Becoming Norman . . . Pleased or Chagrined?

Hello on the weekend,

It has been an emotional couple weeks, and if you have been reading the blog, you have some sense of why that is, but I think there is more. There are times, and their frequency seems to be increasing at an alarming rate, that I feel like I am simply not as capable as I once was. While that might seem like a normal aging process ~ even if a reasonable explanation ~ I do not like it . . . and more so, I do not have to like it. While the GI tract stuff is a normal part of my life, some of the aches and pains logical, I have been often respected for how well I remember things, and that is where I am struggling. If I do not write it down and then follow it rather explicitly, it seems I am not as apt to remember it. Last week, and regardless the number of classes, committees, or other things, I found myself wandering around the parking lot looking for my car, for more than a half hour. In fact, in the spirit of total transparency, I wandered around two parking lots, and I could not find my car. I eventually remembered I had parked in a third possibility, but that scared me more than I have words.

The concern of some kind of memory loss concerns me more than most might realize. My father, while my adopted father, is a relative. He was a first cousin to my paternal grandmother, so that genetic tree is pretty strong. My father, each of his brothers and the daughter of a brother have all have significant difficulties with either dementia or Alzheimer’s. The number of times I have forgotten where I have placed my keys, my glasses, my phone is a number that would need an exponent. I wonder when it is time to question and if there is a reasonable way to ask about taking a benchmark level memory test. The fact that I have hydration issues, which seem to have negative outcomes for most of my body, might also exacerbate brain health. I remember going home once to check in on my father, after receiving a concerning phone call from my sister. My father was livid that I had come “to spy” on him as he angrily told me at lunch one day. Knowing what I know now because of his experience, as well as the progression of Lydia’s dementia, I have a much clearer understanding of some of the early symptoms, the markers, that might provide some earlier detection. While I certainly do not need another health battle, if I am going to battle something else, I want to take it on headfirst and with everything possible tool in my arsenal managing it the best way I can.

One of my favorite movies, certainly in my top 5, is the Academy Award winning On Golden Pond. It is an incredibly touching story of a retired professor (Henry Fonda) and his wife (Katharine Hepburn) who are spending the summer at their vacation home. They are visited by their daughter (Jane Fonda, who, of course, is the daughter of Henry). The struggle of grown adults managing their parents (as well as perhaps vice versa) and the portrayal of dementia before it was a common word as it is now is superbly done. Henry, as the cantankerous Norman Thayer Jr., is both heart-warming and frightening. I have often said to those who know me best here in Bloomsburg, that I want to be just like Norman when I get to that age. One of my former students actually refers to me as Norman because of this very movie. It is a term of endearment from her. There is hardly a time, and I have watched the movie multiple times, that I am not moved to tears as I watch it.

There are other ways I find myself becoming Norman. I seem to have less patience with absent-mindedness, or simple oblivion characterizing or plaguing some people. When something is forgotten once, I can generally find some graciousness. When it happens again and again, on a weekly (almost daily) basis, I find myself being less than charitable. That bothers me because I feel hypercritical and unfair. One of the things I have struggled with most of my life is boundaries. I know that does not make me unique, but I have a tendency to allow people the benefit of the doubt, and then I allow it again, and then again, and then  . . . you get the idea. Ultimately, I get frustrated. As I have pondered this characteristic, it seems that this time of the year is particularly when I find myself at my wit’s end. I do find some progress being made, even in my current dilemma. I made myself step back and ponder and do some analysis (and that meant working through six months of a checkbook, statements, and other items to make sure I was being fair). In addition, rather than merely hitting someone broadside, I have also stepped back and am working to manage the circumstance thoughtfully and in a way that demonstrates both appreciation for the progress made and help offered, but simultaneously to look at the reality of the situation. Of course, there are always things that seem to be tossed in to make the current state of affairs more contextually complex. Then again, I was once asked by a counselor if I ever did anything the easy way. I think my response, almost 30 years later, would be the same: probably not. There are undoubtedly times I still seem to learn slowly. What I do know is there is a genuinely caring and good heart involved in this situation (and that is on both sides). I also think there are also good intentions (again, on both sides). Part of this is merely seeing a larger picture, and when one has not really had to do that too often, knowing how to do that is not a simple or readily achievable outcome.

I am reminded of the young person who is left with Norman and Ethel for the summer. He is not sure what to do with them and they are not sure how they will manage him. Again, I see parallels. I often wonder what I would have done had I been a parent. I was petrified to do so, mostly because I am not sure I had good role models. I think some of that fear persists. I try to do what I think is best, but sometimes (often) it seems I either enable or I have no ability to allow for mistakes. I know there is a happy medium somewhere in the middle, but I struggle to find it. I think some of my concern about what I feel now is a predicament is because there is a history. There is also experience. Undeniably, that experience, be it over the years or the last months, demonstrates a consistency from both. Again, at the same time there is progress and I have to give credit for that. One of the things I am forced to come to terms with is that I created this dilemma because I allowed it. I cannot blame anyone else for that. Again, the rationale for allowing this goes back to where I usually find myself. Someone needs help and I offer said help. The problem is I do not know how to be consistent in pushing adherence to what I said needed to happen from the outset. The question is why am I willing to allow myself to step back time and time again from what I laid out. It is my inconsistency that creates the problem and I cannot blame the other for my mistake. The anger comes, I imagine, from my realizing that I again engendered the present dilemma. I also enkindled the complications. In the movie, there are ups and downs, and at the end, there is a mutual respect produced. I am praying for something similar. I am not sure it will happen immediately. In fact, if it happens immediately, I will once again find myself believing in miracles. One of the things that most frustrates me are things I find myself doing, particularly when I fall short. Over the last months, I have worked hard to be on time. When I was growing up, I had a father who believed if you were not 15 minutes early, you were late. I am not sure that I am there, but I do try to be a few minutes early whenever possible. That is not always easy when you are dealing with other people’s needs and their schedules, but again, discipline and planning will help. The second thing I am trying to be more intentional about is remembering that I do not live in a vacuum. What I do affects other people. Therefore, my choices do also. That is probably my biggest frustration at this point, be it students or in the house. If you say you are going to be somewhere at a certain time, then just do what you say. If your schedule changes, please let someone know. That is where I have been particularly pained by the actions of others as of late.

I have a ton to get done yet tonight, but it has been a pretty productive weekend. I am always amazed by what can happen when I am frustrated. The energy in that can be channeled into some very positive outcomes. My house is pretty spotless and I got some things cleaned and organized that have been on the back burner for a while. I think there is always a fine line between helping and enabling a person. Being the co-dependent person, and one who was much more so earlier, I still struggle to find that balance between helping and hindering. It is always complicated when there is a history. Again, it reminds me of the movie. In the movie, Jane Fonda, as Chelsea, struggles with the relationship she currently has with her aging father. What I found interesting in my research about the movie is that as real father and daughter they were estranged. This movie brought them together. She, in fact, produced the movie to allow for her father to act in it. As I research things, it is interesting to see how our history and the events that cloud that history affect so much more than we are aware of.

One of the other things I have been forced to consider is how people come into and move out of our lives. In the past, I worried when people moved out of my life. I think now I see the reason for that. I do believe we lose something in their moving on, but at the same time it allows for a refocus of sorts. Perhaps the most important thing for me is learning to let go. That has never been a strength, and what I have done in the past when doing so is to walk away and say little or nothing. That is also a problem because it is more like running away. Again, On Golden Pond comes to mind. In one particular poignant scene (and again a scene where some say this is where the two Fonda family members made amends) the dialog goes something like this:

Chelsea: I don’t want anything; it just seems you and I have been mad at each other for so long.

Norman: I didn’t think we were mad; I just thought we didn’t like each other.

Chelsea: (with tears in her eyes) I want to be your friend.

Norman: This mean you would come around more often? It’d mean a lot to your mother (and you can tell he is struggling as he covers his own eyes)

Chelsea: I’ll come around more often.

Norman: Well . . .

I find this part of the movie particularly difficult because my mother and I never accomplished this sort of absolution in our relationship. I often tell students now when they say they are struggling with their parents, or note they are not speaking, that it is best to try to manage that separation. I have two or three of those situations to which I must attend even now. The question can often be what does one risk in reaching out. I think the more important point is to know how to let things go so that the separation is a reasonable one rather than merely running away. Sometimes those separations happen because people change. Sometimes they happen because locations change. I think one of the things I have been more likely to do is remain in touch. Perhaps that is why I am teased that I know everyone from everywhere. There is both a blessing and a curse to that, as it the case with most things in our lives.

By the end of the movie, the summer has passed and the Thayer’s get ready to leave Golden Pond. Sometimes we fail to comprehend how our lives are interwoven into the fabric of others. Sometimes, the fabric becomes tattered and worn, but that does not make it less valuable or important. Sometimes, we need to hold on to the things that remind us of who were are and from where we come. Other times it is reasonable to look for something new. As most things in life, there is no recipe, and much of what we do is by trial and error. Sometimes I am more like Norman that I perhaps expected to be. Sometimes, I wish I was even more like him. Here is some music from the movie. If you have not had an opportunity to see this amazing show, do yourself a favor. It is worth the time.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

What Does It Take?

Hello from about 35,000 feet and above the Colorado/Utah border, perhaps a little west.

It has been some time since I’ve made a cross-country trek, either by air or land; in fact, it is the closest I’ve been to Placerville since shortly following Lydia’s passing. I believe that is the longest stretch of time away from the vineyard since I was first there in 2006. Such a realization prompts me to think about the trips made, but also the time that has lapsed or how many things have changed from the simple and individual/personal, and the more significant and globally, if you will. While I have flown to the west a number of times, I think it is the first time I have been on a trans-continental flight from coast to coast with no intermediate plane-change. It is a 5 hour 23 minute flight and it has been for the most part smooth, though we are hitting a bit of turbulence as I am writing this (I should note that I have proofread and edited this because doing it on my phone was a bit more laborious that thought, and by what I see, not as successful).

Ironically, I found my way to Placerville-and even Tahoe eventually-because I had come to a conference about 12 years ago right now. The conference was in San Francisco and I drove up to Placerville, and the vineyard called Miraflores, to visit a sort of distant relative and her husband and their daughter. It was the most amazing day trip and I met some of the most wonderful people. Two of those people have become important friends. Marco is truly a Renaissance person, and is now married to an equally wonderful woman, named Belinda. Together they have created the most wonderful family with two of the most stunningly beautiful children that I believe I have ever met. The second person is Fernando. He is hard working, gracious, and brilliant in both what he has learned and how he understands. Since then, I have also learned a lot more about wine and how amazing it is not only as a beverage, but as the management of a simple (or maybe not so simple) fruit. I remember during the time immediately following that visit, I was fortunate to take Peter D’Souza’s “Wine and Spirits” course. I actually sat in and donated wine the second time I took that same class. Wine is a completely natural product and if you choose to minimize residual sugars and ferment methode ancienne, you have gotten back to basics about as close as perhaps possible. Wine offers the possibility of making dining an experience versus merely a meal. I remember the first time I compared how the wine tasted unadulterated, or with a clean palate and then what you received from the wine when paired with food. I was stunned that you might use a bold and hearty red wine with a grouper, for instance. Of course, I need to add that the grouper was blackened and served with a raspberry buerre rouge sauce. It was heavenly and it began an culinary affair between that gulf coast fish and me that continues to this day. Understanding or pondering our relationship with food and beverage is a complex, and generally misunderstood science/consideration/hobby/need. The reasons for our poor, or often unhealthy, interactions are a combination of simple lack of knowledge, more significantly our being too lazy to find out, and finally a lifestyle that screams more is better and faster is okay. So we gorge ourselves on processed sugars, even when the brand says “Nature’s Promise” and a label check illustrates 25+ grams of sugar per serving. Those of you who know me, know I love to eat, but not just for the sake of eating. I am all about eating for the experience.

As I have traveled to Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland or most anywhere not in the States, going out to eat is something you do for an evening. It is an event. My students are often ready to dine and dash, not in the criminal way, but in a behavior that demonstrates a lack of etiquette or a lack of manière formelle appropriée. The difference in both portion and pace allows for such a much more appetizing experience as well as a more enjoyable interaction with everything and everyone. Think for even a moment. How often are you looking at your watch, flagging down your server or demonstrating visible frustration when you food does not arrive on your schedule? We want to “relax” by going out to eat and having our meal prepared, but we simultaneously stress out because we want to control their kitchen. It makes no sense. I think the sort of “eating as a habit or requirement” is an additional difficulty for us. Growing up we had specific times you were to be at the table to eat. Breakfast was the only one with flexibility, lunch and supper (dinner) were 12:00 and 5:00 period. If you were late, too bad. Even Sunday’s noon meal time was sacrosanct. Two of the biggest arguments my mother and I ever had were because of that time commandment. What was interesting in retrospect was my father could have been out an hour before and eaten, but it was 5:00 p.m. so you ate again. There was nothing about being hungry, or so it seemed; you ate because it was time to eat. It was a chore, an obligation or a habit, and for me, realizing that I was struggling with IBDs long before I knew what they were, eating was anything but pleasant. Learning that dining could be and memorable experience, a healthy and enjoyable opportunity is something that I am still learning.

. . . It is Sunday about 5:23 a.m. and I am sitting on the plane waiting to depart Reno and fly the first leg to Denver. I was blessed to work with a really brilliant colleague, who understands theory as if she were reading a children’s literature book. Our presentation went well and I am looking forward to the next step of writing the chapter for the book that is hopefully following. The OSCLG Conference is always a good group of people and the presentations thought provoking in a manner that compels one to look at the significance of communication in our polarized climate. I also got to see two of my mentors from graduate school, Drs. Patricia (Patty) Sotirin and Victoria (Vickie) Bergvall. They are both outstanding scholars, but more amazing people. For them to say that our presentation was important and shows promise was quite a positive reinforcement.

I am again flying, but in an aisle seat, so it is not quite so stifling or uncomfortable. In light of my post’s focus, I am unfortunately admitting that the food at the conference was not that amazing. While the food at the SF conference four years ago was superb, this food did not quite match up. Yesterday, however, I did take a bit of a respite from the conferencing and found my way down to Miraflores. What a nice thing to be back in the vineyard again. They were in the middle of crush and harvest was about two weeks from being complete. Victor happened to be there and it was nice to see him. Fernando is now in charge with Marco in Italy and there was a little barrel tasting and the Cabernet was stunning. Smooth, great black cherry fruit and a delightfully smooth finish. It will be stunning. The best thing is they have started to work with a shipping company so I can get the wine at the door. I will need to follow up with Cantiga. I think some of my best food memories have been in Placerville. The summer I spent there was stunning and I learned so much about the oenology, the viticulture of the Sierra Nevada area, and all the complexities of getting a block of grapes from vine to bottle. I need to check on Ted sometime and see if he is still bottling, making some kick-butt hot sauces and other things. I am still grateful for how he taught me to make quesadillas. Sometimes a simple twist moves a food from the category of blasé to something close to exquisite. It was his combination of cumin, coriander, and cardamom (a somewhat surprising spice usually used Scandinavian cuisine), that shocked a relatively simple Mexican stable into my nightly go-to, and better yet, it was quite healthy.

As I wing my way back East, I am reminded of the profound changes the past 12 years have sort of bestowed upon me. I was living in Wisconsin and had finished what had been perhaps my most successful year at UW-Stout. I felt like maybe the dark cloud that had enveloped my first couple years had dissipated. I had move into the little carriage house and between work and Lydia, my life was busy, but good. I had endured another surgery a year or two before and felt like I was healthier than I had been for some time, maybe since my initial diagnosis with UC, which was now properly diagnosed as Crohn’s (Preparing to land in Denver and we are bouncing as we approach on final descent). My neighbors on the other side, both Stout faculty and a couple who epitomize good parents and incredibly faithful souls sort of adopted me also. Yet, within a couple of years, there would be significant changes and I would find that being on the market for a new position would be necessary. A move to Pennsylvania after a year of playing both sides of a coin would ensue and a new life close to an old place would follow. Health things, as I have learned since my late 20s would create more needs and different concerns, but somehow I have been blessed and through a variety of doctors and other avenues, I think I am probably as healthy as I have been for a long time. As important, and in someways more so, I have been pretty successful professionally. I guess that is most apparent to me in that I am beginning my 10th year in the same location (the longest I have remained stationary geographically since childhood). So much has happened in that there are no longer relatives in Riverside or the Northside of Sioux City. I certainly have important and people dear to me in Menomonie, but Lydia has been gone almost 4 years. I have renewed some friendships in PA and lost some. I have been blessed by new people, and I have been fortunate enough to travel in ways I could not have imagined. I have met people from across Europe and learned anew that while our place in the world is certainly important, we are not as significant as we have been led to believe, and we are probably not as influential as we once were.

This morning, as I drove from Tahoe back to Reno, I listened to an hour program from the BBC, examining the global economic crash of 2008. I wondered what Lydia would have thought of how it all shook out. Her memory was waning and the dementia was ramping up during that time. What enthralled me was the comprehensive and expansive consequence of the collapse on a global scale and I learned more completely about the difference between Keynesian economic stimulus theory versus austerity. I would have loved to listen to Lydia address that practice and why it is or is not the thing to do. The program is a three part series and something I think I need to get a hold of an something to give a listen. While it might seem I have strayed from my initial point, and in addition my title of “[w]hat does it take? Perhaps the picture of the balancing dancer will clue you in that my seemingly wandering post has not gone totally awry.

Something I am still working on, and trying to master more than as simply a concept is balance. Somehow, in theory, it does not seem difficult. Imagine the extremes and try to find the place in the middle. One can eat in a healthy manner and still eat in a way that offers the experience about which I wrote in the initial part of my blog. One can find a place between being incredibly OCD and not managing anything in a organized manner. One of the things I believe has happened at Miraflores was finding the space between spending exorbitant amounts of capital on making the best wines in the Northern California region and focusing those resources in a more systematic way that did not compromise quality. That seems to have happened. Marco spoke about the winery being taken to the next level. I need to speak to Victor about a project. Listening this morning to the BBC I learned about the balance of spending and tightening when there is an economic crisis. I think I should chat with Nakul about a possible article on that. The initiating and practicing of balance is a balancing act in and of itself, and too often, our human nature gets in the way of common sense that would allow for balance to be a more incorporated life philosophy. What does it take to practice balance, it takes some of the things I spoke of in my previous post. It takes patience and a willingness to step back and think. It requires us as individuals to consider the needs of the other and how our needs affect more than ourselves. It obliges us to realize the difference between needs and wants. Too often we mistake our wants for needs. What I realize now, as some quite a bit older than I was, as a high-schooler, is that I always had what I needed growing up, but I did not always have, or immediately get, what I wanted. I did not comprehend the value of those lessons until much later in life. It was yet another example of balance. I was also afforded some special opportunities: private music lessons, involved in a special audition-only children’s choir (as an update-I have board the plane for AVP, and while we pushed back from the gate on time, 27 minutes later we are still waiting to take off). I am starting to fade from being up at 3:00 a.m two of the last three days. Again, that is the age showing me the difference yet again.

I think the simple idea, but difficult to employ, practice of a balanced life is something that was probably apparent more than I knew and certainly necessary more than I realized. Oh, if I had only understood and practiced it sooner. Maybe age and experience are what it takes.

Thank you again for reading,

Dr. Martin

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)

¿En que agujero colocar? or A Mother I never knew

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Hello from my office,

It has been a hectic week and there seems to be very little change in sight. I know that some of you think I enjoy the merry-go-round, but that is really not the case. It the literal sense, I get sick on merry-go-rounds, but in the figurative sense, there are certainly times I want to jump off, but I do not believe life offers such an option. We are headed into finals and while I do not have many final exams per se, there is still more than enough work to do. The last few days have been rainy, though today is not so. It is a bit overcast, but not quite as chilly, but the next few days call for more rain. At least it should help germinate the grass seed I have planted.

Earlier this week was the 8th anniversary of my younger sister’s passing. I noticed that a few people I might have expected to note that day did not do so. Though I have heard since and noted comments that cause me pause. Families are such interesting organisms, and I use that word intentionally. Even since I began this posting this morning, I have received some other news, albeit it 7 weeks after it occurred, and yet that in and of itself speaks volumes. My last parent, either biological or adopted, has passed away. I was just informed that my birth mother passed away the 11th of March, and actually I was not told, I read about it when someone else in my extended family was told about it. Her response to the news was quite different. I met my mother on two separate occasions in my life (at least that I remember. I do not remember either of my biological parents as a small child). The first was when I was 23. I was in Texas on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team and I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with her and I also met what would have been my step-father at that time. Because it was the first time I had met her that I could remember, it was a bit strained for both of us. I remember asking a lot of questions, which was probably a bit unfair, and receiving few if any real answers. It was not a particularly helpful meeting. The second time I met her was when I was in my early 40s and we were living in the same town. When a half sister asked if she wanted to meet and have dinner, her answer was a rather curt, “No.” Even at 40 something, and though I basically had no relationship with her, this still hurt me. Perhaps because I was hoping she would want to know more about me. Perhaps because I still wanted her to be proud of whom I had become. That was not really what happened. Even though we did end up spending time together during the 6 months I was back in my birth state, there was not really a getting-to-know each other or move beyond the surface. I will say that the circumstance with my birth family was strained when I left, and that was mostly because of my own doing, but I made the decision to move on and a conscious decision to leave them behind. Not corresponding with them for the most part of 16 years has had it consequences. The last words my mother and I used to address each other through an email were certainly not kind or conducive to establishing any relationship.

So what do I have from my biological parents and a sister with whom I grew up. I have some half brothers and sisters, I have some nephews and nieces, but I have no significant or substantive relationship with any of them. This is a decision that I have made. It is one that I have rethought at moments and one that has caused some sense of regret at other times, but what it has done most of all is create the question that is a part of this title? In which hole do I fit? I do, and probably more often than not, feel like I fit many places sort of, but for the most part I feel like I really do not fit anywhere. Perhaps that is why I go everywhere. Perhaps that is why I have not lived in anyone place very long. If you have read my blog for any length of time, this issue of belonging, of figuring out my place, is nothing new. It has plagued me like a reoccurring virus throughout my life. This is not to say that I do not believe there is nothing positive in my life. I have been, and continue to be, blessed. I have so many things that many people do not have and I certainly realize that, but those are things. Things do not make a person. Stuff does not matter when it comes to the end of one’s life. Indeed, $300 million dollars did not add a single extra day to Prince’s life. The money and music he leaves behind can certainly make a difference for others, but I wonder how lonely it must have been to pass away in such an estate all alone. Was he frightened or at peace? Is it how he might have hoped to pass?  I asked about my mother’s passing and got little to no information. I have looked for an obituary in a couple of different papers, but I have found no information. Texas has some pretty ridiculous rules about accessing vital records I have found, so I will have to figure something else out. Of course, there is the question of do I really need to know any more and what difference will it make?

As I move into the last week of my 7th year at Bloomsburg, it will be a week of grading and managing the plethora of things that always characterize the end of the year. There are issues that need to be managed beside grades and I think it is one of those times I need to create a list and merely commence working through what promises to be a lengthy list. It is always a bittersweet thing to see students leave. I am so proud of their accomplishments and whatever small part I might have played in that. It is such an amazing thing to see their transformation from a freshman to a graduate student in some of the cases this semester. They have so much ahead of them and the world is such an exhilarating, overwhelming, and even frightening place. I am not sure we felt any of these things with the same intensity in 1977 when I would have been the age students graduating currently are. It is interesting how those things change. When my older brother graduated in 1969 (from high school) the Vietnam War and a draft were an issue;  a short four years later, the draft was gone and Vietnam was finishing up. College and the reason to be there had already changed for blue collar kids, and I was one of those. My path through the education system was very different than most of my PhD colleagues. I guess my path in life seems to be different than most. While I have had help and care throughout my life, it was not really from a family, it was from a more globalized village if you will (Sorry to sound a bit like Hilary Clinton on this). However, it was not a village watching out for me, it was creating my own village. I guess that is what I have done most of my life. I have learned to surround myself with people who matter or have allowed me to matter to them. While it has worked for the most part, it too has had some significant import. It has created a sense of belonging, but never quite getting there. What I have a tendency to do when I feel like I cannot make something work or I cannot quite fit is to run away. Again the repercussion of this is I lose things and people. What ends up happening is I am the rolling stone (and I do not even really like that group), never quite slowing down enough to make any substantive difference. Or at least so it seems.

I remember in high school being parts of some things, but never really being a significant part of anything. Part of that was because I was such a frightened person, in spite of the fact that no one probably knew that. I was so frightened of my adoptive mother and her anger. That is why my paternal grandmother was so important to me. I knew she loved me no matter how immature I might have been. I wonder what happened to some of the people that worked for her. There was one girl in particular. I still remember her name. Then while I excelled in the Marines, I did not really like it. Again, I had no idea who I was or where I fit. Returning to Iowa after that did little to help because the return to my adopted mother’s realm did little to help me. I was also stupid and without focus at the time. It was the death of a couple important people and a handgun accident that caused me to reassess what I was doing and where I might go. Certainly the year on LYE team was formative and, of course, led me to Dana College. It was there I began to understand my capabilities and that I had more intelligence than I thought. It has been in school that I have found most of my worth or has been a place where I can feel I have something of worth. Yet, as I often do, what gives something worth, and who decides? Is it merely perception? I know that my experience in a tenure track position in Wisconsin was very different from the experience I have had her in Pennsylvania. I enjoy coming to work. I enjoy the interaction with colleagues and with most of the students. It is interesting and fulfilling to work with students from different majors and backgrounds.

As I am sitting here at the #FogandFlame, as I often do, grading, blogging, and doing other work necessary, I am also listening to my iTunes (or Pandora and I know I am supposed to change to Spotify to be a bit more hip). If you would look at my musical collection again, you would be forced to question: ¿En que agujero colocar? This morning I have listened to Sam Smith, John Legend, Toby Keith, Prince, David Guetta, and the United States Naval Academy Band. Hmmmmm? Where do I fit? On a typical day I fluctuate between wanting to meet with some others to wanting to disappear in the crowd of people so I can merely go about my day. I think the response to my biological family and the pain that I felt in my adopted family caused me to both want and repel the idea of family. I go through phases where I need others and despise having them in my life. Where do I fit again? I am not sure I expected all that came out in this blog, but that is often the case. While there is a certain stream-of-c0nsciousness, but there is also a focus. Hard telling where I will end up of what I will allow in my life. Perhaps that was plan to this life. I am not sure, but in my meanwhile, I wake up in the morning and do what I need to do and hopefully do well enough to make a small difference. It is time to get back to grading.

Thanks for reading and good luck in this week.

Dr. Martin

My love/hate Relationship with Technology

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Hello from the #Fog and Flame,

Before you even begin to read this, I will note that it sat for two weeks as I have been trying to keep my head afloat as I noted in the last posting. It has taken me two weeks to get back to this and the number of things I need to accomplish this weekend to manage the coming week seems a bit daunting, but I need to clear my head, so I back. This was on the 11th of October that I wrote what you will begin to read. . . . I am in this morning trying to do work, but I have my Mac rather than the PC, and BOLT refuses to let me log in because I am using the Mac. I thought this was something that had been remedied, but obviously I was mistaken. I know there have been issues this Fall, but I thought they were managed . . .  and it seems that it is not merely a Mac thing, so it means I cannot do what I need to do for grading today. Then it seems that my exchange for Bloom on my Mac is not working again either. I will have to take the Mac into tomorrow. It will not send what I have responded to students, so I am going to have to go up to school and see if they are there. I am not ignoring students. I will say that I have been overwhelmed the past couple of weeks, or more accurately since school began, but I do try to manage things reasonably well. Now, all of the sudden, and as I told Haley it must have been her power as she was standing next to me, all the emails sent. It is my struggle with technology. Intermittent problems are always the most difficult things to understand because they seem non-sensical and unpredictable.

Most of my students will tell you that I am a technology geek, and while I understand their perception, I really am not such a person. I remember when cell phones (the shoe box type) first came out and I was living in NEPA then. People told me I needed to get one of those things and I responded, “It was one of the few times I could get away from the phone, why did I want one in the car?” When I got my first PC in 1987, I did it out of a sense of fear rather than a sense of I wanted a computer. Most of my grad school colleagues had one and I felt like I was going to be so far behind in my writing. I did not type well at that time (not that I am an expert now, but I can type without looking at the keyboard) because I had never taken typing. I do not think I really got to be computer literate to a reasonable extent until I worked for Gateway Computers in 1999. I was forty-four years old and most of what I have learned about technology has occurred since then. I am always sort of amused when my students tell me that they have to help their parents or other relatives with some pretty simple things. That is not to say I have it all figured out. Sometimes I do not know the simplest things (ask Melissa!!). She will just roll her eyes and I must admit, she got me a birthday present to help me keep from losing things – like my keys – which I have managed to lose yet another set in the past two days. Somehow on Friday afternoon, I lost yet another (and, of course, this is not the cheap key!). Her father noted I must not have put the little things she got me on things yet. Indeed, I have been so busy that it did not get accomplished and so she has yet another reason to merely give me the look and say something like “I have no words.”

My Writing for the Internet students have a paper due tomorrow evening on this very thing. How has the use of technology changed since 1984? That seems like a simple question that one can merely answer, dramatically, but I want so much more than that?  The fact that students cannot leave their phones, cannot function reasonably without them, expect that everything should be available for them through those little devices speaks volumes about their connections, their insistence, their dependence on technology. If one is that dependent, (or if they are going to make the argument that they are not) how do they understand that device as a tool? What are the expectations of, for instance, their professors, their university, or their world about the inter-reliability they have in maintaining contact, for instance? What are reasonable expectations of the different subjectivities with which they are required to have contact? Again, some of the same people are included, but there is also the issue of social networking and the consequence of that interaction. It seems that seldom does a day go by when someone of some sense of import does not find themselves in hot water for what they have tweeted, Facebooked, or whatever else it is they did. The photos that will come back to haunt (and I have done some of that, unfortunately). Are we accountable for whatever is out there in the ether about us? What sort of control should we take? What sort of control should we be “required” to take? Where can we expect this technology to go? How invasive might it become for us as we move forward? How invasive are we willing to let it become? I think we have allowed much more than we actually understand, and once we have gone down that road, is there any reversing it? As much as I like technology and the industrial nature of it (I mean that it is a tool that is there to make our lives more manageable), I do realize the invasiveness of it. I think, probably like most, I choose to ignore it, but that is a choice and it has a consequence. What is that consequence and what do I think about it? That is something we all need to consider.

While I do have my allegiance to things Mac, I do have PC things too. I have noted before in this blog that Steve Job was a genius for a variety of reasons, but the thing that made him most amazing was his rhetorical ability. When you consider the information that Google, Amazon, or Facebook can compile on us through algorithms, how much are they like the Big Head (big brother) in the movie, 1984. Will they overcome or prevail, or ironically, contrary to the Super Bowl commercial from Mac in 1984,  will 2014 (and beyond) create, through our iWatch, our iMusic, our iPad, our iPhone, that we are part of the bushel? I am certainly not content to be merely another Macintosh . . .  I am not content to be connected to my technology by necessity. I want to use it as a tool. I want to be able to use it or not, as I choose rather than by the choice of the other. The fact that I have bought into the idea of technology so much has certainly affected how I manage my job, my communication, and pretty much my life. I do believe that I could be more comfortable than many realize backing away from it. It is much like when I go to my home at times. I love that I can shut the door and there is no one where to bother me. I appreciate the quietude of the place; I appreciate the solitude of that somewhat monastic space. I am supposed to do some things later today, but the problems with BOLT have made my day a bit more unscheduled that I had planned. I think I might have to hide away and work. The fact that a Packer game is being played at the moment and I am not in front of the television says more than this sentence can begin to dramatize.

. . . It is Tuesday and I think we are headed for about a 36 hour marathon. Tonight I have a midterm scheduled in my Bible as Literature class (you are now at the 13th of October), but that is the easy part of the day. I need to make serious progress on my to-do list or I am going to be very unhappy. I have had a number of meetings with students. It is midterm time and that is always a time for panic, or so it seems. It is interesting how the semester has seemed to get away from both students and faculty. I do not think I have ever felt this harried or somehow behind all at the same time. . . .

It is now the present, which is Sunday, October 25th; this past week I went to NYC with students from the #COBLLC once again. It is a good group of students and I think they managed to absorb a great deal of what we hope will happen. I visited the site at Ground Zero for the first time and it was moving. It is hard to imagine that this is where the two buildings collapsed and so much devastation occurred. It was humbling to look at the reflecting pools and to see that is where the towers where. This week I will chat with some of the students about that. This morning as looked at the news, I saw that once again the community of OSU (Oklahoma State University) suffered another tragedy. It is hard to imagine what they have gone through in the past decade. It touched me in a different way because one of my closest colleagues here at Bloomsburg is an alum of that institution. It also reminded me that I read the names of over 50 students in the local paper who were cited for some sort of alcohol violation during homecoming weekend here. The role that alcohol has in our society is troublesome to me. I say that as a person who has a lot of wine and liquor in his house, but does not actually drink that much. There was a time where I was certainly irresponsible (or just plain stupid) in how I managed alcohol, or more likely how it managed me. I am fortunate that I did not end up in treatment and I know that. I do know how to enjoy it responsibly at this point. One of my former colleagues is struggling in their attempt to learn that lesson now. It is a sad story.

Back to the idea of technology . . . the newest piece of technology I have was actually given to me as a birthday present and it called tile. It helps me manage my keys more than anything. All the way back to when I was married to Susan, she would tell you that I am notorious for losing my keys. I have a place to hang them. I have learned to leave them sticking out of the lock in my door in the office, so I do not lose them, but have managed to, more than once, leave them hanging in the door overnight. It is rather pitiful. I have misplaced, possibly thrown them away (or someone did it for me), or simply lost them in a pocket or some other ridiculous place for months. I have had to change locks, call AAA, and the list can go on, but I think you get the picture. This present of tile might be the most helpful birthday present I have ever received. I can now connect my keys-various sets of them-to my phone and vice versa, or my iPad and vice versa. It is the best thing because after my keys, the phone might be the next most illusive thing I own. What I know is I need to get into my other technology now, which is BOLT and get some things posted. I have had things graded, but not posted. Time to step up. In spite of the disjointed nature of this blog, I hope you find something worth reading. Remember you are in charge . . . this is what I need to remind myself of daily. The technology is a tool to help me with that work.

I hope this finds you well and thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Farewell my Friend

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Good Sunday morning,

It is very early and I am awake. I left town yesterday because of the yearly block party (I refuse to use it as a proper noun – pun intended). It was a wonderful day in Jim Thorpe and a beautiful day to be walking around. Early yesterday morning, I got a call from Stephanie informing me that Peter, the life-long friend whom I have noted as of late, had passed away earlier Saturday morning, ending his battle with ALS. It is a bitter-sweet thing to say I am both relieved that he no longer needs to suffer, but I am so profoundly at a loss because someone who has been my friend since the beginning of my life, and someone even younger (albeit only a year, almost exactly), has left this earth. As I noted a few posts ago, this is a very different feeling than the feeling I had with Lydia. While losing Lydia is still part of my daily thoughts, she was 90 and had lived an amazing life. Peter was 58 years old. At one point I might have considered that old. That is undoubtably not my reality now.

When I went to see Peter three weeks ago, he noted that he never really expected to grow old. That statement caught me off guard, but I noted that he probably did not expect to have to battle such a vicious and uncaring disease as ALS. I want to talk about the memories of this most amazing, yet profoundly human, friend of mine. Our mothers were best friends all of our lives and our families did most everything together. Peter, James, and John (Biblical sounding) were the three Goede boys and Robert, Michael, and Kris (I am the Michael, not trying to state the obvious) were the Martin children. Peter’s mother was our church organist and our two father’s, Jake and Harry, pretty much ran Riverside Lutheran Church when we were small. To walk into my house and see Marge, Peter’s mother, at the kitchen table having iced tea with my mother was as common as breathing. To see our fathers working on something at church was a common as listening to Pastor Anderson or Ofstedal, our two pastors from childhood through high school preach every Sunday. If it was the 4th of July, we were at McCook Lake and the Ike’s Club to celebrate with fireworks and picnics. When I was 17 years old, Peter saved my life when I almost drown in that lake. If he had not swum across that lake, I am am quite sure I would not be writing this post and he would be joining me rather than I being one of the many who has lost him.  His older brother, John, was instrumental in really creating a strong church youth group  and that youth group was a significant part of my growing up. I remember when the famous Beatles song, “Let it Be” was the theme of our homecoming growing up. It was that song and Pete’s singing of it that got his voice noticed and began a life-long gig with the garage band, The Establishment, who were eventual inductees into the Iowa Rock -n-Roll Hall of Fame, that would in someways identify Peter for the rest of his life. Whether it was their gigs or his grandmother meticulously braiding his almost waist-length hair; whether it was traveling to another high school homecoming dance or a weekend in Spencer, Iowa, where we spent hours listening to the latest 45 trying to figure out the lyrics to “Rocky Mountain Way”, his voice was in the process of becoming legendary. Growing up I walked beans on their farm; I spent moments driving around in our cars; hanging out wherever we might decide like the Runza Drive-in on Riverside Blvd. When I left for the Marine Corps after graduation, our actual time together was significantly less than our childhood years, but eventually, I was best man in his wedding and he was the same in mine. When I ended up in seminary, Whitney, their daughter was born and I sang at her baptism. He would sing at my ordination and he sang at my sister’s funeral. Our fathers passed away within two months of each other.

Even though our lives when through a myriad of changes, there was never the need to figure out who the other one was or who they had become. I remember going to Whitney’s high school graduation reception and what he told me that day was a bit shocking, but he was even then taking a sort of inventory of his life and what had happened. Peter was an unequalled when it came to working hard and not giving up on things. In the early days of he band he would buy their PA equipment, taking out loans in his own name to make sure they had what was needed and he and Flood Music became sort of business partners. He was one of the first to get into the hardware/software/networking area and he did very well. Even when it required changing companies and learning a new gig or thing, he was up to the challenge. Yet, he was a human and sometimes the habits we learn early never leave us. There were things he battled and as with many of us, he could be his own worst enemy. I understand this malady all too well. A couple of years ago, I sent him a letter. It was a letter that I had written as I was recovering from complications of yet another surgery and a letter than reflected much as I am now. As I battled yet another serious health crisis, I called and read him the letter before I even sent it. I cried that evening as I cry now. I am now more than grateful that I took the time to write to him and to Stephanie at that time. I am glad that I took the time to visit him three weeks ago. I am grateful for the conversations we had that day and the opportunity I had to speak with Stephanie a few weeks before that. We take so much for granted.

Later today, I will spend time watching a student be inducted into the national honor society. Quite a change from the beginning of their college tenure, but what it demonstrates is someone not taking anything for granted, but realizing it takes work and that no one owes us anything. That is such a difficult lesson. There is no promise of a long life; there is no promise of success, even with hard work. Each day is a gift and coming to terms with that is something that takes most of us a long time to realize, if we ever actually come to that realization. Each time I am shocked or jolted into this reality, there is little that can be said. It is yet another forced realization. To use the word “forced” demonstrates that we are so easily lulled into complacency or a sense of expectation. We have our plans (and heaven knows we need to plan), but we have little comprehension, nor do we want it, that the line between life and death is much more tenuous than we care to consider in any regular manner or given moment. I think some of our occupations require us to do so (medical or health care workers), but generally we make our long-term plans merely believing that those things will happen. I am quite sure that neither Peter nor I expected to incur some of the things that we have in the 40 years since high school. I do think he expected to have Stephanie in his life, and I am grateful to her for being the amazing person she is. I know the last time he and I spoke he talked about how important his children were and how proud he was of them. His daughter and son, while I do not know them as well as I might wish, are certainly incredible people. They are successful, but more importantly, they are also good people. What I know my friend is that as I think about our lives, I would not be the person I am without some of the things we shared and all the ways our lives were intertwined growing up. You have taught me what true friendship is. We remained friends during your entire life. When I told you three weeks ago that I loved you, I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In spite of your fragile condition, you were as gracious as you could be and we had a nice day together. We laughed and we cried. The tears streaming down my face now are tears of relief. They are tears of sadness and also tears of graciousness, for gratefulness, that we had the opportunity for some sense of closure. I promised I would come see you as soon as school was finished for the semester, but that was not to be. Instead, I am honored and humbled for the opportunity I have had to share together with you our lives, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes at a distance, sometime with a passage of time, but regardless it was a friendship that abided change of time, distance, jobs, and anything else that might have happened.

I am not sure what the schedule will be this coming week, but I know that I am headed back to see you again, sooner than I imagined. This time to be there for your children and for Stephanie and to share with all the people who loved you. As I write this, ironically, I am listening to iTunes and “Dream On” came on. Your voice and your ability to be the show person you were will always amaze me. I hope you have a wonderful stage on which you can share. I know your parents and grandmother are there to welcome you. I am glad you are no longer suffering, but I will miss knowing that you are there in Eagan. I love you, Stephanie, and I love you my friend.

Bless you.

Thanks for reading.

Michael (Peter’s friend)

P.S. I have to add that I have now heard “Let it Be,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Bird”. Thanks for the messages, my friend.

Understanding Friendship

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Good Sunday morning,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin