A Week to Remember

  Hello from the diner,

The past week we have been told by numerous prognosticators that this was a historical week. Indeed, we have had two decisions that have revealed the change in our society and how publicly attitude about very significant issues can evolve. But what makes something historical? What makes someone evolve in their opinion? What creates a groundswell that causes something to paradigmatically shift? Usually it seems to take substantive time, and for those waiting, I am sure the passage of time seemed painstakingly slow. What does surprise me on one level, and yet again when thinking more carefully, causes no surprise, was the rapid change in position among politicians and others about the Confederate Battle Flag. Amazing that one event caused such a tremendous change in our collective response. This is merely my pondering, and I realize the following statement will be controversial, but could the focus on the symbol, which is complex, be a way to take away the focus on yet another act of violence that was committed using firearms? While I am certainly aware of the mixed use of events and the rhetorical strategy of misdirection (I wrote a dissertation on it), I too am amazed at how 50 years of what seems to be an inappropriate use of the “Stars and Bars” came to such a collective “oh my, what have we done.” in barely over a week. Maybe the fact that we live in a media-driven society (and I would include social-media-driven) and the fact that our current president is black and has spoken out more publically, in spite of the disdain on some, perhaps because collectively a large enough segment of people have said, “Wait! It is time to question more vehemently!” created this perfect storm of sorts. First, and probably to the shock of some of my more conservative friends, I am not saying that the flag of General Lee’s Army of Virginia should be stricken from our collective national consciousness. Second, I am not saying that we should not allow it to be flown in places like museums or on historical places where not having it there would be disingenuous. I also know these previous statements are open to debate, but the intent is to say there is still appropriateness when this is done as a historical issue and not as a way to further an agenda of white supremacy. I also know some will argue I am asking to have my proverbial cake and eat it too. What I am trying to say is there is complexity in this issue.

The killing of nine black persons merely having a Bible study by a 21 year old, who professes such hatred and bigotry, is certainly cause for us to question that history. It is cause for us to re-examine how it is that 150 years after a war to address equality we still have so much hatred and disrespect based on little more than a difference in melanin. As I have noted, more times than I wish I needed to, why is it that we fail to appreciate or even attempt to understand the other. Again, this past week, I have both read about, and experienced personally, what I would deem to be “an unethical use of power.” In the personal situation, a small group, whom I understand are appointed to oversee speciifc issues and a solicitor again whom I imagine is hired, decided something based on hypotheticals and a pretty blatant misreading of a criteria. This seems to have been done because of their disdain for a specific group of people and how they have taken it upon themselves to be gate keepers. It mattered not what I planned to do would not include this non-grata group of individuals.

Another big issue of last week was the Supreme Court and while considered to be a conservative court, especially with John Roberts as Chief Justice, they issued two rulings that affect the fabric of our national identity in a monumental manner. I was a little shocked that they ruled on behalf of the administration concerning the Affordable Care Act. I was stunned that the vote was 6-3. The language of opportunity and right is part of this discussion. The president has noted that this judgment of the. Kurt affirms that health insurance is the right of all Americans. I am, again to the shock of my conservative friends, not totally comfortable with the use of the term “right” in this instance. I need to do more thinking or hear a better argument to convince me this is a right. I understand that was not the issue at hand in the cases before the court, but the use of that term following the decision is troubling to me. I will continue to ponder. The decision about marriage,which would have been the decision I thought might have been more likely to be beyond the 5-4 vote wasn’t. Yet, it did pass. Amazing what the roles of church and state still cause in this country. It is also interesting what people say about church and state and separation, but there is nothing in the constitution that uses that phrase. I am always amazed by what people pull out of context and see as some kernel of truth upon which they base way too much of their philosophy. I am dismayed at what I believe is the shallow way that most people consider so many of the complex issues that are part of our societal fabric at this point. How did we become such a society that is willing to merely hear things and not listen, to accept things and not ponder, to fail to question things as the truth, regardless of however ludicrous it may seem? Perhaps it was because I was in the service as a 17 year old. Perhaps it is because I have always been the person to question most everything. The way in which things are decided and the power of the United States Supreme Court awes me. While politically the three branches of government were meant to be a checks and balances system, it seem that the power of the president to appoint that justice is probably the most important thing a president does. Certainly the Senate in its ability to approve or reject that nomination is also powerful. The fact that a particular justice might be on the court for decades and the tenor of the court is so influenced by the specific make up its members that it boggles my head. What an amazingly powerful position. I do not remember paying as close attention to the final decisions of the court in the way I have this year in my entire life.

It is now been sweet and I have not finished my blog posting. It was the first week of teaching and, therefore, even thought I have not been writing blogs, I have been reading them. My students have begun their own blogs and I thin they are working pretty diligently to get things accomplished. As is the case in my life, more often than not, something comes along and makes what I thought would be a reasonable project a bit more difficult. I have found out that the properties back in WI and the lot lines what were thought to be and what actually exists on the deeds does not match up quite as expected. In fact, there are some significant issues. More work to do this summer.

In the meanwhile we are upto the July 4th weekend. I am going to Gettysburg today with Rachael and tomorrow I am having a sort of holiday/birthday cookout with my Dominican family. I also want to catch up on the other things I need to get finished up. The end of the summer will be here before we know it. I am still waiting on the building project. Hopefully something’s will shake out in the coming week. I need to do some other shopping today and as it always seems to happen, I have misplaced one of my wallets again. I think I have an idea, but that search will have to happen today also. I am thinking about my friend, Peter, today also. As I noted in a previous blog, the 4th of July growing up was spent with the Goedes at the Ike’s Club. I have a college colleague who has lamented the loss of these sort of family events. I think they still occur, but as our families seem more fragmented and separated, the idea of family reunions and such might be more the exception than the rule. While I am inclined to agree that the lost of the family unit like we grew up with has a consequence, I am not sure it is the root of all the evils we are facing. I am willing to say its effect is far-reaching however.

If my students read all of this, they might wonder if I too am going to write something relevant to class. Yesterday I asked them to consider this phrase (more accurately, a sentence): “the machine is us/ing us.” This is the title of a short video that was created by the Kansas State cultural anthropologist, Michael Wesch. Technology permeates and controls our life, and I am not merely talking about our hand-held devices. I am talking about our daily basics that we take for granted.: water, electricity, heat, transportation, and those other utilities that we called necessities long before FB called itself a social utility. Yet, the predominance of hand-held, data-rich, and seemingly unlimited-access phones, pads, and tablets have changed how we access, view, and comprehend the world as well as how we understand ourselves. What made this week different, a week to remember? For me it was people, places, and things, but the majority of it was discovered on my iPad.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Fearing the Unknown

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Good morning,

Is early morning as I begin to write this, it’s not quite 4:00 a.m. and I am sitting in Hazelton out in the street because I’m early and I do not want to get the Galáns up before they’re ready. I am headed to the airport to fly back to Wisconsin. This is actually the second time for this trip, I tried it yesterday. However as it seems to be the case most often flying into Newark, the flight was delayed and I would miss my connecting flight. So even though I had been dropped off at the airport, I had to have them come back and get me. Mr. Galán, in his usual graciousness, came back and got me. So now we are doing it again. Now at the airport and aboard a little prop plane to Newark and then the flight to Minneapolis. I should be in Menomonie by noon. That first flight would have had Jordan screaming. Amazing turbulence and the man next to me ending up being sick, needing a bag (two of them) and all. Quite a way to begin my morning.

As I write this I am at probably 30,000 feet and about not quite halfway to Minnesota. We are flying over an ocean of puffy-blanketed clouds that stretch as far as I can see. It is nice to be on top of them and see the sun. The sun has been noticeably lacking the past week. That might have been a positive for me because of the hours I needed to spend my end of the semester grading. As always, I had a flurry of requests to hand something in last minute. For my Foundations classes, I was accommodating for the most part. I have also gotten the first phone calls and emails asking for some justification on why I decided a particular grade. This conversation almost always stumps me because of the misperception, or more accurately the belief that I merely assign grades or that their assertion that they worked hard should automatically translate into an acceptable grade (most often their only acceptable is an A). What I think I will tell them is that in 5 1/2 years and almost 900 students, only about 80 students have earned an A in my classes. I would also note that approximately the same amount have failed a course or dropped it. The greatest number of students have received a B in my classes. I do think that will (and did) change this semester. I was not as benevolent in offering the benefit of the doubt. Simply put: do your work and follow directions. Following directions and thinking critically are two of the important skills one can develop and use. Speaking of critical thinking, the town council in Bloomsburg, where I live (I technically live out of town) voted 4-3 to NOT adopt a proposed ordinance that would keep businesses, landlords, or other public places from refusing service or refuse the offering of services to people based on their sexual preferences. The arguments that were offered by some of the council members themselves for the decision were almost ludicrous. One member (when probably actually referring to Laramie WY, though one can’t be sure) noted he did not want Bloomsburg to become another Columbine. The misguided belief that discrimination was legally supported by religious belief is so absurd; it is atrociously sad. Equality and Justice might be a religious issue and perhaps should be, but discrimination based on a group identity has led to some pretty horrific incidences throughout our history, be it in this country or in Europe. The ordinance would afford protection for a group of individuals, who have been, and still are, systematically disenfranchised because of fear or stereotypic stupidity. I am hoping to do some work next semester in my technical writing classes to work in response to the town’s failure to pass what I believe is a ordinance that promotes Justice and equality.

I am amazed how fear keeps us from doing the right thing or standing up for the right thing. I am amazed how powerful fear is as I realize it can keep people alive or cause them to die. Fear often paralyzes the human spirit. Fear of reprisal often keeps us from speaking out when what we have experienced is discourteous or hurtful. I know some of these things first-hand. The fear of being different often compels people to hide their true identity or feelings. The fear because of past experiences can reduce people to merely a shell, their inner abilities shriveled up and withered (this is really what I believe PTSD is). I must give the Galán family a great deal of credit for pushing me to stand up, even at times with, or more aptly against, them, when I have felt that some action was problematic. What I have realized is in doing so I am acting the very way they have modeled for me. At one time I would have been afraid that I would lose them. While I do not believe that is the case any longer, I do know that I changed “the rules” so to speak. What I have done is actually stand up and show that I have as much right to my thoughts and actions as any other. I am entitled to respond just as the next person has this entitlement. I should note that I am still learning about the love they have for me. I do not always understand its expression and especially when it is demonstrated in such a different manner than I have ever experienced. It is Mr. Galán who is most helpful through his consistency and respect. It is Mrs. Galán in her unbelievably consistent actions towards me that help me understand. Ironically, it is the child (not meant pejoratively) with whom I have (and have had) the least contact that I probably am most comfortable. Yet, it is Melissa and Jordan for whom I have experienced the greatest sense of love I have ever known who have forced me to look at myself and grow. That growth has not been without difficulty, but it has been significant. It has been important. All expressions of love or care have an inherent risk; something I have learned first hand this year, but in spite of my bumps and bruises, ultimately I am grateful. In this very blog I have argued and hollered out, and there are places I still disagree, but as they always tell me, the love for each other is the most important thing. I think they are correct.

It is that same love that takes me back to Wisconsin at this time. Since I wrote about Lydia in a recent blog, she continues to lose ground in the battle with dementia. In fact, it is not really a battle any longer. She has lost the battle and most of herself. As her brain continues what seems to be a free fall toward nothingness, the consequences of her deterioration are more deleterious. I used the word sinister this morning in a conversation. Dementia and other forms of this debilitating disease seem much more sinister than any battle I am presently fighting. It is love that pushes me to return to see her and try, with God’s intervention and help, that I will try to offer her the comprehension, the understanding, the confidence, that death does not need to be feared. It is okay to let this life go. I remember shortly before my father passed away 17 years ago later this month, he told my sister that the living room was full of his passed-on relatives beckoning him to let go and to not be afraid. He passed away about two days later. I am hoping in whatever language, English, more likely German, and perhaps most importantly the non-verbal language of presence, she will know it is safe to let this frail and agonizing body of hers go. I am hoping that her knowing or sensing that she is not alone will help her conquer what I believe is a fear of the beyond. I know that I am no longer afraid of dying. I think I once was, and I imagine that is pretty normal. I think my fear was more about feeling like I still had things to do or accomplish. I think this past year has taken care of most of that. I think the fact that I have been granted tenure is another substantive element in realizing I am okay.

This morning I was asked if I wanted to live. My answer to that question was “yes”. I do want to live, but what I am realizing is I am comfortable with dying. It makes me wonder if the “fighting” I am doing is really necessary. I am wondering if all of this medical stuff, treatments, or other actions to fight against our demise is merely another part of the system that my friend argues so vociferously against. Even though what I am currently doing is pretty natural, and I imagine it has other positive results, if I am doing it to merely stay alive and really doing the very thing Lydia is doing.

I’m now I’m Menomonie and have gone to see Lydia. While I was told she is the cat with nine lives and I said she’s on her 12th, the reality of the last couple weeks is significant. Even the caregivers who have known her from the beginning say that it is only a matter of time and the time is short. She did not really know who I was again today, but she seemed pleased that I was there. I guess that’s the best I can hope for now. I promised her that I would do what I could to take care of her. I’m doing the best I can to manage that promise. It hurts me deeply to see her this way. She’s not longer living she’s merely existing. I guess what I wrote earlier today makes sense. It is time to let her go; it is time for her to like go. I hope in the next few days I can help her get over her fear. I’m grateful for the people who care for her. I’m grateful she has a place to live where she is safe. I’m grateful for the staff and the administrator. Even though she doesn’t know it, she is blessed and so on am I.

As we enter this time of Christmas, my piety reminds me that it’s time to not be afraid. It’s time to except the reality that we have. It’s time to give thanks for what has happened in this past year. I am grateful for so much. For friends, for my Dominican family, for my biological family, and for a job that I am blessed to have. Fear not and be of good cheer. In each of our lives we have something for which to be grateful. Lydia, I love you; José, Maria, Mery, Melissa, and Jordan, para mis defectos, me perdone. Por el don de su amor carrera igualada, me siento muy honrado y agradecido. Te quiero todo. To all who have supported me in my ongoing battle, thank you. To the Deckers, Mark Gayle, Grace, Mary, Max , Caroline, and Rosie, I am beyond grateful that I ended up in Bloomsburg. Thank you for your love and making me me part of your family.

To the rest of you thank you for reading as always,

Michael