Imagining Parenthood

Hello from Kraków,

Forty-seven years ago today, I became an uncle. I wax 16 years old and working two summer jobs. I was staying at my grandmother’s house for the summer, and while I was trying to be responsible, I still had a lot to learn. During that hot July, my older brother and his wife of only 7 months, who were now living in Lawrence, Kansas, would become parents to a baby boy. It was not the life or the place probably either of them imagined residing, but this unexpected move toward parenting had changed their college plans and the world of being a family, of parenting, was now their reality. My brother was a member of an up-and-coming Chicago/BS&T band that had made quite a name for themselves throughout the Midwest and their booking company was located in Lawrence. My sister-in-law, who was exceptionally talented in her own right, had left her New Jersey (across the River from NYC) life to attend college in NW Iowa, I am pretty sure this was not what either she or her family expected as she pursued a music degree. While she and I have spoken, and I know her moving away to college was sort of in here DNA, I am still not sure how she ended up finding Morningside College.

That was a transforming summer for me. It taught me about frailty because during the trip my parents would take to visit their new grandchild, my father would suffer a heart attack. This was before the days of bypass or catheterization, and not realizing the extend of his cardiac episode, my father would drive himself home from Lawrence to Sioux City, a distance of exactly 300 miles. Not an exceedingly long drive, but it was if you had just had a heart attack. I was not home as noted because I was working two jobs and I had to be at the bakery before 6:00 a.m. and I was not yet really driving that much and I did not have a car. In addition, I worked a second job in the evening from 5:00 p.m. until midnight and I worked 6 days a week. Therefore, it was logistically easier to stay at my grandmother’s who owned the bakery, and she was kind enough to let me borrow a work car if needed. I did, however, that summer buy my first car. It was a 1964 Impala and I purchased it for a whoppin’ $175.00. My grandmother also put me on her company insurance, so that saved me a lot of money. I was aware that my parents had gone to Kansas to visit the new parents, but I was not aware of what occurred during their visit. I would not learn that my father returned to be placed in Intensive Care until my uncle, my father’s oldest brother-in-law, would call and tell my grandmother what had happened. Suffice it to say that was overwhelming to me beyond words.

During the next weeks and months, I would eventually move back home, though not until after my senior year had begun and for some time I was driving across town in order to attend the school in the area I was supposedly living. I would move back from my grandmother’s home to my own at the request of my father, more like to plea, to come home. It was a tense and difficult time, but I did as he asked and suffered the consequences and wrath of my mother, who unabashedly told me she did not give a damn where I was or where I would come or go. It was an uncomfortable time in the house in Riverside. That would contribute mightily to my deciding to join the Marines upon graduation. While I was in the Communications School at MCRD in San Diego that fall (1973), my niece would be born. I still remember getting a phone call that she had arrived. In spite of my brother passing away a few years later, after there was a third child, I have been fortunate enough to be in contact and involved in the lives of these three for almost 50 years now. That is incredible that all of this was happening almost a half century ago. What is more incredible to me (and perhaps more of a blessing than a curse) is that I never had my own children. Through the years, I have vacillated between being sad about that and wondering if God knew better than I. I have had people say to me that I would have been a good parent and I have certainly had a rather long line of what I call my surrogate sons and daughters, but when it all comes down to it, they have their own families. At the end of the day, I go home and I am there by myself. Again, the feelings about that are as varied as the events that can occur within a week, month or even year. Perhaps some of what overwhelmed me a week ago was this sense of missing out, but then feeling afraid that I would have been a failure at parenting. Certainly, I have learned more even in the surrogate-parenting than I ever imagined possible. I have learned that allowing a person to be their own person is not always an easy thing to do. To allow them to make mistakes and not impose your values or standards on them is another thing that is difficult.

I would imagine some of that is because I have not been with them from the beginning and as noted they have their own values, traditions, expectations, and things that were formed before they were around me. I sometimes imagine what I have done with some is sort of like begin a foster parent. In addition, I have learned, for better or worse, that I have incredibly high expectations, and perhaps ones that are not entirely realistic. I have learned that I am more set in my ways about how I like things and what I believe should happen than I sometimes realize. What has caused these emotions about the lack of being a parent to surface again? Certainly having my house full for the better part of the past academic year had the parenting thing happening to some extent., but these emotions have seemed to be exponentially closer to the surface since I have been here in Europe. The strange thing is that I have never really found little children that charming. I know that sounds terrible or rather callous, at best, but it seems that the individuals that have pulled at my proverbial heart strings of late are small children, like 3-6 years old. That is an entirely new occurrence for me. I have always had a sort of soft spot for middle school age, and I am not sure that has changed, but this recent appreciation for young post-toddler, but not yet 8-10 year olds has me a bit flummoxed. I have found myself asking parents if I may take a picture of their sons and daughters, and some of them I have posted. As I try to figure out this new aspect of appreciation, there are perhaps two things to which I can attribute its coming out of nowhere. I have a former student, whose wedding I was actually the officiant. She and her husband have a four year old that I have watched grow from infancy. She (the daughter) and I have this sort of grandfatherly relationship and whenever I am blessed to be around them, she loves to have me put her on my shoulders or she loves to sit by me in the restaurant, and her mother says when they go by the Starbucks we often meet at, the question of whether they will see me is immediately being asked. I think what this amazing little person and her mother have helped me do is to not be afraid that I had no way to appropriately relate to them. There is a second little one that is the daughter of a colleague and his wife. She is so smart that it is frightening. She remembers everything and she is like a sponge that soaks up everything that happens and can process it. It must be that mathematician DNA. The other reason I think there is a change is these little ones have a sort of grace and purity that gives me a sense of hope. They have not been spoiled by our stupidity yet. They are little human sponges, whose curiosity and hopefulness provides me that same sense. As I watch the love between that child and their parents, which goes both ways, I am reminded of the goodness that I believe all of us have.

It is that goodness that provides me a sense of wistfulness also. I wonder what I might have been like had I been able to be a parent and grow to see that person eventually grow, have their own children and move into that next stage. I remember the joy my father had when those nephews and nieces, who are at the outset of this post, would come to the house. He was so happy to see them and spend time with them. I have noted in other blog posts that my grandmother was accused by my adoptive mother of spoiling me, and that was not something that my adopted mother either appreciated or had a propensity for doing (as my recent post noted). I do not believe my grandmother spoiled me as I reconsider what she did. I think she wanted to make my life easier because of my mother, but she also believed in hard work and treating others with respect and decency. The worst thing she could have said to me was “I am disappointed in you.” I know that I disappointed her as I struggled to make sense of my world after returning from the service. She would not live much longer, but I had not idea that our time would be cut short so soon after my return. I think she wished she had been my sister’s and my parent for the remainder of her life when she and my grandfather first brought us to lived at 4547 as her sister always called it. I have noted in previous blogs, that was the house where I felt safe; it was the house in which I felt loved. It was the house in which I believed I mattered. It seems to me that is what parents do. They make their children feel safe and loved. They allow their children to learn both by success and failure, but love them just the same. They support their exploration of becoming individuals, but also provide a foundation upon which decisions (both good and bad) can be made. I think perhaps the hardest part of being a parent must be allowing a son or daughter to make a mistake, knowing it is going to happen. It seems that the one of the most difficult things must be allowing each person to be their own person. I think that is something my adopted father tried to do, allow me to figure it out. The picture above is of him in his uniform during the Second World War. The thing so typical of him in this picture is his smile.

There are some people I have watched parent and they epitomize what I believe being a good parent must be. The first couple was my first host family when I was on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. They have two children who have taken entirely different paths in life, but they love them both and support them. They take the time to visit them, which is no small task when one of them lives in Europe. The second couple have blessed me by allowing me such entre into their lives. They lived next door to me when I taught in Wisconsin and they have three amazing sons and daughter, who again are very different, but an interesting combination of both parents, which I believe to be normal. I think what impresses me most about them is they have supported and allowed each of them to follow their own paths, which are quite diverse. They again support and demonstrate that support and love in so many ways. I have told them before, and I will note it here; they give me a sense of hope because they are such incredibly good and faithful people, to their family, their faith family, and their community. I am so blessed to be allowed into their lives, and they have taught be such amazing board games to play too. Quite the bonus. It is ironic that they also introduced me to Lydia and she became a surrogate parent to me or I became the child she never had. Over the past month or six weeks I have had to step back again, considering this life and it has been both cathartic and instructive. Being a parent is consuming; it makes you both stronger and incredibly frail, it seems, simultaneously. It is so hard to walk a line between giving support and instruction, and yet making sure to not control. Sometimes, I think I missed out on so much, and to some degree, to use the words of Martin Luther, “this is most certainly true.” Sometimes, I realize I am able to offer more as the surrogate and I might even be listened to in ways the biological parent will not. What is most apparent to me as I write this is parenting in any form is both inspirational and humbling. I am conflicted by the fact that I did not experience this and what I feel I might have missed, but at the same time, I am blessed that I have other opportunities to make some difference in the lives of many more. I think the most difficult part of me is finding a balance between the two worlds when it comes to my own emotions and reflections. I am reminded of the song by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. Father and Son is an amazing song and it is here for your listening and pondering that relationship of parent and offspring.

Thank you again to all of you who take the time to read what I write, be it once or regularly.

Michael

 

When Do You Actually Work?

Good morning from Kraków (at around 10:15 a.m.).

Because I travel, because some believe it is merely a vacation, because a former administrator argued I was only contracted to work 17 hours a week, I am often asked both when as well as how much (which is more accurately about daily frequency) do I work? I thought about my colleague who had spent the past few weeks in the Shenandoah Valley working on his poetry. As he walked around, as he took pictures, and as he listened to everything around him he was pondering his poetry and how he might put to verse what he saw, imagined, thought, or felt. Is that working? Is that being involved in his required area of scholarship? It most certainly is; it is part of his preparatory work. Yet, can he claim that as work time? For some, the question might be, more accurately, should he? For those, including me, who do not understand his writing process, I am not sure we are qualified to answer that question. This is part of the complexity of being an academic. Academe is not an office job; it is not a classroom job; in fact, I am not sure it should be classified as a job at all. I realize the necessity is being in a position and all the things that entails, from daily expectations to being paid. Yet what I continue to realize more profoundly than when I first stated this (and got reamed and never forgiven for), it is a lifestyle. It is not what I do, it is whom I am. The reality is the position and its influence on what happens in my life is never more than a thought away. Before you think I am lamenting this, please don’t and consider what it means to actually believe what I do for 50 or 70, or in a single class a week, which is more minutes than I like to write numerically, influences someone for possibly as long as they will live. Does that happen for every student? Not even close to reality, but are some students affected by what I have done long after final grades are submitted? Yes . . . And I know this because they have been kind enough to bless me with their words long after the class is finished. One such young person then (not as young now) reached out by text recently and told me what I did 15 years ago in Wisconsin was foundational in getting her to this point in her life. She was completing a Master’s degree. Not all the paychecks in the world could mean more to me than her text.

This post took a bit of a backseat to one that sort of came out of nowhere and then I tried to respond to all the people who took the time to respond to that particular post. It is Friday, the day after Independence Day, and our official Polish course began today. For couple of you, this will come as no shock, but the other day, as I was walking up Grodzka Street, one of the main streets from the City Center to Wawel Castle, I ran into the young man who has been our tour guide for the Bloomsburg students the last number of years. We were surprised on one hand to see each other, but overall perhaps not. Today when I got to class, he is one of my instructors. In addition, one of my two instructors from last year is my instructor again. What that means is I know both of my instructors, and ironically, have had then both on Facebook. This is probably a blessing and a curse because there is an elevated desire to do even better in the course than I did last year. It is also a bit advanced, so today was a bit overwhelming, and we do have class in the morning, on Saturday, but I do plan to work hard the entire weekend. In addition there are a couple of students who were in the opposite section last summer in the section I am in this summer. So there is a history there too.  Is this work related. I will take the easy road first; I could agree that it is not really such. I can make the argument that I have decided to try to teach in Poland and that the preparation to do so is entirely of my doing (and I know that argument will fly or resonate with some). However, on the other hand, I can wholeheartedly assert, as was done and scholarship demonstrates, that technical writing and communication is an international discipline that crosses boundaries and cultures. In addition, the continued growth of international companies and the need for intercultural communication makes such courses even  more valuable. Therefore, the invitation offered from UJ allows me to be involved in a way that is not typical at my university. It allows me to bring something back to my future students and enhances my teaching as a professor with an advanced degree in Technical Communication. As that is the case, all of the time I spend learning Polish, the time I use to better acclimate myself to Krakow is an investment in my teaching. Some of you will argue, nice justification, but when I am teaching here and working with my colleague in Bloomsburg and we are working with students back and forth in both universities, we are also preparing our students for a world that defies the nationalism that is presently occurring in both countries and helps them bridge bigger gaps, which again have incredible consequences.

In addition, while I am here, I have worked on a revise and resubmit for a book chapter, I am trying to finish a book for a book review, and I am working on an incomplete (online) for a student in New Jersey, trying to help them finish their degree. Therefore, there is always something that can be worked on. There is something that can be considered and even as I read and write, I am constantly considering how a particular news article is rhetorical and can be used in my rhetoric class, or how things that are argued about the church, scripture, or religion might fit into my Bible as Literature course. I do not count that as work time unless it specifically finds its way into a course and then I have to do additional work and thought in a preparatory manner before the class, but as some indication that at least initial thought occurs regularly, in the past week, I have emailed seven different articles to myself that I believe I can use either immediately in my summer class or into the fall. As I noted above, at least tangentially, I once got myself in some deep trouble when I noted that getting a doctoral degree was a “different animal” in terms of what it did. This was taken as disparaging someone’s degree in nursing, which if you know me, would be the furthest thing from true that one could fathom, but nonetheless, that comment came back to haunt me more times than I care to count. What I meant in it being a different animal was that it became my life, it was much more than what I would do, it would be what I become or who I am. Those that have been around me in the last year or two are acquainted with a t-shirt I love to wear. It simply states: Silently correcting your grammar. My students do not appreciate the shirt all that much, and a person for whom I have the utmost respect and appreciation for more reasons that can be enumerated noted the other day in a message “if I proofread the grammar in the post, I would get thunder-punched.” I have never heard that term, but I am sure I do not want that to happen. It is true that I read things written or tweeted by others, and I shudder. I listen to people’s speech from time to time and I am mortified by what I hear. I guess all of those sentence drills and diagramming  for Ms. Atwood, the later writing when I was in high school for Miss Barker, and I note the Miss intentionally because she was elderly (at least to high school students) and she had never married, but was quite proud of that fact. Yet, even now, I understand perhaps better than ever before the dynamism of language and how it reflects our culture, our thought processes, our values, and even our history. That is, in part, why I am here learning Polish.

So . . . when do I work? Regularly, often daily, but at the same time I find time to enjoy the world in which I live and, yes, travel. Generally I enjoy the travel. I appreciate what I learn just by watching and listening to people. I met an amazing couple at lunch (called Obiad here, and it is the large meal of the day) from Australia. While at one point, down under was on my bucket list, not so much anymore. However, we had the most interesting chat about the world in which we live. We spoke about economics, politics, which is almost a given when people find out I am an American and yes, for the rather obvious reason, and we talked about rich and poor. It was actually, an enlightening discussion and made dinner at the Hungarian Restaurant I chose for my daily adventure all that more enjoyable. By the way, Orsika, I have a Hungarian man from Budapest in my section also. He does not speak English, but speaks Czech and Slovak, so that will be interesting. His name is Gabor. Even discussions like that can find their way back into my classes at times. Sometime during the coming weeks, I do hope to have lunch with the director of the school because I have research ideas with her that I need to begin to ponder now if we are to work toward something a little more than a year away. I am currently in class about four hours a day, but I have scheduled and paid for extra time to work more effectively and efficiently on my pronunciation and listening skills. I can read and even write somewhat reasonably, but the speaking and hearing is more difficult for me. That does not count the 5 or more hours a day I will probably study and try to work diligently to do as well as I can in this course. I should also work on my Fall courses and updating and working on the course delivery tool elements of the courses. The more I get done in the next few weeks, the more reasonable my life will be when I returned in Pennsylvania in August. So . . . when do I work? regularly. When do I try to enjoy life? regularly. When do I need to have my head into the things my position as a college professor requires? regularly. I think you see the pattern. I do not really take a day off: I take hours off. I concentrate on other things, but my life as a professor is exactly that: it is – it is who I am and what motivates me. It is actually an idea position for the person I am, and yet I know that is, in part, why the day I had earlier this week occurred. Seldom do I really take time for me, just me. Seldom do I take the time to rejuvenate and completely walk away from the position. That is not necessarily a positive thing.

My students and others have called me a workaholic. Those who have cared deeply for me have questioned if I ever put work away. As I can see, even in my writing here, I do not. I understand the ramifications of this life all too well at this point of my life. I understand the being married to the job, if you will. Those are all things I need to ponder and try to come to terms with. That too was part of my struggle earlier this week. While I am sure I am in a much more positive space than Tuesday, this is most definitely a work in progress. For the moment, however, I am alone in my little Air BnB. I am 4,400 miles from home in what has become another home. I have cooked dinner and I am here with my computer and my books. The weekend will be focused upon and consumed by studiowanie języka polskiego. Am I working, I certainly am, but you can decide if it is really work. Hmmmmm  Polish line dancing (Kelli Ritter: this is for you.)

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Twenty-Five Years or so in the Making

Good morning from Kraków,

Let me offer a bit of a spoiler alert on this post: while I am pretty open or transparent in what I post, this blog will probably push that limit of openness as it will reveal to a greater degree than perhaps ever with how I struggle just being human. While we all have frailties, insecurities, and baggage, we are taught too often to stuff it and keep the proverbial stiff upper lip, to suck it up and manage, or quit feeling sorry for ourselves. I know how to do this so well because I have spent most of life trying to prove to others and, most importantly, to myself that I am worthy or that I deserve to be loved and cared for. Certainly, I know from where those demons come and I have been pretty honest about that origin both in this blog and through the therapy I have been involved in through much of my adult life. Undoubtedly, I know logically that my adoption and growing up with an abusive parent was not my own fault, but I also know too completely how it has created a struggle in how I view, and how I wish I might view, others. I give others the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them because I grew up with a person who refused to see the good in me, and only pretended to do so when it served her own purpose, which was to make her look like a loving parent. I try, sometimes desperately or unrealistically, to see the positive in another, ignoring the truth that is staring me in the face. As a result there is a different kind of abuse I am subjected to, that of being used or taken advantage of. This is particularly the case with younger people, probably because I never had my own children. I still logically understand their need to make mistakes and grow, but do I make ridiculous excuses in my own mind about their failings, again allowing them to escape accountability for their misdeeds? I think there is more truth to this than I often avow to. Yet there is a more difficult admission in this reality. I often allow it because I am afraid I will be discarded if I speak out.

I was abandoned, on some level, by parents, who believed my sister and I were not worth taking care of. That would necessitate living with grandparents. I do not remember that time (with my parents) in my life, but I do remember living at my grandparents’ house. Death, alcoholism, and managing a business would require a move for Kris, my sister, and me again. I was on my third home before I turned 5. While that move was ultimately needed at the time, it resulted in a different circumstance, one that produced extended pain for both my grandmother (she did the best she could at that time) as well as my sister and me. I believe with every fiber of my being that the abuse my sister endured led to a life of struggle and a death that occurred much too early. For me, it has resulted in trying to please or accept others regardless their actions, often to my own detriment. Generally I am able to manage the hurt and the inherent loneliness this has generated in my life, but as of late that ability has seemed to recede, to dissipate, sometimes to completely fail me, and the pain of that coping mechanism has bubbled up like the former well in my yard which has once again found the light of day.

The more important question is what to do? Yesterday was excruciating for me. It was a day unlike anything I have experienced for over 20 years. It was a day that I questioned the reason I have lived this long. It was a day that being in Poland probably saved my life. The conflict of my most basic existence caused me to consider buying a ticket, leaving Poland, and flying home two days before my class; the overwhelming emotion of my being alone in Poland, and honestly in a place I usually love, caused more tears than I have cried since I was a small boy. Yet, from where did it all come? I do not have a good or complete answer for my own question, but I know it was the consequence of feeling incapable or stupid. I know it was the result of wishing for a different life while being conscious of the many blessings I have. So was or am I conflicted? Undoubtedly, I am. It was reflecting on all the things I have going on both professionally and personally and hearing a mother’s voice that I am undeserving and that I will never amount to anything, and logically disagreeing while emotionally accepting her edict of doom. It is coming to terms with these two little people inside of me that are connected to and simultaneously detest the other. Somehow the concept of doctor heal thyself rings in my ears. Too often I subscribe to this adage and even the very writing of this blog merely contributes to it. I was asked to consider that very issue in a conversation yesterday. Ultimately, through text and conversation I was able to smile and see beyond the incredible storm of the day.

In addition to the extended conversation and video, others responded. A person, whom I have known for over 15 years, reached out yesterday and was incredibly accurate in their assessment of my current struggle. Their questions and concern were one of the things that made yesterday manageable. As noted a series of FB messages and an eventual Facebook video was also of profound and extreme importance. The simple messages from others, including those from one end of the states to the other, reminded me that I am not alone. To all of you, thank you. More importantly, what to do next? What are the changes or things I might do to better protect myself as well as to face my life-long nemesis, that of believing my mother?

First, I believe I must come to terms with the breadth and the extreme of the ramifications her proclamation has had. Thinking of that is quite frightening for me. I probably have a better understanding of some aspects of this than I care to admit. It is another way I find indescribable irony in my growing up Lutheran and how Luther’s dialectic of paradox so parallels my life. It is a comprehension of the phrase Simul Justus et Peccator that goes beyond what I wish possible. It is both loving and hating my feelings toward something(s) or someone(s) – which might be more accurately somebody – but suffice it to say it is grammatically what it is in this context. It is wanting to be around others and afraid of such, to the point it is easier to push them away. Sometimes I inadvertently do so without realizing or intending it.

My need to control my life out of my own fear of failure creates a disparity that I sometimes cannot manage and as a consequence I lose the very control I so try to maintain. Yesterday was such a day, and for the first time in decades it crushed me. For the first time in eons, I had no where to hide. The struggle with wanting a level of health, both physically and emotionally, was beyond what I could figure out and my ability to cope failed me. Tears flowed in ways I did not anticipate. I was not angry, like sometimes happens; I was forlorn, despondent, and perhaps even broken-hearted. The rejection or perceived rejection of a variety of individuals, which is one is my most extreme frailties, was in every direction, from relatives to seemingly ordinary individuals, from people from my early life to people even here in Poland (or those Polish). Again this rejection or perceived rejection can paralyze me. Why? It is because I believe it simply proves what my mother prophesied, and makes it true. It is me accepting blame for things that are probably not my fault (there is that word again). I know that I am certainly more fragile to some than others, but I wish I could get rid of this fear of rejection across the board. It occurs regardless of the age of the person, the position of the person and perhaps, most profoundly, the gender of the person. The latter of these being the most problematic. Maybe that is exacerbated by age at this point, but it is unfortunately once again the repercussions of my mother. I know my grandmother, as noted, bore the guilt of not being able to care for us to her dying day. I know the pain she felt because she believed her actions were to blame for our abuse. As I have noted on a blog posted almost 5 years ago, I do not blame my mother, nor am I angry, but I continue to struggle with the fallout of her actions. If I could overcome this how different my life night be.

Yet, I do not write out of a sense of needing pity. We all have our demons, and we struggle to improve our own life as well as the lives of those around us. To those I have pushed away, offended, or mistreated, it was probably done out of fear, and my own inability to do the best I could in the given situation. To those I have failed or hurt out of my own anger, forgive me for not doing better. I do not wish to mistreat nor do I wish to create a sense of disregard. I am flawed and frail at times, and while I might seem to seldom get upset or worried, it is a facade I have worked on since I was small. I am simply another fragile human trying to make my way. Thanks to my niece, whom I admire and appreciate beyond words, for the initial image in this blog posting.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

A Wonderful Job and Some Amazing Students

Hello from my little office on the acre.

Many times it seems we have a tendency to only verbalize the negativity we see and feel. I am not sure if it some makes us feel better or if we believe people will somehow feel sorry for us, but I think we are profoundly mistaken on both accounts. I am guilty of this at times also, but I think I generally try to find the positive in most everything I do and in most things I experience. I have a smart ass saying (those of you who know me have undoubtedly heard me say this at times). I believe all learning is positive; when it goes well it is positive; when is sucks, I am positive I do not want to do it again. So there you have it. When I was a seminary student, we were required to do a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and, of course, we were required to take a number of pastoral care and counseling classes. When someone had just finished their upper level pastoral care and counseling course or had finished a unit of CPE, you would hear some specific phrases (known as active listening responses) come out of their mouths (e.g. It seems I heard you say . . .  or did I understand you to say . . .  or when you said this, _________) and we would respond in our best pastoral voices, “Shut the F up!” There you have it: pastoral care at its finest. While that is all true, what it helped us all realize is that we are not really good listeners. Another acronym we came up with, particularly after a really difficult day in clinical or perhaps after failing a Greek or Hebrew exam was that was another AFGE . . . . which stood for Another F-ing Growing Experience, and certainly life is full of those. I smile as I think back on those times because I was fortunate to have some of the most outstanding seminary classmates: Tim Christensen, Karsten Nelson, Steven Blenkush, Kathy Vitalis Hoffman, Tim Quarberg and Sandy Van Zyl, Sue Volden Gunderson, Wilbur and Deborah Holz, and the list could go on. To this day, 30 years later, I am blessed by their presence in my life. Some certainly more than others, but I am still in touch with them. I am amazed that it was 30 years ago (plus a few months) that I found my way to Pennsylvania the first time. It was a bit of a shock for this Midwestern boy, and a much greater shock to my former wife. Being a pastor’s wife was not quite what was expected and I certainly did not always do the best job of being a husband when I was trying to balance being a clergy person to the 3rd largest Lutheran church in the NEPS and being a husband. I had a lot to learn.

It is hard to fathom that I have been back here, but this time in Northcentral Pennsylvania for almost 9 1/2 years. It is the longest I have lived in one place since I graduated from high school. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I was pretty sure I would never come back to the Keystone State, not I am not quite sure I will ever leave. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is certainly not where I expected my life to go. However, I am here at Bloomsburg for that long, and I must say it has been the most amazing and wonderful experience of my life – and I think I can say that both personally and professionally. That has been a pleasant surprise. It has also taken some hard work, but anything worth holding on to is worth working for. Sounds too cliché, but it is certainly true in this case. When I came to Bloomsburg the summer of 2009, I was excited and petrified. I was also feeling tremendously guilty for leaving the little tornado in Menomonie. The move was precipitated by both my inexperience as a tenure track professor and a dean who had decided I was the bane of his existence. Nonetheless, because of a wonderful previous Stout colleague, who would become a present colleague, and even more astounding friend, I was given a new lease on my academic career. While there have been moments of doubt and frustration, the overwhelming feeling I have had since coming to Bloomsburg is simply to be blessed. The department is full of incredibly talented and thoughtful people. They are both strong in the classroom, but there are some prodigious scholars in their particular fields, from Renaissance Literature to a Writing Center and from American Literature to Creative Writing. I still feel like a duck out of water sometimes with my Professional Writing and Rhetorical background, but there has been progress. On the larger scale, I have been involved in committees from the department to the college to the university level. I have learned so much and been fortunate to be exposed to so many remarkable scholars across the university. In my work with the union, I have been put in situations where I am asked to look at issues of labor and fairness and learned the complexity of people’s lives. Every day there is something new to consider and ponder . . .  and yet that is not even what I do most of the time.

As with any faculty person at a comprehensive university, the great majority of my time is spent in the classroom, preparing for the classroom, or grading what comes out of the classroom. Yet still there is more . . .  there is advisement, there is more counseling that one might think as a student struggles to figure out more often than not why they are in college in the first place. I am not sure we have done this generation of students much good by insisting that college is the only way to become a happy, successful person. There are some people who either are not ready for college at 18 or others who should consider other options. Many of the students, however, are merely trying to understand and do the best they know how. Most of my students are good people. Most of them feel an almost staggering level of pressure to perform well . . . and understandably so when someone somewhere is ponying up 100K for their undergraduate degree. That is a breathtaking amount of money for a possible piece of paper that might find them a job. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no guarantee. Yet, they come, much like the mantra in the movie, Field of Dreams.

This semester I have five preps and five sections. That is an overload in more ways than one, but the classes are not full, so overall, it is pretty manageable, and two of the classes are distance, which is an entirely different experience. Much more could be said about that, but there is a time and place for those classes and my Technical Writing class this semester is such a time and place as I have primarily nursing students who are in clinical two days a week for most of the day and beyond and then have a full class schedule besides. This semester, even though we are only into the third week, I have been really pleased with the level of engagement and commitment of the students across the board. It has been one of the best semesters I have experienced in that way. Many of the students are “claiming their education,” which is a foundational article I have them all read. I thought about discarding it because I have been using it for a while, but I hear again and again how it makes students rethink their educational process, which is the intent. So for now, it stays as a required reading. The nicer thing of having a few less students this semester is that I have been able to write more thoughtful and insightful response to their blogs and I hope to do the same with the work they will be turning in.

During the Winter Term, I wrote pretty copious comments on their work for my distance technical writing course and people were please with what they heard and what happened in the class. I have found it you will take the time to let students know you are really paying attention to their work, even when you raise the bar, they will generally rise to the occasion. I was able to do that well, while at the same time traveling around Poland, Italy, and Spain. It was really rather enjoyable. I would get up in the morning and have things commented on before they were up. Then when they looked at things there was usually something there on a daily basis. It worked well. Students are complex people, no different than their professors. We have lives outside the classroom also. The difference is that we are supposedly better as we grow older of balancing things. That is not always true. Furthermore, if we think about it logically, when they do not do something, they affect themselves, perhaps a group from time to time, and then there is some disappointment I imagine from the people who have sent them to college, hoping against hope, they will succeed. When we fall on our noses, which does happen at times, we affect 50, 70, 150, 250 people. Failure to answer an email or grade something in a timely manner is much more overwhelming and disconcerting for our students than we sometimes realize.

What I know from just three weeks into the semester, I have been blessed with some extraordinary students this semester, but that is not a one time thing. I have some magnificent students every semester. I have had wonderful students, whose ethnic background is Columbia and speak English as a second language. I have had a student who is has now earned a doctorate in pharmacy, and is Egyptian and Sudanese. I have been blessed with students from rural Pennsylvania with graduating classes of 50, and they come and work hard and conscientiously hoping to make a difference. I have been blessed to travel to Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, who are studying political science, nursing, biology, business or Russian and they grow up so much in the three weeks they travel. I am blessed to have had students from Spain, Greece, Sudan, Russia, and other countries and I feel sometimes they teach me more than I could ever teach them. I had no idea when I was growing up that I would become a college professor. In fact, I do not think such a thought even crossed my mind until I was in my early thirties. Then when I realized that was where I might actually go, I was probably as petrified as I noted at the beginning of this post. I was not smart enough to be a college professor. At least that is how I saw it. Now I lay awake at night and wonder about why rest is a verb most often even though we call it a noun. I wonder why we cannot do some things that would make life so much easier. I wonder what I can do to merely be better tomorrow than I was today. Why? Because my students deserve that sort of pondering. I am so extraordinarily blessed to be at Bloomsburg in a department of phenomenal colleagues and in classrooms with curious and fundamentally good students. Here is my idea about all of that. I am always trying to imagine things, so in an appropriate way, in spite of the fact I have used it before, I offer this (it is however a re-mastered video from their collection).

I hope you enjoyed pondering and thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Back after 38 Years

Hello from my flight to Amsterdam,

This will be my first time to be in Amsterdam in an fashion. It is a city that I have always wanted to visit, and yes, for many of the reasons everyone hears of, but it is another country to add to my list of places traveled. As I have noted at other times, I was not a traveler as a child. There were numerous reasons for that, but it was most often because of money or time. The very first time I would board an airplane would be in June of 1973 on a flight terminating in San Diego, California and then a short bus ride to the infamous yellow foot prints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD. I was the closest thing one might be to Gomer Pyle sans a North Carolina accent, and perhaps even more frightened. My life I’d travel, outside the military, would begin in the last days of December 1980, when I traveled as a member of Dr. John W. Nielsen’s interim travel class of that year.

Traveling to Europe that year after two semesters of taking Dr. Nielsen’s inspirational and, at least for me, life-changing humanities class, it is ironic as it is, I spent the morning at the Museum of Archeological History here in Ascoli. It was like walking through my Hum 107 class in person. The artifacts in this museum dated back to the 10th century BC. I thought of some of my classmates and how the Humanities sequence was such a difficult thing for them. I found it fascinating and certainly that first trip to Europe, which included Italy and Spain, two of the countries where I am presently traveling, made it all real to me. That was, as I have noted previously, when I learned that learning was experiential and not merely memorizing. Learning was being a sponge as I say . . .  it was soaking it all in. Yesterday I walked up a set of steps to a university that had stones in the walls that were inscribed with upper case Latin letters. Some of the writing I saw in the archeological museum today came from as early as 2500 BC. It is a cross between a script and pictographs. Some of the writing looked like it was Elamite in form (look for Elamites in the Old Testament). However the upper case Latin script was probably from the early Renaissance and those stones were probably excavated and reused. There are medieval churches here on Ascoli that have incorporated standing Roman columns into their architecture. Today, I say pottery, metal works, jewelry, tools, burial items and a host of other things from as early as the 10th century BC until the Roman Empire period. It was fascinating and stunning for me to realize that I was walking among where there had been civilization for 3,000 years. It made me feel very miniscule. My 3 score + 3 is not even a blink of an eye in all of that. Later this week I will be in Spain, in an area that will be new to me yet again, and once again, I am fortunate enough to know someone who lives there. It makes the travel so much less stressful and enjoyable to share all that will happen. It is like having a personal tour guide. I know Elena has provided some things already that I am incredibly excited to see. I think the area of Spain to which I am going has a rich and glorious history of its own. Murcia was established in the 800s by the Moors it seems. It is known as the orchard of Spain, so I have a feeling there will be a lot of fruit eaten in the next week!! That makes me happy. My reading about it shows it has a rich history and a rather multicultural foundation and the wars between the Christians and the Muslims were difficult on the area during that time. It has a very temperate climate and speaking with Elena, it has been in the low 20C the last week, which is in the 70s. That will be a change. She noted it also has gotten to about -7C in during the night, so that is a significant range in a 24 hour period.

Today in Ascoli, the weather was pleasant, not warm, but also not any sort of biting cold. I did not wear gloves nor a hat and I was not chilled at all. Again merely walking around and looking at the buildings and the streets is a treat. There was a significant earthquake here two years ago, and many building now are reinforced to keep them from crumbling. It is quite interesting. I will post some pictures on my Facebook illustrating this engineering feat. Today, I think there were two things that amazed me. First, it was simply that there were artifacts from 3,000 years ago and they were from this area, so that explains how far back civilization in this part of Italy goes back. For a reference point. It is about the same time that David was the king of Israel. This is one of the things I note in my Bible as Literature course. That the Hebrews were not the only people in the world and what was happening to the Hebrews was in a larger global context. The second amazing thing was listening to Gia and Carlo after they came home from school and listening to everything they are required to do each day. Gia has learned to write cursive, and she has beautiful handwriting already, and she spends significant time on her Italian and mathematics. Carlo has learned to speak Italian quite well also, and they certainly do not sound like Anglophiles with their accents. It is really quite wonderful to see how they are absorbing the language. I asked Gia if she was dreaming in Italian, and her response tickled me. “Yes, she responded, but they are nightmares.” I hope she was kidding, but her father noted that sometimes in her restless dreams she is speaking Italian. Language is such an incredible process and tool. When I was in the museum today, there was a graphic that illustrated the connecting threads of ancient alphabets to the succeeding languages. It was fascinating to me and I thought of our amazing linguistics professor back in Bloomsburg, Dr. Angelo Costanzo, and how I wished he were standing next to me. With my rudimentary Spanish, it was interesting to see the connections to Italian and I wonder how all of that happened. Certainly, I wish I would have had the opportunity that Gia and Carlo have now. They have no idea how this will change their perspective on life, themselves, others, and travel in general. It is great fun to listen to Marco, who  is quite proficient as we go from place to place.

While I am sure that Italy and Spain have changed in the 38 years that have passed since I came to these two countries as a college student; I imagine I have changed more. Italy has such a rich and robust culture that dates back to the beginning of our Western Civilization as we understand it, but as I learned today, it has so much more before that. When I was in Barcelona in January 1981, Franco had not been dead that long (six years or so) and the militaristic aspect of Spain was quite apparent. I still remember being stopped on the border as we crossed from France and being searched because I was sniffling, had long hair, a beard, hiking boots, a down vest and blue jeans. I spoke no Spanish at that time and I was petrified as they searched all my belongings. I think my introduction to Spain this time will be quite different. Being a sexagenarian probably has its benefits at this point, and the gray hair and white beard (which more often than I would care to admit) has some calling me Santa – and that is not just those who know me and do it in jest. Oh well . . . again what astounds me is the sense of history that surrounds every step I take, every breathe I take (and I am not trying to quote any song at this point). Each day I see something new; each day I find myself pondering the fact that I am walking where people have walked for 1,000s of years. And I began this blog thinking 38 years was a long time. Certainly it is when it comes to a proportion of my life, but it is merely a blink in the eons of time that I am traipsing through on my own little journey. That is also the great thing. It has been quite a journey. I have been richly blessed by so many things, experiences, and people. Little did I know that a visit to a winery in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, and north of Sacramento would still be affecting me today. Little did I know that a class I took in college in the Spring and Fall of 1980 would prepare me for some of the things I observed today. Certainly the farthest thing from my mind as a graduate student, teaching a second semester writing class to an entire class of foreign students, would create the opportunity to have an amazing connection with a student who is now a student with a PhD from Sudan, or to stay in contact with an astounding engineering student from Spain, who has now welcomed me to visit her and was kind enough to visit me in Poland two years ago almost to the day. Quite unexpectedly, life comes around and things that happen have long-term ramifications. One of the things I have always tried to do is maintain those relationships. Certainly, it does not happen with everyone, and there are times people move on and out of our lives. That is normal; then again, there are times where those past experiences create the foundation for new ones.

So once again, I am traveling and learning. Once again, I am connecting with the gifts, the people, who I was blessed to meet sometime earlier. One of the things positive about all of this social networking, including this blog, has been the ability to stay in touch in meaningful ways with those from my past. All the way back to my roots in Riverside, I am fortunate to be in touch with so many people. Life continues and the journey for me has never been boring. It has been a life of learning and pondering. It has been a life of wonderment and adventure. It has been a life of challenge, but also a life where I have been gifted by amazing people who have helped me with the challenges. I think of Lydia once again. She took an enormous chance with George to come to America, leaving behind the relatives and world she knew, but she survived and thrived. That is what challenge and opportunity offer: a change to survive, a change to thrive, the opportunity to change and grow. I hope I will continue to grow and learn about this amazing world in which we live. There is so much more to be thankful for and as Americans it seems we have lost some of that ability to see what the rest of the world offers. Perhaps we will find it again. The picture at the beginning of the post is looking out over the city of Ascoli Piceno. The video is my hope for the world in which we live. While the later part of this amazing musician’s life was clouded in controversy, the message of this song rings true. Please take the time to watch the video; it is a bit idealistic? Of course, but as I watch two amazing little American children learning Italian, I want this for them.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed new year.

Dr. Martin

 

Prayers Answered

Hello from Costa on ulica Karmelicka,

It is always interesting to return to somewhere you have been before. The change in perception that occurs from familiarity is a difficult thing to quantify, and if the return is more than once, understanding the changes that occur go beyond mere perception to emotion. I think of how Riverside, the blue collar suburb of sorts where I grew up in Sioux City was my home for the great majority of my childhood. Yet, in a sort of reverse of what I am alluding to, it has been so long since I spent time there that some of the memories of places that no longer physically exist (like my grade school). How much of our emotional, spiritual attachment is based on the physical experience? How is it that memory is evoked by movement, sight, repetition? These are things I lay awake sometimes and ponder. I am sitting in a coffee shop I came to my first time in Kraków. However, a barista from my summer work here who worked at a Costa I had immigrated to is now at my original Costa hang out. Each Costa carries memories with it. I was unaware that Mariusz had transferred, but he saw my Facebook post and let me know. It was nice to connect a familiar face from my extended summer to the Costa of the past 5 years.

More importantly is how my geographic awareness of Kraków is so much more acute than in my previous visits. It is interesting to me how summer for me leaves more lasting impressions for me. Is it because of language? Is it because I walked so extensively and spent so much more time taking in things. I also think the light of the summer and the longer days also affect my ability to assimilate things. I think part of it is that I am happier and more energetic.

However, as I walked to Dom Profesorski this morning, the memories of students from each year I have been here came teeming back. To see some of my own students on this year’s trip as well as long-time colleagues here for the first time was quite a boost to my morning. I am only here for not quite a week, but even the few days of refacing my summer steps in the winter season has come something to assimilate this Krakówian (a sad attempt to connect Polish with an English adjectival ending) experience even more. As I sit in Costa and work on my last blog of 2018, I realize things still do not slow down.

Yet, I cannot remove the poignant memories of my first visit to Kraków and Poland. I had left Wisconsin and said an incredibly emotional final goodbye to an amazing woman who had become my mother and so much more. I was coming to the ancestral country of her husband, a person I had not met. I remember Lydia’s Christmas Eve Polish conversation with the spirits in them corner of her room. I had asked her if George (Zdzislaw) was there. She nodded in the affirmative. I then asked her if she was ready to go home. She shook her head decidedly and sternly in the negative. She knew what she wanted to the very end.

Four years ago I was wandering across center city Kraków for the first time being shown around by Robert, Maria’s father. Ironic, how a student connection created what had become an integral part of my life. It was a day much like today, a bit grey an while chilly and damp, not anywhere really cold. We went into the church where Saint Pope John Paul II had served as the Archbishop of Kraków. I lit a votive candle and prayed. I actually took the time to reach out to George specifically in the prayer. I asked him to convince her it was time to come home. It was the first time in my life I wanted to let someone I do loved go. It was the first time in my life I remember reaching out to someone I believed to be beyond the bonds of this life to request their intervention into the world I knew. In spite of my theological foundation, I wondered the how, but believed more in the reality of its possibility. As I raised my petition, i remember my eyes filling with tears, but also feeling a sense of calm, believing it was time to let her go. Again, for the first time in a very long time, I prayed for what was best for the other. I remember telling Robert what I had done as we left the confines of this holy space. The remainder of my day was preparing for a New Year’s Eve that would be spent with the Paras.

What happened in the next 24 hours or so still amazes me. I would go to sleep on the first of January, ready to imagine a new year. I had not been long when my cell rang. It was Nathan telling me that Lydia had passed away. It was still January 1st in Wisconsin. To this day, and particularly on this same day of the year, four years later, I am as convinced as ever that my being in Poland, George’s ancestral county an in the parish of the former Archbishop had consequences for the simple, yet fervent, prayer of a dutiful, surrogate son. This fall my Bible as Literature students asked me how I understood the workings of faith. When I am asked such things in that class, my default is to remind them it is not a religion class, but rather a literature class. Yet much like my confessions professor in seminary as we pushed him on his opinion about something about the Lord’s Prayer, I allowed for an answer. I said both simply and humbly that faith for me is best understood through the single verse out of Hebrews. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This has been my foundational verse for most of my life, and even more so as a seminary student, pastor, and beyond. To pray requires faith. To pray requires both a sense of assurance and of hope. To pray to that unseen requires a strong conviction (or maybe even a simple one) that your words actually are heard and make a difference. Then there is a belief that what happened in the next 24 hours were a consequence of the said prayer. The very fact that I am recounting it four years later illustrates that somehow I have the assurance of this thing hoped for.

Today as I sit in Costa, I cannot help but remember the various student groups who have been here in this amazing city on the last week of December into January. My first year, there were three students in particular. Joe had been a student in my Foundations class and would go on to graduate school, not just anywhere, but in Israel. I am quite sure that what he learned from Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska had a profound influence on what we would study. The next sure I was fortunate to come along in a different way, as part of the faculty-led program. Again, some of the most amazing students were on the trip. I think of a veteran military student who would come back in Krakow the following summer to study Polish and work on his dual citizenship. I think of another student with aspirations to go to work in the Peace Corps and was accepted until his health created a difficulty. I think of a young woman who was both an outstanding student and absorbed every cultural event or exhibition we visited like a insatiable sponge. There were students the next year who are now here for the third time leading others, that is how much Krakow has influenced them. Last year, we were blessed to have the president of the Alumni Association for the university come and accompany us on part of the trip. During those years, I was fortunate enough to visit places like Budapest, Lviv, and Prague. Twice I have gone to Austria, and Lydia’s beloved city of Wein, but I need to go back on my own and spend some time. As I returned for this trip, I have met the group at their accommodations on ulica Garbarska, but I am not traveling with them. In fact, I am traveling on my own  with a most dear person and on Thursday will be flying to Italy to visit my great friends, Marco and Belinda and their two amazing children. It will be the first time I have been in Italy since 1981. After a week there, I will be going to Spain and visiting my friend, Elena, a former student at MTU, and one who visited me on my second trip here to Krakow. This visit is a promise kept. I think the important part of all of this is how the amazing connections and people I have met have changed my life and made is such a blessed one.

As I finish this blog, I am reminded of that first journey. It is now still the first of January in the States, but it is early on the morning of the 2nd here in Krakow. I walk up this morning about 2:00 a.m. It was exactly the time Lydia passed on four years ago. I did not realize it at the time, but the time corresponded to my answered prayer. It is interesting how I believe those spirits and powers outside out lives work both in ways too subtle for us to realize and sometimes in ways to obvious to miss. I know that the people who I met from Comforts of Home, Lydia’s abode for the final almost four years of her life, still influence me. Carissa, the administrator who treated Lydia as her own grandparent if you will, Angie, Breanne, Leah, Leighann, Marissa, Mindy or Stacey, and others whose names escape me at 6:00 a.m., will always be dear to me for the care you provided her. It is now the beginning of yet another year. I wonder what prayers are being offered even today as those individuals in the twilight of their lives are struggling with the most simple of tasks. I wonder about those amazing caregivers who give more of themselves than even they realize and for so little monetary compensation. I wonder about even my own existence when there are sometimes more maladies than I could have ever imagined to manage for an aging, but still small-child at heart, traveling professor who seldom grows old of learning something new. What are the prayers I will offer as I finish this blog. I think my prayer is simple and yet profoundly difficult.

As I read the news in America from here in Central Europe, I pray that our elected leaders can learn to listen to those who have elected them (and I realize the cacophony of voices is difficult and painful to hear for all the disharmonious sound) and act for the mutual benefit of the country that has elected them. I pray that a President who was duly (and embarrassingly at times) elected might realize that the tweeting that he does has consequence, whether it be some random thought or his real intention, and when he puts things in public, it is done as the President. I pray that we can see a global and civilization that needs care and mutual respect for all people, that the desire to have freedom and the ability to thrive is a human desire not a gift that belongs to only certain people on the winning side of a wall. As I travel and see students from Bloomsburg once again, I hope they will see the profound goodness of the places they visit and remember the profound evil that we as humans can unleash given the right circumstance (their visit to Auschwitz this weekend). It is all here in this beautiful country called Poland. I pray for all my friends and even those outside that realm that they might be blessed with health, with a sense of happiness or contentment, and that the things they do will be a blessing to those around them.

Welcome to a new year and bless you all. Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Learning Begins Again

Hello from my corner of the office,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin