Being Grateful is both Singular and Plural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Being Blessed

مرحبا على السبت الأول الجميل من الخريف,

or in letters more of you can read, Hello on a beautiful first Saturday in Autumn. If I were to transliterate the Arabic above it would read: marhabaan ealaa alsabt al’awal aljamil min alkharif.  Language fascinates me. I tell my students regularly, learning another language or even studying another language will change your world. It opens doors, promotes understanding and provides an opportunity to begin understanding another person, but much more than merely recognizing and translating their words. That understanding includes a more inclusive realizing how they think and seeing what they value. I have finally come to know what it is I wish I had done with my education and where I think I might have truly been most satisfied if I had studied something in particular, not saying I regret what I know or what I teach in any such way. However, if I had a chance to begin again, I would study linguistics  and I would want to be moderately fluent in as many languages as possible. If I were independently wealthy, I would travel and try to live in a country for about two years to learn their language to at least a degree in which I could communicate and speak with the native population more than just adequately and then move and do it again. I love how words, word order, sentence structure, or issues of syntax, etymology, and dialect can reveal so much about both an individual or a culture.

I have a colleague who amazes me by his ability to move seamlessly between cultures and countries because of ability to speak multiple languages. He is the most adept polyglot I have ever met. He is also a former medical doctor and specialist. That raises an entirely separate issue about people who immigrate here with professional degtrees, and their credentials are often not accepted here, and that can be anything from engineering to law to most any kind of medicine. They bring so many skills and levels of ability, talent or expertise, and it seems all too often we ignore or merely discount what they bring. This is both arrogant and foolish, or at least it appears so. Even if we required some sort of trial period or internship, which might still seem a bit elitist, at least it provides some opportunity for them to continue to use and offer their particular expertise to their new homeland. In addition, we have a skilled group who often is bi- or tri-lingual. This would be a much better use of people, and also give those who come a sense of welcome and appreciation versus an attitude of “you offer little,” and we are doing your sorry-ass a favor. How foolish can we be?

As previously mentioned in my more recent blogs, I have had the opportunity and more accurately the honor to have a house guest the past five weeks. It truly is an honor to be trusted by the extended family to have her in my home. She has brought such joy and a sense of comfort and goodness to this house. Those who know me, know I have worked diligently, and thoughtfully, to create a welcoming space for anyone who visits, be it for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks. I have had people here for a few months. Again, I have noted there are also times when I enjoy my solitude, and my ability to close the world out, while still providing access to the outside, but only if and when I make a decision to do so. However, the last five weeks have been such a positive thing, I must say, I am not looking forward to her leaving. She has made my house feel like a home in a more profound way than perhaps I have ever known it to be. She is gracious and hard working. She is polite and thoughtful in everything she does. She asks for nothing and is instantly ready to give. She has been the ideal house guest, housemate, surrogate daughter, or blessing I could ever hope to have. We have both gotten to know each other more completely, more openly, more, profoundly, which was expected by both of us, but more effortlessly than I believed either of us could have hoped for.

This weekend, the extended family came to visit.. What a fabulous thing it has been to have three generations of her family here. Yabba, as their father or grandfather is called, is a stately, slender, and kind gentleman who loves his family with all of his being. He has thinning hair, if you can see that high because he is very tall, a gray mustache and twinkling eyes that express both wisdom and mischief. While he wears a hearing aid, do not believe for a second he is not cognizant of what is happening around him. He has stories and he was a wise, albeit too kind, businessman at times, or so it seems. It was both an honor and joy to meet him. His daughter, and the mother of my house guest, is an outstanding story in her own right. She has endured so much more than either her appearance or demeanor would ever reveal. She is the center of the family in any way you might consider. She simultaneously cares for Yabba, who has some serious issues, and is, of course, elderly, and she keeps better tabs on four offspring than I think even they realize. It is evident she relishes her role as both mother and daughter, but she is so much more. She is a faithful member of her community; when she visits, she brings enough wonderfully prepared food to feed a regiment, and she is always in control of her situation. After spending the weekend, she had purchased everything she could imagine to take to her next destination where her two sons are living. Finally, a sister and cousins were here. While they are certainly a normal family with personalities and some bumps and bruises, what was most evident was an abiding and unifying love that was the core and center of all they did. It was fund to hear so many speaking Arabic, though I understood basically nothing. They were the most gracious house guests one could ever hope to have.

It is hard to believe that a five week rotation will be ending in less than 48 hours. While I was excited to have my former summer student come back, there was a sense of surprise when it got here. Not because of the unexpected, but rather because I knew, in many ways, what to expect, but the surprises were to learn more about Islam, and, perhaps, more significantly, to see this person for whom I have such great respect, live this faith (with amazing faithfulness, I might add) and understand more fully what it means for her to be Muslim. We both believed we would learn to know each other more completely through sharing a living space together. While the truth of such a statement is obvious, the reality of what that means is still being determined. What it has meant for me is that having a person to share my house once again has made it a home. As noted, she is almost the perfect house guest (at least for me and my idiosyncrasies) because she is incredibly neat, communicates what she is thinking and doing, and totally self-sufficient, but willing to work together on things. I will miss her more than any words can express. Her rotatioN has been trying and demanding, but not surprisingly, she has managed it well, and I am quite sure her final evaluation will be quite stellar. I am glad she has felt comfortable enough to express her joys and concerns about that experience. I think my being a professor and academic has offered insight at times she might not have had. I have tried to do some little thing each day this week and through out conversations, I think we have both grown to appreciate and love the other in ways that make our surrogate father/daughter bond something all that more profound than it already was.  Ertainly a strong bond was there before she arrived in late August. Now it is beyond what I think either of us imagined. Not that we walked in imagining anything in particular, but now I think I have been blessed to become part of another family. Blessed beyond measure as the saying says. Before her grandfather left, he hugged me and thanked me for caring for his granddaughter; before she left, I was invited to accompany them to Egypt. What gifts I have been given by such amazing people.

As I write this I am reminded that 40 years ago I lost my own grandparent, the grandparent who had been my mother, my protector, my supporter. I have written about her before, but it is hard to believe that it was 2 score years ago. I am approaching the age she was when she passed. I remember at that point thinking she was not that old, but certainly old enough that death seemed to be a reasonable possibility. It is so much different as I approach that age. I noted in a recent blog about decades and one of my newer students let me know quite emphatically that I should plan to be around for more years than a decade. That is sweet of them to think that. I find myself imagining life in the more finished that ongoing manner, but that is not to say that I want to be finished. There is still much to do and much I hope to accomplish. I think the difference is I do not feel as if I have not lived life. I do not feel as if there are things I have to do, but rather they are things I hope to do. That is a good thing, or at least I think it is. I still remember receiving the call that my grandmother had passed. I was in Ames, Iowa and it was just months after the loss of my older brother. It was stunning to me, but it was also the first time in my life where I had to be accountable for what seemed to be a rather benign choice. I had promised her I would visit her the last time I was in Sioux City before I returned and then failed to do so. I did take the time to call her from a phone booth (remember those?) on Highway 71 in Carroll, IA before I got back to Ames, and I am glad I did. Before I would get home again, she passed away. I was devastated by that loss. It was warm in the cemetery that day, much like it has been this past week. I remember crying and sobbing more than I ever had before, and probably since.

Amazing how our lives move us forward and simultaneously remembering the past. I am blessed by so many things in the present, but in looking back, those blessing that have had significant influence on me in the past also come to mind. I am much like what Norman Maclean notes in his final words of his novella, A River Runs through It. He wrote what is in the video below. It is one of the most profound scenes in any movie I have ever watched. The book is equally magnificent. I am grateful to Timo Koskinen, my former colleague and friend, and somewhat of a mentor to me, for introducing me to the novella.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Verstehen, Comprender, Understand

Hello from the acre,

I want to get a few lines written before I fall over from both mental and physical exhaustion. I should note that those two things probably affect my ability to manage the word that makes up the title of this post – all the same word; just different languages . . . . After an hour or two of sleep . . . The English word means “to know the meaning or something” (Cambridge) or “to know how a person feels or behaves in a particular way (Cambridge). In Spanish one has a bit of a different sense. One might use the two words “hacerse entender” and in German one might use the phrase “sich verstehen auf “. Not surprisingly to me both the Spanish and the German seem to get at the root of what it really means to understand something. I do not believe understanding is purely a intellectual function. One can ponder, mull over something, but true comprehension is based on the reflection upon both thought and experience. Someone often says to me “at no time did I say a particular thing” and then will assert that because it was not said that either something is assumed or that he or she has no effect on that determination. If life were only that simple. If that were the case that we could only be connected to our words and not our actions (and I already know this will be argued). Yet, since so many people have a tendency to communicate poorly the consequence would be a general failure of any possibility of “verstandlich“. We would be in quite the predicament. And that does not even begin to cover the issue of speaking falsely or perhaps less egregious, but equally difficult, stating something, but not being able to follow through. That, of course, gets into the work of Sisela Bok and her amazing books, one titled Lying and the other titled Secrets. I had to read both of them for my comprehensive exams in narrative ethics. The issue of intention is certainly part of this. The problem there is we cannot always get at intention either readily or easily.

I think the important thing to realize about the ability to come to an understanding is that it takes time and it takes experience, but it is, at times, also clouded by emotion. I am reminded of Luther’s explanation of the third article of “The Apostles’ Creed”. He said, ” I cannot by my own effort or understanding . . . ” I am aware that the issue Luther is addressing here is quite different, but his words are helpful for my post. I do not believe we ever come to even our own imperfect, less-than-total comprehension of something without a careful consideration of both language (words spoken, written or heard) and a cadre of experience with that speaker. And yet, unfortunately even those two things together can be trumped by the reality of the contextual circumstances of any given moment. Those circumstances and all the pieces that create that specific instance can forever be overshadowed by a myriad of external factors and what results is an estrangement between two (or more) people) honestly trying to understand the other. This is a different context of “the other”, but ironically the consequence creates that same “other”. One feels marginalized or misunderstood. One somehow believes that something is stacked against him or her. Even as a white person, I know that feeling (Again, any extended parenthetical here has been added because I am trying to either provide a revision that is an attempt to provide a better rendering of what the context and my hearing of something was and is. Second, as my blog I realize I am writing, as I have from the outset, both what I find important and significant to me as a person who wants to understand both things in close proximity as well as their connection to this world I inhabit.).

What I have come to realize this past week is that I am more like someone or more accurately he or she is more like me ( I am older) than previously determined. Going on autopilot, doing what is easiest or almost out of necessity managing only what is essential becomes the rule. I remember feeling that sense of the tail wagging the dog, but that is why I try to organize and plan. I know even when I do it well there are things that certainly will create chaos. An extra meeting, a forgotten appointment, a loss, yet again, of my keys (I could do an entire post on this), and then my own desire to do everything well – and hating when I fail. You get the picture. What I know, in spite of falling into the trap, at the end of the day what happens is we only have so much time and so much energy. If we have done the best we can, we cannot get down on ourselves, even when we have a propensity to do so. We cannot fail to reach out and demonstrate to another what or who actually matters. This week the number of people who were kind enough to remember me was staggering. I am so blessed. Being taken to lunch by one of my best friends. In spite of the stress, one taking me to dinner and, in spite of limited resources buying me a present, means more than any words can express. For another to share a birthday with me when it was their golden birthday, and to have time in their crazy day with all that happens and then to purchase something for my well-being is a gift beyond words. For three people to drive thirty miles to bring me a birthday cake and share time with me was such a wonderful way to complete my day. I had over 200 people contact me. I am blessed beyond words and humbled that I have so many people in my life.

Last week I wrote about privilege. What I know is that I am passionate about learning; I am passionate about justice; I am passionate when someone I love seems or appears at times to be hurt by a system, by people, that or who seems to differentiate because of language or ethnic background. Yet, one cannot throw away a system. Nihilism was argued as an option at one point, but it does not work. Meaningless creates a sadness that cannot be overcome and destroys our human spirit. One can determine a system is flawed; one can work to fight back against a system; one can work within the system to make small changes. I am reminded of the prayer of St, Francis. Perhaps it is apropos here. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” I do wish to demonstrate that not all of America is bad, that there could be worse things than being an American citizen or living in this country (and I know they know this, but we have spoken about the why I perceive this). The very education received and the scholarships earned are part of that that same system. I do wish to demonstrate that not all white people marginalize the other. Some of us hope to make a difference. It was the reason I voted as I did the last two elections. All is not lost. It is possible to understand if we listen, if we take time to care. If and when we let people into our lives we really do begin to understand them; we can make the difference so we find that place to accomplish “entender “, to “sich verstehen auf

Me disculpo por no ver o entender el estrés. Por dificultades comprender sus necesidades, perdóname. Gracias por su presencia en mi vida. Trataré de ser más consciente y más comprensivos.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin