not a bad thing, but is certainly has repercussions. For me it is learning to limit their influence and the time I am willing to put into that relationship. Part of the difficulty has always been I jump in with both feet without considering the consequences for them or for me. I know I have spoke about the rather oxymoronic way I am simultaneously open to others and yet guarded beyond what is readily apparent. It is not necessarily something I mean to do, but as I examine most of my life, to say that that is a pattern I have developed would be a profound understatement. Again I think it’s important that I apologize to those I might’ve hurt, albeit unintentional. In addition, I find it interesting that I am much more frail about those relationships than I might have realized. Introspection is such a profound and frightening thing. It is even more frightening to write it all down, but in a cathartic way I’m hoping that it will help. There are still things that I must come to terms with, and that is, in part, what this blog is about. Today was one of my closest friend’s  birthday and tomorrow would be my best friend’s 60th birthday if he were alive. It was four years ago I sent him a letter telling him how important he was in my life. I did not expect that he would already be gone. Thursday would be my great Aunt Helen’s birthday. I think she would be about 110. That is an amazing number for me.

As most of you know we are two weeks of the school, and the days seem to blend together and fly more quickly. The initial meetings have started and I spent much of day responding and grading blogs. Between office hours meeting students and meetings, the day flew by. Tomorrow will be more the same and while it is only 9 o’clock in the evening and not quite that, my eyes are tired and my brain feels like mush. And now I realize that I didn’t close my car windows. So, my cathartic exercise is finished, at least for the moment, and I think I will finish up the night, brush my teeth and go to bed. However, not before I set an early alarm so I can get up a take more things off the list than I put on it. That is my plan. The initial picture is for my favorite Republican friends.

As always thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin