Learning Begins Again

Hello from my corner of the office,

It always seems to be the case that when I believe, or begin to believe, I have in some shape or fashion figured out what my life is about, the fastball of fate whizzes by my ear. Not only did I miss it, I am not sure I saw it to begin with. The only reason I really know it happened is that I hear the snap of the ball in the catcher’s mitt and realize holy crap something just happened. I think life is much more often like that versus you see it all clearly coming down that 60′ 6″ in slow motion so you can knock it out of the park.

In the summer of 1968, I was going into eighth grade and I weighed all of 75 pounds soaking wet, and holding rocks. While my older brother was heading into his senior year of high school, I do not think he had thought about issues of the draft, the military, or the consequence of not going to college quite yet. He was busy being a high school student and had a girlfriend named Darlene, and she and her family went to our church. Ironically, and as an aside, I actually went out with her younger sister, Janice, once at about the same time (or age). Northwest Iowa was not a particularly diverse area, nor did it seem that particularly political during this monumental summer. Yet, on the other hand, the entire country was much more political than a soon-to-be eighth grader understood, and because college was not yet on my radar, I paid little attention to college campuses.

Some research showed that Ames was more public in their show of shock in Rev. King’s brutal killing versus Iowa City, which actually surprises me. For those of you who are not familiar with the Hawkeye state, or know of it now because of people like Representative Steve King, Johnson County, the home of the U of I, is probably 80% Democrat. On the other hand, ISU, fondly known at one time as Tractor Tech, is a bit more conservative. Ames had multiple demonstrations on that Friday, fifty years ago. What I remember is sitting in our living room of our house, in our very white, middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood. I am not sure I had ever spoken to a black person in my life at that point. The only thing I really understood about race was I should and would never use the N word. My parents were adamant that such language was strictly forbidden. I am not sure I even knew why, but I knew the consequence of such an utterance would be quite swift and it would be extreme. So on that Thursday night as Walter Cronkite announced the killing of Dr. King, and coverage began to show almost immediately the rioting in cities like Kansas City and Chicago, neither that far away or unknown to me, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., my parents did speak to us about the issues of race and safety. I do not remember much of their lecture, with the exception of being careful and being respectful. I have forgotten that we were headed into Holy Week at that time. I am sure the parallels of being a martyr for the poor and downtrodden were made (and appropriately so). At twelve I did not understand the significance of Dr. King’s place in society or what his role in civil rights was. I think there was a parallel between Dr. King for a 12 year old, white, Iowa boy and the significance in 2008, of President Obama’s election for the same basic 12 year year old, white, Iowa, boy. In both cases, I remain quite convinced the loss of one and the elevation of the other was much more profound for a 12 year old black child even with the differences in communication and coverage.

In the weeks since I wrote this first section, it seems there continues to be those moments, specific instances of memory about the significance of dates. On the 11th, my Uncle Clare would have had a 122nd birthday. My adopted father would have turned 103 yesterday. While 103 does not seem that old, 122 does. That 122 spans three centuries. Almost daily my students remind me of how small the time period they understand really is. My uncle actually served in the First World War. I think he did not seem that old because we grew up just down the block and he was always part of our Sunday gatherings. His address was 2213 and ours was 2354 and on the same street. The walk to his place was a regular event. While he had a curmudgeonly personality, he also had a good heart. He possessed a colorful vocabulary that grew more prominently distinctive as he covered the septuagenarian and octogenarian years of his life, and location created no barrier for his very earthy outbursts. When 1968 came along. He was in his 70s and had been a widower for almost a decade. I made the inquisitive 14 year old mistake of once asking him if he was dating a person he had gone to lunch with a few times. Beyond calling me a “little son-of-a-bitch,” the rest of his answer would probably require a parental warning for this blog post. It would be restricted or over 18. The last time I saw him alive in the nursing home, he had injured his hand when he punched his roommate, and he was mighty proud of that. However, he was a genuinely grateful person when people helped him. I think what most astounds me is that in the almost century and a quarter from birth until death, the profound extent or degree of change, which had occurred beyond what most might deem even fathomable. From technology on the large scale to individual realizations about the change in our social fabric, the sort of seismic scale of difference in that time period is beyond the solitary person’s ability to process. I ponder how anyone can realize the magnitude of changes one experiences in a lifetime and simply, as a general rule, I do not believe we are capable of doing it. Moving to the second of the April family birthdays, what amazes me most about my adoptive father is how much we are alike, in spite of the fact that he was not my biological parent. When people tell me I was like him, I am honored and humbled. He was a good person, a caring person, and a person who worked hard and tried to make the lives of those around him better. He was giving and thoughtful. In spite of all, I know he was not perfect. I think he believed if you worked hard and “kept your nose clean,” as he called it, things would work out. I am not much different in my outlook. What I find most important it that he accepted people; he certainly did not always understand them, and he was most definitely a product of his time. There are ways I am sure he would be shaking his head at where we are societally. He was much more conservative than I am socially and I am more conservative than he was fiscally. It is an interesting juxtaposition.

As I noted at the outset, my head is most bobbled when I think I have things figured out, but find out perhaps not. Something happens to change my perspective of get my attention once again. There are two things in particular that have happened. The first I will address, though this does not mean I believe it to be the most important, is health things once again. After a bit of regular calling and trying, I was able to get into the dermatologist. I went in for a mole that was growing and on my back, and whose placement was annoying when I tried to lay down. It seemed reasonable because of the changes to get it removed. Well, interestingly enough, while the mole was removed, it was not all that problematic. However, while examining my back, the doctor decided some other areas were suspicious. So some lidocaine shots later and the removal of 5 areas of medical concern (three on my back, one on my collarbone area, and a small one on my forehead), and some serious subsequent holes where the removal was done, I have the heard back on the pathology of the problematic places. They are all cancerous and one of the areas on my back and the one on my forehead will require some additional work. The forehead area will require MOHS surgery, which I have previously done. The area on my back will be more invasive and done at a separate time. The issue with the back area is that I was informed that cancer is quite aggressive and they will probably have to cut an area and then it will require suturing to complete. That is the one that most concerns me. I have actually just spoken with the scheduling people and I am scheduled for both procedures on June 20th. I have to go back for some other follow up before that. While there is a side of me that is able to say, “just take care of it.” There is another side that says enough is enough. In the big picture, however, I know that once again, I am fortunate.

The second thing that has sort of boggled my mind is how life continues to provide opportunities for me to better understand myself and to imagine possibilities that seem to be outside what I had planned or what I believed could happen. One of my former students from UW-Stout, one who has been part of my life since the first day I began teaching there, once asked me why my life had transpired the way it had. I told her it was because I had more pressing things on my plate that needed attention than what I wanted or what I believed necessary. In her typical way, she did not allow me off the hook quite that easily and told me rather emphatically what she thought. It would be interesting to listen to her if I told her what was happening in my life at the moment. What is happening you ask? The most truthful answer is: I am not sure what is happening, but I am merely living it each day and blessed by what happens. It is not often that you find a thinker who thinks in the same manner, appreciates many of the same things, and is about process, which I am all about. That sort of work and conversation and helped me to consider writing and publishing in ways I have seldom imagined or been motivated to do. That is an exciting possibility. There is the same rather unique sense of humor and the ability to laugh both at myself and some of the things that seemed mundane, but also humorous to me. As I go through my days I am blessed by thoughts, hypotheticals, theoreticals, and actuals. It is so astounding that in spite of whatever happens, I know that I have a better, a more blessed, life. Conversations, texts, and late night phone calls have revealed more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.

As we head into the final weeks of the semester, there is always more to do than there is time, but it gets done somehow. I am excited to finish up the semester and see what the summer brings. I have had a couple things added to the schedule that I could just as well do without, but sometimes we have no choices in all of that. There is yet another hurdle to jump in terms of health, but I do not see this one as insurmountable. Then again, nothing is really insurmountable. Part of that is because I do not really see death as an enemy. I do not say that in an attempt to be morbid, but rather merely to say I am not afraid. At least, I have not been up to this point, and there seems to be no reason to change that position now. That is a topic for another blog. As I finish the year, and this blog, life is good and I am feeling loved and blessed. One cannot ask for much more. Somehow, this video, and the original Imagine Dragons’ video of this is outrageous, but I decided this video was what I wanted to post today.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Remembering and Wishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael

Grateful for a Life, but One too Short

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Hello on a cold, but manageable day,

It is in the single digits outside and for Pennsylvanians, but I actually like this kind of weather. Perhaps it is because it reminds me of being small. Perhaps it reminds me of the times I would play in the yard one particularly snowy winter and we made snow forts and tunnels in the yard. Life was simple then, or at least I thought so. Today is a day for me to focus and catch up. It is a day when FB has helped with its little Valentine’s wrapping of a message to make them more festive and to offer thoughts to those who matter to us. I remember as a small boy always feeling different about this day because my father would get chocolates for my sister and my mother, but we did not really get as much, so I learned indirectly (or directly) that Valentine’s Day was about females and not for males. Not that I felt that left out after the first time or so, but rather it was a different time I think. I am pretty sure my father was not trying to slight my brother or me.

As I have sort of a propensity to give to others, I tried to make sure that I did not forget Valentine’s Day for that other person when I was an adult. There was once before I was married that I did not to a particularly good job of managing this holiday and I was in deep trouble. That left a lasting impression to this day. I remember another time that Susan, my ex-wife, got her hair cut really short a day or so before Valentine’s Day and I did not know this was in the mix and she came home. My response, unwisely, was something like, “what the hell did you do to your hair?” She began to cry and there was no making up for that on Valentine’s Day, which was within a couple of days. It can be a difficulty for us as humans to adequately express our feelings. Then there is the sense of shouldn’t we just let the people we love know this daily. I am certainly not the first nor the last to call this Happy Hallmark Day. . . . What does it mean to love someone?  I have learned all too often that my love, or what I believe to be love, is sometimes selfishness. Not that I hope to be selfish or that I would intend to be so, but rather that my love is not nearly as unconditional as I might want. Perhaps that is the question, can we be unconditional in our love or in our giving to another? I certainly want to believe in the possibility, and yet I know even when I’m most well intended, it seems I’m always hoping for something in return. At this point, maybe it’s because I’m just merely getting old. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide if I want my solitude or I’d rather have someone around. Yet another Valentine’s Day has passed and according to some research in my class the other day over $1 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly not saying we should fail to demonstrate the love or care we have for those who are important to us. Perhaps when I am questioning is what it really means to genuinely love someone. I think, in part, is that I still have this hopeless romantic inside of me hoping for that head-over-heels person. There’s also the realist in me who feels such a situation at this point in my life is unlikely at best. It is not that I’m depressed by such a reality, but rather I wonder how my life (and as I originally wrote, in a Freudian-way, “wife”) might’ve been different.

A few days have passed since I started this post, and ironically the experience that I wrote about in my immediate past blog has ended. Rebekah has lost her battle to remain on earth with us. She passed away this afternoon, after battling as well as she could against enormous odds. To lose someone in their 30s, in such a shocking and unfair manner, is always difficult. As my father said almost 40 years ago, “Parents are not supposed to bury their children.” There is nothing that can prepare someone to face such a tragic circumstance. It was heartbreaking to see her last evening, but it was abundantly clear that death would be a compassionate visitor rather than something to push away. That being said, nothing can remove the hurt or sadness that comes when someone so young faces the end of human existence as we know it. Could it be true that Bekah happened to be in that laundromat for what would occur this week? If I had not met her that day, the last 5 1/2 years of her cleaning, calling, coffee-ing would not have happened, but perhaps more importantly, in my own piety, God would not have been able to use my background in being there with her and her family. As I often say, I do not believe God causes bad things (again, my piety and my opinion), but I do believe that there is the possibility to use whatever happens to bring us together in ways that we are able to support and care for others in ways we could have never anticipated. Why is it that some make it through things that they never should and others have a seemingly simple thing be life-changing?  . . .  It is now Thursday morning and a phone call last night, which was wonderful and needed, kept me from writing, so before I dive into the other things of the day, I am hoping to finish this and post it. Looking in the paper this morning, there was no announcement or obituary for Rebekah, but last night I found myself merely being quiet, listening to some music, and allowing those songs to be my own Psalms of lamentation. Music is such a wonderful thing because it touches the soul in the way few other things can. When, as scripture tells us, that the pain is too great for words, the spirit speaks on our behalf. I believe the way music affects our spirit is exactly that happening when we cannot find the words because we are so overwhelmed. I spent time reading the responses and outpouring of care from so many people. That is one of the positive possibilities of social networking, but it certainly demonstrated the impact that Rebekah made in what most would consider to be a relatively short life. What has been particularly interesting to me was that she was not a picture posting person, particularly of herself. The number of pictures that appeared in the last week were quite significant, but to see the transformation of her over the years was really quite fun for me, as someone who did not know her nearly as long. I think that is what is so momentous for me. While I am a people person, though not as much as I used to be, Rebekah had a way of disarming one’s defenses. Her infectious smile and her willingness to be just who she was, as well as her ability to be feisty/spunky and simultaneously compassionate/charitable, could not help but draw you in. I often told her, on the other hand, I would not want her angry at me. Again the passion that was such an integral part of who she was could be a double-edged sword. Her eyes, which were the most amazing color, could telegraph exactly what would soon be spoken.

It has been wonderful to meet her brother-in-law, Bill and her sister, Chandra. The other evening at the hospital as I listened to Chandra speak, the voice was a carbon-copy of Rebekah. Perhaps I should say that Rebekah was a carbon copy of Chandra since Bekah was the baby of the family. The way in which they have received me into their midst has been such a wonderful gift. There is so much that can be said about Bekah, but I can only say this: Bekah, you allowed me to be in your life as you took care of part of mine. You shared your wit and humor; you shared your fears and hopes; you shared both the important and the seemingly mundane; through it all you touched my heart. I am a better person for it. You knew your time was precious and you talked about that. There are times when we fail to realize we are in the face of such beauty, grace, and goodness. As I have looked at pictures this past week, you have had a beauty and elegance to you from the very beginning. Indeed, you were such a person, a person of unparalleled charm, beauty and love. I will miss your kindnesses; I will miss your ability to make me smile and laugh; I will miss the times you called and said, “I need to speak to Michael.” I will miss our meetings at DD or CB. I will miss seeing the red VW that turned into the white Bug that followed me into my driveway or old barn. I will miss the smell of a clean house and the notes on a table that told me what I needed to do to get my act together. You are loved, and that will never change. Bless you, Bekah.

I share this with Chandra, with Bill, with Bekah’s parents, with Kayla, and with all of those for whom she made a difference.

To the rest, thanks for reading.

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Kairotic Moments – Rhetorical or Fateful?

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Good late evening or early morning,

It is 11:38 p.m.,; so while it is technical a very late “good evening”, I am asserting for me it is very early morning. That is because I just woke up, after going to bed, for probably the 15th time in the last month, before 8:30 in the evening. My Tuesday began before 6:00 a.m., trying to do some additional snow blowing, before my day got off to a real start. My first meeting was at seven in the morning and I did not get home until after seven in the evening. The amount of time that I had in between as simple downtime was a grand total of zero. So when I walked into my house, I prepared and ate some of the “limited editions” in my fridge, brushed my teeth, and then I went to bed. My brain was mush and my body was exhausted. Only difficulty is, as I look at my calendar the rest of the week is exactly the same. If I have some time, even a few moments, I’m trying to do whatever grading I can to keep up with what’s coming in. Logistically I’m waiting on two items for to my students, but until I get those I can’t move forward on some other things. I am continually reminded that I do not live in a vacuum. My life seems forever dependent on what others do and I am forced to admit what time is my life seems totally deterministic. How Dr. Clifford Hansen, my first philosophy professor, must be smiling from wherever he is to hear me make such a statement. Any of my Dana College classmates who might read this, know what I mean. I remember how vehemently I argued against any thought of determinism in that class. It was simply illogical to the small town Iowa boy.

This gets me to my topic or my title for this post. From time to time one is forced to ask how did I get here? How in the world on God’s green earth did I ever make it along the continuum where I was to where I am? One might argue that is simply wisdom, The sum total of our experiences and, at least, what one might hope is a bit of wisdom. Yet at this point in my life I’m inclined to believe that’s too easy. More importantly I think it gives us too much credit as individuals. At least in my case, I’m much too stubborn and I am not that brilliant. For the most part I just go about my life. Because it’s after midnight now, the day before yesterday we had the first snow day of the winter or the semester. A year ago almost to the day there was another snow day, actually a year ago tomorrow. At this point I see it as a fateful day ~ not meant negatively ~ as a kairotic moment. A point in my life on the decision to go to dinner with some others on a snowy evening changed my life. The four other persons involved in that day have all scattered, or floated away, sort of like the leaf floating at the end of the movie Forrest Gump. To my knowledge one of them is no longer in school at all; one is attending community college and working; one has transferred to another institution; and the fourth one while still in school here at Bloom, works much like the wind in the New Testament, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8a). What I know is I’m grateful for that day, not only for the experiences that have occurred since, but more importantly for how it is changed who I am. One one hand, I know that my joys of the more joyful and on the other, some of the moments have caused more pain than I knew it was possible for me to bear. I regret none of it. This is not to say that I have some secret desire to feel pain. That would indicate I have yet another malady. What it states, actually, is that I loved that deeply. Yet all of that is an aside to what I am thinking about. How do these particular moments, these life-changing moments, happen? Are they actually special or did something specific, something monumental, occur? If it is something special, something monumental, what is it? Because if it’s not, then every moment is special, different, or extraordinary. Or perhaps it is that every moment has the potential for such. Still raises the question of what causes these particular instances? If one argues from a religious perspective we get those amazing sentences like “it was just God’s will.” Again, where I’m at in my life now, even that sounds deterministic. And I’m not sure I like the cliché “everything happens for reason.” Such a simple way to allow for things. Again we’re simply the cork floating along in the ocean and the bottle in which we were placed as well as the message that was in the bottle are lost. Perhaps some humor in this is that I am still considering corks and bottles. Amazing how my mind works at 12:45 in the morning. The other thing that happens at 12:45 in the morning is that I can lose some of the work I have done, and now I have done it twice, losing what I have worked on for 45 minutes.

When pondering these specific moments I wonder if there is some sort of divine intervention that minimizes how often they happen. To be kind to God, not the God needs my kindness, perhaps God knows our limitations and keeps these amazing moments spaced out in such a way that we are able to manage them. If I leave God out of the equation, perhaps these moments of completed action with present consequence, these times of punctiliar profundity, are limited because our human capacity for understanding is simply that: limited. During the past day, I certainly had one of those punctiliar moments. Yesterday as I sat in the departmental curriculum committee meeting, considering the new concentration in digital rhetoric and professional writing, it became abundantly clear to me what I had learned as a faculty person at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Little did I realize the lessons learned in that program would serve me so well half-way across the country. Five and a half years of working, observing, and listening prepared me for this meeting. But this is not something that I have accomplished on my own; indeed, far from it. The English Department at Bloomsburg University is a dedicated group of amazing professors and outstanding scholars. This is not typical at a comprehensive 4/4 institution. Yet, the insight of both the initial committee as well as the vision of the department and the revision of their liberal arts concentration, created a change that supported the possibility of creating this new concentration out of a minor. I was reminded during that meeting, and quite appropriately I must admit, that the department had also changed in that time period. Two years ago what might be called an initial failure was an important learning moment for me. I needed to learn, to listen; I needed to comprehend and understand; I needed to step back and wait. I must admit waiting for me is not a strong point, but learning, understanding, and waiting were all necessary. Perhaps that was my most important, non-durative moment.

When I consider the last month, the number of moments I’ve had caused me pause are quite astounding, both because of the number and because of the experience itself. From waiting at the bedside of Lydia, through my tears and laughter, I came face-to-face with beauty personified. The grip she had on my hand and the look in her eyes and those last days will stay with me for the remainder of my days. The care of the staff for both her and me, for both their tears and laughter, have blessed me beyond words. The people who have reached out to me since then, as well as those who have failed to do so, have taught me much, both about myself and about others. The trip to Poland and the beauty of that place, that country, still amazes me. My visit to Auschwitz, both the weather and the place that day, will remain with me forever. I’m sure the timing, only hours after Lydia’s passing, creates an important contextual situation. Coming back from Europe and being almost immediately ill is not something I will soon forget. Over the weekend I was speaking with my long-time friend; I call her my sandbox buddy and she refers to me with the same term. As she does, typically, she lamented the fact that she doesn’t get certain things done. After hearing the same story for the past six months, I noted for her with as much care as I could muster, “if it is important enough, you will do it.” It is simply a matter of priorities. It is a matter of discipline. Ultimately it says what is substantive to us at that point in time. Even in my own life what has come to the fore now and where it was at another point in time is different. Sometimes that is due to necessity. Sometimes it’s in response to what has been done to us. Ultimately again, it just is. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned this past year is to not hold onto things. For it is when we hold on it we will surely lose them. I think of how hard and desperately you, Lydia, held onto my hands those last days. It was incredibly hard for either one of us to let go. However, it was what we were required to do. My letting go that Friday night was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it allowed Nate, Theresa, and the girls to come and take their turns to hold your hand. It allowed for your hand to be held at the precise moment you left this earth.

Lydia, there has not been a single day that I have not thought about you since you left. I don’t think that will change for sometime. I know that coming into your life was unexpected for both you and me. Yet, it was one of those moments for which I will be forever grateful. The power you have, even beyond life, to affect life is quite astounding. In my own piety I believe you now see me all the time. It is a bit frightening. I hope you can still love me,even in my failing moments. I hope you know how much I love you. I miss you greatly and I love you even more. As it is now almost 2:40 a.m. and I am in tears yet again, I will close.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. M (as someone recently called me)