Being Thankful

Hello from my kitchen in the morning,

Hard to believe it is already Wednesday of our break. Harder to believe it is almost the end of November; and perhaps hardest of all to come to terms with we are finishing the second decade of a new millennium. I was speaking with Al, the person in charge of technology for my department (and building) and reminiscing over our experiences of Y2K. This morning I am realizing that the great majority of my freshmen did not live in the 20th century. Yikes!

As I sit in my kitchen, breakfast pretty well prepared, I am waiting for a 17 year old to manage to get up. In spite of the fact, we agreed on a 9:30 breakfast, he does not like to get out of bed, so I am being productive and working on this blog. Thanksgiving, being the latest day of the calendar it can occur, seems to usher in both Advent and the holiday season this year. It also brings back all those memories of holidays gone by, and causes me to ponder how differently I might understand the holidays and their significance at this point in my life. As a child, it marked a school vacation and Black Friday shopping. My parents put money away every paycheck to help have money for the Christmas tradition of buying presents. They never owned a shopping credit card. My father had one gas credit card, and that was it. Thanksgiving was an incredible meal, especially if we make the trek “over the river” (there were no woods) and went to my grandmother’s, sister’s house. I have noted on many occasions how those two were the most fabulous cooks.

While I have often lamented some elements of my being raised as an adopted child, perhaps the occasion of this Thanksgiving is a time to consider the fortune of being raised in the Martin household. As I realize now (and that is not a first time realization), I think there were different hopes from the two people who had a adopted a first child and then a pair (being my sister and me). In the late 1950s, having children and being a family was part of being successful and living the American dream. As I look at my parents, I am not sure parenting was appreciated equally or was the desire to be a parent on the same plane. Regardless, knowing all the things I know, I believe I was overall fortunate. I was speaking with my sister-in-law recently and she noted that my older brother and she considering adopting us (as a second adoption) to get us away from some of the struggles we had endured. Though I am sure if that attempt had been made it would have been an undoubtedly tense and ugly situation.

In spite the myriad of issues, we still had some relative stability. I had the essential things I needed to be healthy and cared for on the basic levels of food, shelter, and opportunity. I had extra things provided like private music lessons, the chance to participate in a variety of events, and both a good school and church family. I understand and perceive things so differently now. Perhaps most important, I knew that even when I was lacking emotional support at home, I had surrogate parents who gave me a lot. I had a church youth group where I found acceptance. I know now there are things I lacked and it is interesting that I find myself trying to provide that for Anton, even though he is only in my care for a year. Tomorrow that year is already 1/4 complete. Amazing that three months have come and gone. What I know is I have been so blessed by people in my life. Growing up in Riverside, I think of the Sopoci family and their basement recreation room, where I spent many an hour. I think of Sheldon and Janet Reese, who always demonstrated care for me, listened to me and showed me I mattered. Of course, Marge and Jake Goede were like a second family to me. I realize now how much my church youth group did to keep me healthy emotionally. In addition, as I got older and worked at my grandmother’s bakery, I was fortunate to be around a person who loved me deeply and unconditionally. That was the most incredible blessing perhaps ever bestowed. She taught me how to give and to treat others with kindness. She was always willing to go above and beyond in her giving to others. I would like to believe I emulate her to some degree.

As I moved beyond high school, I had so much to learn about the world. To my parents’ credit, and perhaps at times to my detriment, I was not very prepared for the Marine Corps – though you might ask, is that possible – or even life beyond. I would come back trying to figure out who I was, and being blessed by yet another family outside my own. A new pastor had come to Riverside Lutheran. Little did I know how impactful they would be. The eldest was not around, but the next three would be central to my trying to acclimate back to being a civilian. I know now that is much harder than one realizes. Fred, the pastor, became a surrogate father and did more to help me mature than perhaps anyone could have. Ruth, had more of a hate/love relationship with me (and my ’71 Chevelle) than one would hope. She petrified me, and simultaneously caused me to think about who I wanted to or should be. David is still a friend I treasure and Barb found her way deep into my heart beyond anything I had known. She was that first love, and I had no idea how to manage that. Trial and error would be an understatement, but I am thankful to this day. Nancy, the youngest was smart, kind, and did not know what to do with her brother and me together. I will forever be indebted to the Peters family. Even to this day, I realize the integrity of Fred and how blessed I am by him.

I would eventually go from Ames back home and that was a difficult time due to the death of both my brother and my grandmother. Somehow, on a lark, I was blessed again; this time to be offered a chance to travel and work for an organization called Lutheran Youth Encounter. This was also the time I was spending significant time with a 2nd cousin. She was a very good influence on me and again I was blessed by her love and care. The year of travel caused me to do a lot of self-examination, as well as a time to grow, and I enrolled in college. This was a second time, but this time would be different. I wanted (needed) to prove to myself I could be successful. It was the begging of a process that has led me through seminary, to the parish, back to the academy, eventually a PhD, and from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania.

These previous paragraphs are rather broad strokes, but what is consistent is there have been people every step of the way who cared for me, who cared about me. I did not get here on my own. It has been because of dozens of individuals. Some have moved in and out of my life and I have lost touch or one side of the relationship moved beyond. Some have remained and some have re-emerged. Our lives are an astounding number of threads woven together, sometimes tightly, sometimes with some sense of order, but loosely. Other times, the threads become tangled, snarled, or even frayed. Yet they all matter because they illustrate the complexity of who we are.

As you know by my last blog, a superb teacher, professor, and colleague has passed. I have pondered his passing from a variety of views. He was only four years older than I. To be honest, that disturbs me; it frightens me a bit. On the other hand, he left a profound example of what it means to be here for his students. I hope I can work to carry on some of that in my own teaching in a more successful manner. Last week as we honored him and students spoke about him, I tried to imagine what he might say. I think he might say, “Awe, shucks! Thank you for your words.” And he would leave it at that. Dr. Riley was (and is) another reason to give thanks, both for the time he was with us – also by what he has left us. Before we return to classes, we will have a memorial service. The weather, as can often be the case “when the gales of November come stealin'”, and move us into December, does appear to be an issue. And yet, we will gather to give thanks for a colleague who taught us to never be complacent, to never quit striving to learn and implement new things. As I finish this we are completing a Thanksgiving break. In spite of the craziness in so many places, and inside the Beltway perhaps being the craziest, I find myself wanting to focus on being thankful. There are so many people not mentioned here, but you each matter. Bless each of you for your kindness and the gifts you have shared to make this small, adopted, struggling, boy from Northwest Iowa be able to grow, flourish, and be allowed to live a blessed life.

Thank you as always for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

Pushing the Limits: Healthy Living is Difficult

Hello from Geisinger,

A 3:00 appointment has evolved into waiting for said appointment and then adding an MRI. So, three hours later I am still in the hospital and waiting for the MRI. That will be followed by another appointment with the orthopedic surgeon next week. I am not sure what all is on the horizon, but that has been how most of my life has gone. While I realize the amazingly miraculous life I have been able to live in spite of all of the complications, I must admit there are times I struggle to overcome whatever the latest complication tossed at me. A few weeks ago I was provided the incredible opportunity to speak to the medical students and faculty at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) as a presenter for their Grand Medical Rounds. As I prepared for my lecture/presentation, I will admit I was a bit nervous. These are the people who have observed, examined, operated on, rearranged as well as poked, prodded, and probed every imaginable part of my GI track, or are training and learning to do it to others. They are the people to whom we give enormous power in spite of the fact they are called practicing physicians. They are the people who understand us, at least in terms of the biology and physiology, but somehow might seem to forget that we are more than a specimen; that as a patient, we are a human. In my case, I am an ostomate who have endured 11 abdominal surgeries, struggled with complications because of their surgeries, which were my only option to live at the time, and now I am 64 and struggle with hydration, disconcerting biopsies, diabetes (as a Crohn’s consequence), liver damage (as a Crohn’s consequence), episodes of Gout (as a Crohn’s consequence) and kidney issues (also as a Crohn’s consequence). Are you seeing a pattern?

Each day I live I am pushing the limits because I have been told that the reason they do not know what do to with me is that most people who have experienced my complications do not live this long. Each day I live, I know that I have been given yet another gift of 24 hours and I need to manage those time blocks as well as I can. Each day I live, I wonder how it is that I have somehow managed all of this? In the month or so, the demands of a 4 Prep/5 Section semester has taken its toll on me also. In spite of eating quite healthy, I have somehow managed to put about 10 pounds back on. This is beyond frustrating for me. I think there are some rather radical options (and yet healthy) things on the horizon. The other thing is simply getting back to my walking. I did see something on MSN this morning about how a younger person lost 50 pounds in about 8 months, and it was a sensible process. For me this is not about merely losing weight, but it is about helping my liver, my joints, and other things that have been affected by the Crohn’s, the surgeries, and the regiment of steroids and such. When I was at the gastroenterologist recently (during the fall), his response to my history with IBDs and all of the complication was telling. He noted that my body is like an upside-down jigsaw puzzle, and while they can see the pieces, they are not sure how they all fit together. This analogy did not surprise me. The more interesting part is when he noted that they reason they do not know exactly what to do with me was because most people with all of my GI maladies do not live as long as I have. I guess that is both a blessing and a sort of worrisome statement all in one. As I have noted above, there are times I struggle with what a premature birth and the lack of knowledge of IBDs when I was a child have left me, but again there is something about all of those struggles as a child that prepared me for what would come.

As I have lived longer than any of my siblings (and 5 of 9 have left this world at a younger age), I am well aware that there are no promises of a tomorrow. What all of that as done is help me realize the giftedness that I have in each day. As I sit in Starbucks in the library, I cannot help but watch the variety of students, staff, and faculty that walk past the corner table where I sit up an office on a regular basis two mornings a week. I wonder what they will be like at my age. What will the world be like? What sort of things will they try to manage or what will college be like? I am quite sure it will not be like anything we see today. What I worry about more is the quality of life many will live. Much like a shrinking middle class, there are not a lot of what I call average people. It seems like they pay particular attention to their health or they are totally oblivious. The number of 20-somethings I see that are significantly seeming out of shape or overweight is stunning. As I watch the mount of sugar they put into things, I hear diabetes screaming from every cup of coffee or latte that is sold. One of the first blogs I wrote on a previous blogging site was titled “Freezing, Fashionable, or Flummoxed.” It was after standing outside this same Starbucks 10 years ago. A young lady had mittens on, a hooded, fur-lined, parka, short-shorts, and UGGs. I remember being stunned by all of it. Again, there are times I find myself feeling old . . . what I find to be appropriate dress in classrooms or on campus, and what I see many students wearing continues to push my understanding of professionalism or appropriateness. I have, in fact, add some requirements regarding attire to my syllabi.

The pushing of limits seems to be the norm in our daily culture than the exception. This occurs in fashion, in our speech and communication, and in what we seem to allow either ethically or otherwise. During the past week plus, I have listened to the Impeachment Inquiry Hearings. I feel a bit badly for anyone being called before the committee at this point. Many of them have reiterated they are not there to predict or push for an outcome, but rather to answer the questions and the way they are pushed and pulled by both parties are incredible and disappointing. The limitations of our ability to understand how our government works is an important consideration. We have little idea of how the upper echelons of the various agencies and the classified nature of much of what happens goes way beyond the common citizen’s purview. I think all of this is related to my initial thought or purpose of this post in that I believe what we have become, and what is currently happening in Washington, D.C., pushes limits in a variety of ways that cause our country’s fabric to continue to be more frayed and tattered. I remember as a child believing that the President or serving in the United States Congress was something to aspire to becoming or doing. The other day in my three freshmen classes I asked how many of them believed such a profession was admirable or something they would hope to do and not a single student raised their  hand. In my opinion, I do believe that many of my students are wondering about all of events in the Capitol, but they are not sure what to do with it. As I listen to all of it, even as a sexagenarian, and yes, as a person who has a political preference, I am not sure how it all will transpire. What are the limits of our willingness to accept what I believe is a questionable phone call and the withholding of aid? I think the issue of former Mayor Giuliani and his involvement in an international political process is problematic. I think what will happen is both rather predictable and important. As I listen to the inquiry, it is stunning to me how each party can couch their questions that ignore the former mayor on one hand.

If indeed, the President held up Congressionally approved monies to a foreign country for investigating a company, the 2016 elections, and by extension Vice President Biden (as noted by Ambassador Volker today as an adjusted understanding), I do believe the President will be impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Furthermore, I do not believe the Republican-controlled Senate would convict President Trump, particularly when the benchmark for conviction is 2/3 majority. I do believe as legal commentary noted today, while there is extreme partisanship, there is still democracy. Our Constitution allows for inquiry, which is fact finding, the impeachment hearing, which I believe is a legal proceeding, and then the move to the United States Senate for a trial, which is under the administration of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It is amazing what I learned way back in my 8th grade U.S. Government class. I must give credit to Mr. Flom, that amazing RHS and WHS history teacher who I believe I had for at least one class every year (and often both semesters).

As I move toward the end of another day, to be honest, I am tired. I find that the hours I used to be able to manage and the hours I can manage now are very different. Certainly, the limits have lessened. My endurance has lessened. At the beginning of this blog, I was being examined for possible hip surgery. Again, a consequence of my Crohn’s. This week I have attended four doctor’s appointments from podiatrists to neurologists. Again, my understanding of my limits, while frustrating is becoming more clear, at least in its cumulative effects. There is so much more even today to ponder. The neurologist came up with a couple of possible pathways forward, and decisions are made to try a certain regiment for the next couple of months. If that is not sufficient, there is a back-up plan. I guess the important thing for me is there have always been options. I do not always like some of them, but at least I have them. Throughout this blog I have considered the limits of the various elements of our lives. What is the best way to approach the limit or boundary? Those who know me would probably agree that I push them. I need to understand them; I need to engage with them. That is how I determine what to do with them. Limits and boundaries offer security, but they also allow an opportunity for growth. If we are unwilling to engage and see how they work, what sort of things might we have missed out upon? In my case, I think it would have been an incredible loss. My life would have missed so many experiences: from college to travel, from jobs to hobbies. I grew up hearing how I was not so many things. I grew up smaller, and at times bullied. I did not realize until lately how that would have (and has had) consequences. That will be a topic of a blog probably soon, for a variety of reasons. If I had not pushed the limits of this unique body, I am not sure I would have experienced much of what I have. With that in mind, it is time to get back to work and imagine the limits of some of my students’ writing. Here is my musical interlude that is about this season of thankfulness.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Three Score and Three

carpe diem

Good early morning from the acre,

It is about 4:40 a.m. and I went to bed last night after a wonderful dinner  out and then coming home to commenting and grading. I woke up a short time ago and after lying in bed rather wide awake, I decided to get up and work on a blog and then get back to commenting and grading the same. I am always amazed by how little critical thought and careful analysis seems to go into people’s writing. It is not that they are incapable of doing so, but it seems more to be the case of rushing to fulfill an assignment and check it off the list, particularly if it involves the need to write. I have looked at 20 or more blogs and the great majority of them have no paragraphs. It is sort of one long continuous sentence, stretching along the page like a vapor trail from a jet out across the horizon of a summer sky. Unfortunately, generally it is not quite as impressive, nor as understandable. Often there are some flashes of insight, some glimpse of a pretty intelligent possible topic or path of reasoning, but too often it is not followed up. Too often it is not analyzed in a manner that demonstrates much more than the aforementioned “I just need to check this assignment off the list.” There are some who genuinely put some thought, some systematic care into their writing, and I so enjoy those times because it pushes me to think also. Why the majority never get there is a complex issue, but suffice it to say if one is never pushed to think critically, one is seldom required to analyze the content and synthesize that learning into something more than a multiple choice question or a fill in the blank, professors will continue to get the stream-of-consciousness-but-I-did-the-assignment-why-didn’t-I-get-an-A? responses that too often populate my followed box here in WordPress.

Last evening, I was taken to dinner for a pre-actual Birthday dinner, as that day was still a few hours away. More than once this past week, some of my closest friends asked what I wanted, and then informed me that I was a difficult person for whom to shop. In addition, I was asked why I did not really seem to look forward to a celebration of my birthday? The difficult person for who to shop did not catch me completely off guard, but being a person who seems to eschew birthday celebrations did catch me a bit by surprise. I pondered if that were true, coming to the conclusion that perhaps that is the case. I do know that when people surprised me for my 60th, I was pleased, but more humbled than anything. I think knowing that people were willing to take time out of their Friday evenings to specifically come and help me celebrate a day was the best present I could have received. It is probably true that I do not really need much. In fact, I am trying to remove unwanted items from my space at this point. I even long for that time when I first moved back to Houghton into the little cabin on the portage that was furnished and I barely had enough dishes or other things to cook or feed myself. Where there was more space in my cupboards and closets than there was “stuff.” I remember people telling me I was a minimalist, and my response was “But I have what I need.” I am not sure I even had all of that, but I was pretty content.

I am in the process of cleaning up some spaces, both literal and figurative ones, but it feels good to do so. I am hoping by the end of the month to have a list of things completed, and most of it has little or nothing to do with my daily work. However, completing this task so I can focus on the things I need to do on a weekly basis and plan for the times out of school accordingly will still make my life more orderly and less stressful. I am always amazed by those who have families, children,  or other duties, but still manage to be a professor. I am not sure what it is that I do differently, but I seem too often all consumed by the work and responsibilities that are my 9-to-5 position. Those of you who know me will see the irony of that statement immediately. As I move into the morning and imagine the day, I am not really sure what all in on tap, but I know that I want to walk into the week on an level playing field or at least not behind the proverbial eight ball as most of the Big 10 found itself yesterday. Speaking with others yesterday, it is amazing the clutter we collect in our lives. I am still debating a garage sale or large boxes to Salval or Goodwill.

Ponder for a moment if you will; think back in the memories of your lives and what was the happiest of birthday celebrations for you? I am not sure I have one specific birthday, though the one mentioned above sticks out. Perhaps that is because my memory is not sharp enough to remember earlier points in my life. I remember some stupidity on some birthdays from yesteryear, but I am quite sure that is not how I wish to spend my given day at this point. I think in a collective sort of way, what I remember about birthdays most from growing up was the amazing birthday cakes that would come from my Grandmother’s bakery. We always had our own specifically decorated cake, and then there was a half sheet cake, decorated in corresponding colors for everyone else. Grandma was a fabulous cake decorator, which is quite amazing, as I am realizing she had some arthritis in her hands. I am not sure what age I was, but I remember her buying me a 20″ Schwinn bicycle for a birthday. I might have been six or seven. I remember scratching the front fender in some of my rather futile attempts to ride without training wheels. I was devastated and cried as I looked at the scratched paint, and I think I had also dented the very tip of it. I am not sure if I ran into the picnic table, the garage, or the house. Yes, it is true; learning to ride on two wheels was a difficult task for me. All the sort of rite of passage birthdays for me are rather unmemorable. I am old enough that 18 was more significant than 21, but I was in Marine Corps boot camp, so I was careful to make sure no one knew it was my birthday. For that 21st birthday, I was in my first weeks of college at Iowa State.  The 25th birthday I was a sophomore at Dana College, so as you can see there was a bit of a hiatus from education at that point. I do remember a 30th where I was back in seminary, and I remember being in married student housing and I think there are even some pictures from that event with the appropriate “over the hill” wrapping paper, and a pancake breakfast that had pancakes that resembled 30. The 40th was one of those less than stellar moments in my life, even though I had returned to graduate school at Michigan Tech. By 50, I was finally finishing the route of various degrees and I had a decade/dissertation celebration at the Decker’s residence when they were still living in Menomonie. I noted the 60th above, so now I am a bit older. What do I have to show for the life I have lived?

As always there are a variety of ways to view such an existence, but for me I think what I can show this has been no easy path, but I am also not complaining. Not to sound cliche, but first of all, I am here. In spite of consistent and significant health issues since my late 20s, I have maintained and I am doing quite well. I think I am healthier today than I have been for a number of years. That has led to my being more content, more settled. In spite of some new health news that has created new challenges, I don’t feel overwhelmed or sorry for myself. In fact, the challenges have led me to precisely the opposite. I will manage them and be even healthier. I have had the opportunity this past year to travel and be a student again. I think learning for me is the most rejuvenating and satisfying thing I can do. Being immersed in another culture, even one that is not technically part of my heritage, is something that is a highlight of this 60+ years. Have I begun to consider retirement? I have, but it is not something I feel compelled to do or something necessary. Would I like to slow down a bit and perhaps putz around and do only what I want? I imagine it at times, but I think I would get bored. If I were to do it all over again, would I change much? Probably not, not even the health stuff. I think the health issues have resulted in my being grateful and feeling blessed more than my feeling afflicted or being dealt a bad hand. Perhaps it was the thoughtful, brilliant, and sort of fatherly neurologist, Dr. John Carlson who helped me understand it best. When he looked at all of my charts and heard about my birth story, he said the fact that I was a normal functioning cognitive individual was quite miraculous. That was perhaps all I needed to hear. As I was telling someone yesterday, my great-aunt Helen once told me that even as a two year old, I was happy-go-lucky, ever smiling, and wanting to be helpful. I am not sure I am always smiling, but I am generally happy. I might be a bit more understated in my emotions than I once was. I might be a bit more introverted than I once was, but most importantly, there is no “was” to me. I am. I have a job that I find fulfilling and meaningful. I have colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who make my life more interesting and enjoyable. I live in a place where people still care about the other, and though I am often surprised by some of what I read or hear, many people are genuinely good and reasonable.

So what might I change? What do I wish I might have done differently? Do I wish I had been a father? Perhaps, I think I really did miss out on something there, though some people have helped me overcome that omission: Becca, Cassie, Shiama, Ashley, Melissa, Becky, Jordan, Jeamie, Monica . . .  I think you get the picture, but they can all be sent home. I wish I would have learned more languages and traveled more earlier in my life. I wish I might have gotten my education done a bit sooner. Perhaps I wish that I might have grown up or matured a bit sooner. It seems I was often trying to catch up. I have had a somewhat itinerant life, but it has generally served me well. Perhaps, I need to say something like this. For those I have offended or hurt, for those I mistreated or harmed, please accept my most sincere apologies for my failures. For those who have blessed me, assisted me, cared for me, and there are so many: from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I am blessed to make it to another milestone day. I am truly blessed and I hope I can be as much of a blessing as you all have been to me.

With care, and thank you for reading,

Michael

The More I Learn . . .

Hello from the house,

Sometimes, it seems just as I think I begin to figure things out, I realize how little it is I seem to know; and more profoundly, or even more frighteningly so, the miniscule number of items or circumstances  I can actually control. This past week has reminded me once again of the intricate way the negative feedback systems and the various elements of our body are so interdependent. Over the past 96 hours, I have felt more vulnerable and more overwhelmed than at most any time in my life. Even in spite of some of the dire diagnoses and battles I have faced in the last two or three years, I have thought that my life and its existence to be more tenuous than ever before. Doctors’ appointments, prescriptions and the regiment of vitamins have seemed to overtake my life. To be frank, I don’t like it. The vulnerability I have felt since December is both beyond scope and severity than with any other battle I have faced up to this time. Well, on a positive note, I do believe my doctors are in good communication with one anothe. Furthermore, logically,, it appears there’s a reasonable path forward; some of the symptoms this past week honestly had me wondering if I wake up in the morning. That has been disconcerting, at the very least and then other times I have been damn  well frightened. I know these past months helped me understand my disease as well as the complexities and consequences of it more completely than I ever have. And perhaps it’s my age and what seems to be somewhat diminished strength to fight it that has me feeling more compromised than I have ever have. Perhaps it’s because it seems to be affecting a significant number of major organs none of which you do without. Perhaps it’s because two people I know well spending years around them have  either finished their days or seem to be nearly there. Mortality has hit me in a way that I cannot escape.

It’s also reminded me that there are things to do, pieces to finish up, and realizing that I probably will never get it all done. I’ve tried to reach out to certain people and they promised to get back, but busy lives get in the way and you realize where you  lie on the priority scale. Lest one think of oneself more highly than they ought, words or promises broken can remind us that we are not as important that we might want to believe. It might seem that one wants to wallow in self-pity, but that’s not the case. Is it more my willingness to give up some idealism, something I’ve held onto my whole life, which in this case might allow me to more easily let go of things that I do not often let go of. In some cases it’s things and in some cases it’s people. I learned long ago it is easy to let go of things. Two divorces and losing most of the worldly  possessions had taught me that things don’t really matter. In fact, I’ve accumulated way too many things again. It might be easier just jettison and dispose of some of them. People, on the other hand, are something quite different. One of the things that I’ve tried to maintain in my life, but not always perfectly, is to remain loyal and to reach out to people again and again. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, or once again maybe the stark reality of seeing life for what it is, I’m ready to let go of some things. Yet, I know myself, and even when I push away, most often I feel guilty. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to minimize the hurt, but releasing someone for letting go can also hurt them. If I focus on my own heart, my own hurt, am I being selfish, or merely attempting self preservation? I’m never quite sure. I certainly know there are persons to or from whom I’ve closed myself off, but they are few and there was surely some time between one incident (or person) and the event (or the relationship) that seems to have precipitated that distance. So I certainly know this is a two-way street, and to claim otherwise will be disingenuous. I also realize that some of this is busyness, if you will, but again on both sides that only goes so far. It is just a matter of priorities and intentions. For me, at times, it is a matter of fear, which creates a sort of paralysis. It’s a matter of embarrassment and trying to overcome a path or circumstance that was created as a consequence of my failure. I remember in seminary coming home one day and quite literally crying because I had been blown off, or so it seemed, by a classmate I considered to be a dear friend. This was no average person;  this is a person who is stood up at my wedding. It was one of those times that Susan, my first wife, provided me with a stunning insight. She said, simply, “You have a sense of loyalty to others and you expect the same from them. But not everyone is like you and you can’t expect him to be so.” The second sentence is probably a bit of a paraphrase, and more grammatically correct than initially spoken, but that’s my own quirk, which, by the way, is ironic as I am going through and editing this mistake-filled posting. This editing indicated I am feeling better and can focus a bit for the first time in a week. However, what I have realized in the many years since, she was correct. While many say I am still loyal, and perhaps to a fault, I’m not sure I still deserve such a moniker. Sometimes I believe it’s just my own insecurity or fragility that gets me in trouble.

I need only look at my own current situation and realize how focused I have become and the day-to-day tasks of managing my health and the necessities at school every day, feeling that there’s always more things on the list than the things I’ve accomplished. I’m quite sure that other people’s lives are the same. But there is still questioning priorities and for some reason I’ve always attempted to make people who have blessed me or caused a profound change my life to maintain a high enough priority to stay in touch with them. Much as Susan said, I cannot expect other people to do the same thing. I know this logically.  but emotionally I struggle. And when I take pause, the reason for such a struggle is not difficult to understand. It is that need to belong  and to matter. It is fundamental to we are as humans. Even the most introverted person needs community. We need to know that somehow we matter, we make a difference, and that what we have done was not done in vain. Yes, if we depend on other people for such validation, we create quite the dilemma for ourselves. In the past couple days, it would’ve been my father’s 102nd birthday. For anyone who has read my blog for a while, you’re aware of how profoundly he has influenced my life and many of my traits come from him, in spite of the fact that he adopted me. I remember speaking at his funeral, and noting that his three families were there: his home family, his work family, and his church family. Those were the significant elements of my father’s life. He always had something to say about the conditions of the world and the world around him. That was, in part, I think because he grew up in the depression and five children slept a little two bedroom house. He took little for granted and promoted hard work and keeping one’s word. While he lived his life somewhat simply, he understood the complexity of this world. Again I would imagine that was because he had been in the service and served in the European theater in World War II. It is hard to believe this year will be 20 years that he’s been gone. . . and as I’ve said before, I will repeat, he keeps getting smarter. He never stopped reading; he never stopped listening; he never stop learning. Certainly,  the Mike and the Mechanics song that I posted in my last blog would work for him today. I still smile when I think about him singing in church. He had a terrible voice, but he loved to sing. I smile when I think of our Saturday ritual of washing cars and shining shoes. I smile when I think of how often he worked in his yard and wanted it to be perfect.

Perhaps the best part of writing and thinking about my father is it has improved my mood. While my health is still a struggle this morning and breathing without congestion or wheezing seems to be out of the question, at least for the time being, it is a beautiful day and for the moment I am sitting on my porch staring at the traffic and wondering how I missed the person with whom I was to go to dinner. I have emailed him saying please come back, but he’s not the easiest person with whom to stay in contact. So I’m not sure what will happen. But sitting and relaxing looking at the trees just beginning to bud and things finally starting to green up, has done wonders to help my spirit. For the most part, it’s a good day. It is certainly my hope, that I can see notable progress in my current health situation. I hope the end of the semester goes smoothly and productively. There is still much to do, but I need to keep plugging away. I need to thank my traveling nurse for her continued help and willingness to offer her insight and wisdom. The help means more than words can express.

It is an Easter Day shortly after noon, so I will finish and hopefully get enlightened and inspired for the coming week. If you’re with family and friends,  I hope you have a wonderful day. If you’re alone, I hope you will know that you make a difference, even in your solitude. To my father, thank you for all you did in my life and for what you taught me. I still love you. This video is for you. You loved his music. I offer this to you and others who have somehow seen me as unforgettable.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

If I had Known . . .

Good morning from my office,

As a way to catch most up concerning the outcomes of appointments and tests, I think I will offer information here. Thank you, first of all, to all who have inquired about the continuing issues of managing the Crohn’s and its consequences. I have been to more doctors’ appointments (yes, the plural is accurate in both cases) and there are more doctors’ appointments yet on the horizon (again accuracy in the plurals a second time). The easiest way to explain everything that seems to be sort of crashing in upon me at the same time is this. First, the removal of a large intestine in 1986 and 30 plus years of not having the main water absorption organ in my body has caught up with me. Second, the removal of the J-Pouch, which was created after the colectomy, which was a significant portion of my ileum, a part of your small intestine, as a consequence of that surgery never really working, has created a different absorption problem, that being primarily B complex vitamins. Together, both the combination of these issues and their cumulative effect on my body (and that includes extensive parts of my body (e.g. organs, blood supply, nervous system . . . you get the picture)) had me in much more dire straits than I realized. Fortunately between my CPC, a phenomenal neurologist, an outstanding gastroenterologist, and some thoughtful nurses and PAs in December, I might have the best chance to be honestly healthy I have been since the beginning of all the surgeries over 30 years ago.

So what have they done, or are they doing? As of yesterday, I am getting B complex vitamin shots on a daily basis for two weeks. Then I will go to once a month for the rest of my life. My last blog gives some idea of why this is so important. Second, I have another test (MRI) of my mid small intestine coming next week to make sure that the Crohn’s is not currently active. Third, I am meeting with a GI nutritionist to see what is the best way for me to get some other vitamins and minerals into my under-absorbing body. I could go back to the U.P, steal copper and chew on it, but I am not sure that is a good plan. I am now taking 50,000 units of Vitamin D a month, Folic Acid, a statin, and aspirin daily to manage the other issues that have been deemed problematic because of this absorption, or lack thereof, issue. The shots are not difficult (I got one last night and another this morning). Taking pills is not one of my favorite things, but again, it is not that difficult. There are two issues to which I need to attend once again. I need to lose 30 pounds (and 40 would be better), and I need to get my blood pressure back down. It is once again up above where it should be. Some good news included the levels that point to kidney issues, which popped up in December for the first time, seem to be back to normal. The next, new, issue is a cardiac issue. It appears my heart is beating too slowly and that too seems related to the B complex vitamin issues, which is again related to surgeries because of the Crohn’s. It seems my body is adverse to absorbing most everything, which causes me to wonder how it is I need to lose weight. How can it be I have gained weight when I cannot absorb, but then again lack of energy and an increased amount of sleep might be the culprit. Seems a logical question, without a logical answer beyond what I have just offered. Yet that has often been the case with the somewhat  normal, and profoundly abnormal, way I have been required to manage my modified digestive system. As I noted in my last post, there has been little that seems I can do to change what my body will or will not do. I should probably be astounded that I have made it as far as I have.

What I sometimes wonder is what if they had diagnosed me with Crohn’s in elementary school, when they believe I probably contracted, though I am not sure one contracts it; of course, there is the doctor who told me I was probably born with it. In some ways I would be more comfortable with that as my reality. If one has it from birth, it just is. One can still question the why, but as I have learned, there is still much that is not known about Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs) and their causes. Immune issues seem to come up the most often. Of course, there is a question about what treatments might have been available to me (or more accurately for me because it would have been my parents’ job to help me manage something). I do wonder, again as I have noted, what it would be like if they had been able to keep my body intact. That seems to be the most significant or problematic topic or puzzle (we’re  back to that) currently. Yesterday, I had three doctors call and it was actually very satisfying to tell the neurologist that his appointment time and conversation with me might have been the best two hours I had ever spent in front of a medical professional. The care, detail, and willingness to answer and explain was like nothing I had ever experienced. For the first time in over thirty years, I believe I have a clear sense of how all the parts of the body interact and why the surgeries that I have endured were not the end of the story. Logically, I knew that, but I am not sure I have ever really considered what might happen. “It astounds me as I write to realize how much of my life is controlled by this 4×4 wafer and 10” pouch. The struggle to be seen as more than someone with a serious illness confronts me emotionally more than most know” (Martin 2011). When I wrote these words I was still coming to terms with my personal struggle. I also wrote, “So what is my identity? Who am I? I am a [61] year old male who was born prematurely and that early arrival had consequences; it might have more of which I am not even aware of at this point” (Martin 2011). This is surely the case as I spent almost 20 minutes placing doctors, nurses, and other specialist appointments into my calendar last night. It is surely the case when the majority of phone calls received today were from scheduling people at Geisinger (I think I had 5 calls today). The consequences are currently daily trips to the doctor’s office for injections, taking more medications, and wondering how to manage an HSA that seems to ask for more documentation that ever, all under the guise of blaming the IRS. When I was working on my comprehensive exams, one of the books I read was an astounding book by Arthur Frank, titled The Wounded Storyteller. There are moments I feel that is what my blog has become as of recently. I am able to accept the reality that I am affected and wounded by the fact that I am missing more intestine than I have left. “It is in that wounding I am reminded that I am still capable, or more accurately that I can still fight this with all my might. It is in suffering that I know that I am present  . . .  I am a person with an insidious and chronic disease. It is fighting to control me,  but differently from times earlier in my life, where I let it control me, now I refuse. It is taking more time than I wish, but for the moment I will give it its due, but I am coming back. I believe through these injections and managing motility, I will once again beat it back.

I am pretty sure that it is best that I did not know where all of this would lead because I am not sure I was strong enough earlier in my life to stand strong. As I noted once again in that paper, the role of telling all of this is a sort of testimony and the role of being able to tell a story, particularly a story of illness does allow  one to suffer, not in loneliness, but in a pedagogical way, a teaching way. Perhaps that is not surprising because I am both a storyteller (ask my students) and I am a teacher, but not a memorization person. I am one that pushes people to analyze and think about their situation. I am a firm believer we are all teachers in our own way, just like ministry can occur in many places outside the Sunday sanctuary. When we use a negative experience pedagogically, we are not allowed to wallow in sadness, but we are managing reality forthrightly and honestly. The narrative, the story, changes. This narrative as noted by another author on the chaos of illness speaks about a narrative of restitution. Restitution is paying back for what which has happened. Certainly, the trail of what has happened between my partner-in-life, Crohn’s and me is long. It has been an epic battle and the battling continues. Earlier in my life, the narrative was of embarrassment and rejection. I refuse to allow such a narrative to take hold of me ever again. It is ironic that I continue to address my personal, and intensively private, intestines in such a public place, but again, it is what I teach. How do we use computer mediated communication or our own social identity to come to terms with our personage? It is through this writing that I begin once again to make sense of what is a chaotic body-self dualism. The first time I struggled with the consequences of surgery in a most public way, someone who should have been supportive was incapable of doing so. I did not understand. In my frailty, I could not understand their reaction. What felt like rejection when I needed acceptance perhaps more than ever before was profoundly injurious, but that injury was not as readily apparent as my altered self. However, before I am too hard on the other, it is important for me to realize I could not accept myself at that point. Part of that was how weakened I was from fighting Crohn’s when it was decimating my body. At this point, it is not the Crohn’s, but the consequences of it. While some might not see a difference, I do. If both were problems at the present time, I think this would be exponentially more difficult.

So if I knew what 30+ years would have offered would it have been easier? No way . . . I can say with even more certainty that I do not believe I would have been strong enough to endure it, knowing it ahead of time. What I know even now in the throes of more issues that I still believe this is manageable. This is another battle . . . it is a war, and at some point, I even know I will lose, but I am okay with that. I am just not ready to lose yet. In fact, I am still making plans and putting plans into motion that will affect the next three or four years. In other words, I do not plan to allow these latest struggles to derail the desideratum I am working hard to create. There is much more I could write, but I think it is time to get to the work that is insistently calling for my attention. I would like to give a shout out of thanks to my friend for listening to so much of this story and much more this past week. You have inspired me to hang in there and keep trucking along. Generally, I am able to do this pretty well on my own, but it has been nice to share and for the gift of your insight. I offer this song on your behalf. Well back to Hobbit-land! 🙂

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

Michael

 

 

 

 

Understanding the Puzzle (aka: My Body

Hello from my study,

Somehow when I deleted what I thought was a draft (it said local on it) of the last blog I posted before bed last night, it seems I deleted what I had actually written, so here we go again. I will still post it as a St. Patrick’s Day post, but it is a bit after honestly. This past week was Spring Break, though it had a more oxymoronic flavor to it, or a Houghton/Hancock appearance to it. This past Tuesday we received the most snow they have had in Bloomsburg during a single snowfall in decades. On the patio between my house and my barn/garage, I measured about 26 inches of snow and it was still snowing for a few more hours. I am not sure of the final total, but I think 28 inches is pretty accurate, at least in my yard. I am looking out now and it is snowing steadily again, just in time for students to think about driving back from wherever they spent their breaks. My Spring Break this year was substantively different that last year’s break, which was spent in Ireland. Howver, I knew that going in because of the medical incident that occurred in December. Yet, I would like to offer somewhat of a shout out to those I met in Ireland last March.What a wonderful 5 days that was. The food was phenomenal (and those of you who know me, know I can be coerced by amazing culinary items anytime.). The people are genuinely wonderful and accommodating. Finally, the greens in Ireland are certainly unrivaled by most any place I have ever visited. Siting in a bar the last night working on a paper about the rhetoric of place, drinking a pint of Murphy’s, and meeting two college students from my hometown of Sioux City was quite the irony, but it made the trip all that more special. So the picture above is of an Aer Lingus plane, the national airline of Ireland.

Back in December, as many know, I went into Urgent Care one morning after a week-long virus, but with some chest pains. What ended up happening that day was an Acute Kidney Incident (AKI) as it is categorized, when my kidneys decided they wanted a break. What I did not know, but perhaps should have surmised because of a doctor’s question (if your heart stops can we resuscitate?) was I also was suffering a cardiac issue. What I found out is my heart rate was under 50, which is something called bradycardia or bradyarrymthia. It seems that some of the reason for that, in my case, is probably again Crohn’s related. Because of some complexities in my altered GI track, there are likely conditions that can slow electrical impulses through the heart. When I was in the hospital that day it was probably an issue of both electrolytes and too much potassium in my system. In addition, it seems after a two-hour neurology appointment on this past Wednesday, that somehow the Crohn’s, and consistent subsequent removal of more and more of my gastrointestinal track, continues to have consequences. The area of the ileum that absorbs B complex vitamins, something I no longer possess, has created a malabsorption of said vitamins to be low to the point of being a serious problem, thereby vexing my remodeled insides in a notably  malevolent manner. Some of the consequences of bradycardia could cause me to:

  • Feel dizzy or light-headed.
  • Feel short of breath and find it harder to exercise
  • Feel tired.
  • Have chest pain or a feeling that your heart is pounding or fluttering (palpitations).
  • Feel confused or have trouble concentrating.
  • Faint, if a slow heart rate causes a drop in blood pressure

While I have had all of these things and more often than I realized, none of them seemed so severe to cause alarm. Together, however, when I see them in a list, I am a bit more concerned. Fortunately, a neurologist, who during residency had significant experience in gastroenterology seemed to peg my unique body pretty accurately. What has happened as a result of this appointment is a follow-up with a cardiologist. It seems they might do a thirty day monitoring of my heart and they noted something called a recording loop might be implanted to do actual recordings of heart activity when some issue is taking place. All of that will be done within the next month. In fact I need to return a call on Monday to see when I will have an appointment.

On Thursday it was back to the gastro doctors and a traipsing through that tube we call the digestive system. One of the most important things I have learned is this tube is much more complex than merely something with an opening on each end. When I wrote a paper with two colleagues about managing my IBD issues, I noted that we do not talk about our digestion or elimination of waste because it is too personal and embarrassing, but for the last 30+ years I have had to consider this on a daily basis. Once more, I was told by yet another doctor that I probably have had Crohn’s my entire life, or certainly since I was a child (like during elementary school). After both an endoscopy and ileoscopy, what we expected to find in my remaining small intestine and upper GI areas was exactly what we found: no active Crohn’s. That is a blessing on one level because it is one less thing to manage, at least in terms of additional medication. What is much more evident, however, is that this disease continues to do what I accused it of in that same paper some years ago. I asked, “What happens when there is no recovery from a disease? What happens when this disease [seems] to steal me from myself? How do I get myself back” (Martin 2010)? While I am not adverse to  the tests for Crohn’s any longer, as they have become commonplace, I do have some issues with the disease itself. As I was reminded, we still have little idea how or why someone is afflicted. We know it affects the immune system and I have struggled in a profound way with a compromised immune system. The issue of hydration and absorption of B complex vitamins seems to be the current over-riding concern at this point. I guess the vitamin is called complex because it is. It affects the heart, the nerves, the brain, and the list could go on. Here is a quick list I found searching the web.

  • B1 and B2 are important for healthy functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart. B1 helps the body make new cells and B2 is important for red blood cell production and fighting free radicals
  • B3 helps regulate the nervous and digestive systems and helps convert food into energy
  • B5 breaks down fats and carbohydrates for energy and is responsible for the production of hormones. B5 and B12 are required for normal growth and development
  • B6 supports the immune system, helps the body produce hormones, and aids the body in breaking down protein
  • B7 is involved in the production of hormones
  • B9 helps cells make and maintain DNA and promotes the growth of red blood cells
  • B12 helps regulate the nervous system and plays a role in red blood cell formation
  • B6, B9, and B12 help to regulate levels of the amino acid homocysteine (an amino acid thought to contribute to heart disease when it occurs at elevated levels) (B Complex Vitamins)

Not sure I hoped to be a medical or vitamin handbook here, but the complexity of this one group of vitamins is staggering, both literally and figuratively. It seems there are two consequences that I will have to manage. Hydration, which is a constant problem, is going to be treated by taking of medication to slow down motility. Second, it seems I might be looking at B Complex Vitamin shots. This has always been on the table, but I did not realize that I was in such dire straits concerning all of this. Many of the symptoms I have been dealing with I wrote off to being 60-something. It seems that there is more going on.

Yesterday I also made it to the chiropractor again. The muscle tightness in my lower back and my butt (and I do mean serious maximus) as well as my neck and shoulders was palpable in many and various ways. So for me, Spring Break has been a week of introspection and working to understand how my altered body, one with which I have had a sort of love/hate relationship for 30+ years, is still amazing and resilient. I have been called superman more than once, but I do not feel all that super or amazing. It is what I have to work with. It is not something that I might have predicted, and certainly not something I would wish on anyone else. I remember being told I was a wimp once upon a time. My response in that instance was along the lines of I do not know what it is like to be on your side, and I am sorry for that, but I would not wish my side on anyone. I still feel that way. What amazes me in the past week, though I intuitively knew already, was how every little thing in the body affects and is related to something else. When I was a senior in college, I took and A&P class as med students call it for something to do. I might have been one of my smartest decision ever because I learned more valuable information in that class than perhaps any I have taken. It worked, not only when I was a pastor, but also now for myself. Some have asked why I am not more upset or why I do not seem to feel sorry for myself. There are moments, I promise you, but what being chronically affected by something has taught me is there are always challenges. Sometimes, to use the metaphor of the puzzle, it seems I am trying to put the puzzle together, except all the pieces are turned over or upside-down. I see only the shape, but they are all cardboard grey or brown. What the appointments this past week have done is to turn the pieces over . . . to give me a clearer glimpse of what the puzzle’s entire picture might be. It is never easy when your life is controlled by something you wish you did not have, but I do not feel badly because of the hand I have been dealt. I have a wonderful life. I am better than most because I have a job and insurance (which might be even more amazing considering the news this past week, but I will not go there more than I have by this comment already). I am fortunate because this week, once again, I have been afforded outstanding care by exceptionally intelligent people. I have had colleagues reach out and provide rides and neighbors ask if I was okay. There is so much we take for granted, and even in my compromised state, I am no different. What I do know is that many of the things I am dealing with on a daily basis are more serious than I might have anticipated. Perhaps that is because I have struggled for so long, but I do not see it as a struggle. Everyday we are offered a chance to get up and work at it again. I have a wonderful job and superb colleagues. I get to go in and do something I enjoy everyday. I know that puts me in the minority.
Last year I was reflecting on my Irish heritage and as I was writing this initially yesterday, it was time to do so again, but I do it more often than just the 17th of March, the day we specifically note those from the Emerald Isle. Our heritage is something more than place, it is identity. It is what connects us with our past, but hopefully points us to a future that could be better than from where we have come. It is interesting to me how place comes back into my psyche so often. Is that because I was adopted or something more? I am going to close with the same video I put in the first time. Before I close, however, I wanted to note how astonished I am by people and how our lives seem to work. Recently a person has re-entered my life, most unexpectedly, but also most wonderfully. How do you catch up on decades when the baggage is great and lives imagined are certainly not what occurred? It is fun to share with no expectations and with st least some sense of common history, albeit long ago and far away. Thank you for returning.

 

I am blessed and I hope you find reading this somehow both informative and a blessing. In my most native of languages, at least from what I can figure out, Sláinte!

Thank you as always for reading and Happy St. Patricks Day

Michael

Where has 40 years gone?

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Hello from Fog and Flame,

While many feel there is a let down after the holidays, and there is some truth to that reality. However, the first part of February is, for me, a time of memories and events which have shaped my life in more ways than I am readily aware. The subconscious consequence of that February during my first foray into college has affected me and my outlook in more ways than my surface demeanor generally reveals. The second historical event of early February (and in fact his entire life) actually occurred before I was born, and had I not gone to Dana College and read the book, Letters and Papers from Prison, I would not be cognizant of the 4th of February 1906 and its significance, both for Germany, but more importantly perhaps for our present circumstances here in America. I need to write an actual editorial to the Press Enterprise in response to something published yesterday, but that will come. There is a lot on my plate today, but as is often the case, I need to organize my brain before I can proceed with the day’s tasks: grading, bills, responding to students’ needs (and yes that is the plural form), and getting the CDT ready for the coming week. I spent about 8 1/2 hours or more yesterday reading and commenting on others blogs, but some additional work is necessary today for I have completed that task.

It is early afternoon and many people are getting amped up for the Super Bowl. I am not even sure I am going to watch it, even for the commercials. I would be much better served just doing the work I need to do. If the Packers were playing, I must admit, I would be all over it.  Nonetheless, they did not quite make it, in spite of a rather ridiculous season. I am reminded when I had one of my graduate school officemates over to watch Super Bowl XXXI between the Patriots and the Packers. That was the year Desmond Howard ran back a kick off for a touchdown. There was also the first year I lived here in Bloomsburg, the Packers won the Super Bowl then too and I was in the middle of Steelers territory. Since then there have been near misses, but it is what it is. Ultimately, it is a game that creates a lot of hype and continues to be a cultural phenomena selling a lot of food and beer, and now demands $5,000.000.00 for a 30 second commercial spot. I wonder if that money might be spent more judiciously elsewhere? Again, I am sounding old, but that is becoming more the norm than the exception. The reality of age is front and center in a number of ways, be it in the morning mirror, in a conversation with my PCP this past week, or in the fact that I have scheduled-appointments with three different specialists in the next two weeks. Fortunately, since I came back from Poland, I have somehow been more focused and productive than I have been for some time. I am trying to figure out ways to “ratchet” that up to an even higher level. There is an interesting term: ratchet. It means something quite different today, no diva intended here. Language always fascinates me . . . it is dynamic and entertaining.

Part of my aging focus is remembering this week four decades ago. I had gone away to Ames, Iowa to be a student at Iowa State University and I was not managing that task very well. I had little direction, and, in spite of time in the Marine Corps, little discipline as I wandered aimlessly around that beautiful campus. I lived in the Towers, but did not really like the dorms. I had some seriously-partying-floor-mates and with them I was easily swayed, another example of my lack of direction. While the fall quarter had gone semi-reasonably, the Winter quarter was not off to a great start and when I got back after Christmas, my life was soon to get more complex. I had been foolish in how I responded to a breakup with the first girl I had actually ever dated. Her name was Barb and I was quite amazed by her. The fact that she was my pastor’s daughter, and the sister of my best friend, certainly did not help matters when I mishandled our demise. As such, I was already an emotional mess and decided that it was easy to simply assuage my broken heart through a bottle, a bong, or a blunt, or all of the above. Not a good plan. Within a week or so of returning to Ames, I received a phone call that my older brother had been seriously injured in a rather freak accident sustained while working as an electrician on a simple building project. The consequence was a massive brain hemorrhage and he had lapsed into a coma. My father, in his typical manner, encouraged me to continue with my studies and they would check in with me regularly and offer updates as needed. To be honest, I do not remember how I took that news beyond a rather sort of feeling sorry for myself instead of considering how it affected his wife and three small children. Consequently, I was now even more aimless and I chose to do nothing. I did not go to class, I did not ask for help, I merely drank and smoked more. Foolishness was not in short supply. The short story of what could be quite an entry was I finally went home on the 10th of February to see my brother for the first time. It was the end of the semester and finals were the next week.

As I got to the hospital that night, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what confronted me in that ICU cubicle. My brother was merely a shell of the person I had known. Between being totally assist-controlled and vented, his eyes had been taped shut to keep them from drying out. He had an enormous dent on the right side of his head where they had removed his skull to manage the swelling and he was down to less than 100 pounds left on his six foot frame. My sister-in-law, Carolyn, only 25 years old, was there, and that evening, I had gone to the hospital with my mother. In the five weeks my family had held vigil at his bed, my father, through tiredness and stress, had actually fallen asleep and sideswiped a guard rail on the highway, so they were down to one vehicle. What I realized was in my absence, they had tried valiantly to manage a terrible situation. In that room as I tried to make sense of the sight before me, I held my brother’s hand and spoke to him, hoping he might hear my inadequate and rambling attempts to tell him that he mattered and that I loved him. Yet, shortly after my first arrival that evening, he began to seizure from the complications of his injuries. We were ushered out of his space and they began to work with him attempting to manage those seizures. As we waited in a room for families, I called my father, who had stayed home because of a cold. I told him he needed to come to the hospital (about a 20 minute drive) and he noted he was leaving immediately. A few minutes later a doctor, one of the many attending at that point, joined us in that room as I held my sister-in-law’s hand. He spoke of complications and battles. There was little emotion, but some empathy in his words. Within a few minutes one of the nurses came into the room and they merely looked at each other. At that point, he turned to us and said simply, “I am sorry; we lost him.” I felt overwhelmed and helpless. I felt guilty and worthless. I had do nothing over that five weeks, and it seemed likely that my brother had waited until I showed up to leave this world. I looked out the window as my eyes welled up in tears and said in a voice above a whisper, but perhaps not as a shout, “FUCK!!” I had prayed in those weeks that he might be spared for a wife and children, and all I could see in my selfishness was an unanswered prayer. By the time my father arrived that night, my brother, Bob, had passed away. Again, in his wise manner, as his eyes filled with tears, he sniffed, and said softly, “It is better this way.” He was right, even though I did not want to accept that in the moment. I had to call my pastor that night, the same pastor whose daughter I had broken up with poorly. I had been banished from their house because of my previously mentioned foolish behavior. What I remember about that is Pastor Fred was an amazing pastor, and as the somewhat surrogate father he had become, he managed that side also. I still remember elements of that sermon, and he would eventually one day preach at my own ordination. Over the next couple of days, things are still a blur. I remember reaching out to another girl that I knew and I recollect that she actually went to the funeral home with me the first time I would see him in a casket. I remember needing to touch his hand to feel the coldness, the lack of body temperature, to believe I was not in the middle of a nightmare. I remember being at Carolyn’s house the next day with my Grandmother Louise, who is my hero to this day. That next day I walked out onto the porch experiencing a pretty warm day for a February in Iowa. I stood on the porch and cried. My Grandma held me like she had when I was small. Somehow, I felt safe in spite of myself.

From that time 40 years ago until today, my sister-in-law and I are still in contact and she is more like a sister than anything to me. She and I have both been through a lot, but we have maintained that appreciation for each other. She helped me when I struggled mightily that next year. The grandmother mentioned above would pass away only 7 months later and that was even more devastating to me. I had left Ames and was out of school. I was back home bartending and partying pretty much non-stop. Events that could have caused me a life of trouble were not far from my door. I would wander more, but Carolyn stood by and supported me and loved me, even in the midst of my stupidity. Ironically, in one major aspect I ended up ahead of her, completing my doctoral degree. She eventually did the same and I was able to help her, giving back as she had given to me. Those three young children are now middle aged adults themselves and growing up without their father has had consequences. I see that in ways perhaps they themselves do not. Yet, all three of them are very different; each intelligent and capable, but quite varied when it comes to how they manage their lives. All successful in many ways. Distance as well as my somewhat itinerate lifestyle has not allowed me to be as close as I should have been, but I do believe (or at least hope) they know I am proud of each of them and I love them. Fortunately, one of them has kept me in the loop quite well and for that I am grateful. I have often wondered how things might have been different if that tragic end to my brother’s life had not occurred. One can play hypothetical games and doing such is probably not that beneficial, but he would be retirement age now. I wonder what he would think of this world? He was an excellent mathematician and his two sons have that quality. He was an outstanding musician and I think all of the three children have that. Of course, Carolyn is an outstanding musician also. That is how the two of them met. He was a product of the late sixties and I think he might have been a life-long rebel or perhaps he would have finally settled down and followed our father’s footsteps of being the family person. It is fun to imagine. While he might have been bald, if he had hair yet, I can imagine it in a pony-tail. What I do hope is, wherever and however he might see this, is that he knows that I admired and looked up to him more than he ever knew.

The second thing I  noted in my intro was my college reading, and what eventually became a dissertation, on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For those of you unfamiliar with him. He was a German Lutheran pastor involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In fact, shortly before the camp was liberated, he was hanged in Flossenbürg in April of 1945 because of his involvement in that plot. Bonhoeffer strongly believed the church had the obligation to speak out against the discrimination and abuse of power that was happening in Germany in the 1930s. When referring to the church as the spoke that had to stop the turning of the wheels as Germany embraced the propaganda of the Nazis. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong” (emphasis in original). When he noted the issue of the Jewish question, which of course is what the Nazis would call the Final Solution, Bonhoeffer wrote, “A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself. There are thus three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-à-vis the state: first, … questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions, that is, making the state responsible for what it does. Second, is service to the victims of the state’s actions (again, emphasis in original). The church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Let us work for the good of all.” (Gal 6:10) These are both ways in which the church, in its freedom, conducts itself in the interest of a free state. In times when the laws are changing, the church may under no circumstances neglect either of these duties. The third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to fall [ourselves] within the spokes of the wheel itself. Such an action would be direct political action on the part of the church. Bonhoeffer calls on us within the church to speak out strongly and to act powerfully against injustice, discrimination or executive orders when they create too little or too much law. Bonhoeffer’s call to action is relevant and important in this time. Seems I need to reread some of what I have read in the past. So much more I could write, but I will stop for now and leave you some thoughts about Herr Pfarrer Bonhoeffer.

To my nieces and nephews and to Carolyn, I am thinking of you this week, and I love you all. To the rest of you, thank you for reading.

Uncle Mike as you call me, Michael as I prefer.