SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

I am currently waiting for a recopying of paperwork that I managed to misplace before I even got out of the hospital today. I am not sure how I managed that, but I did. I have been diagnosed with something called Short Gut (or Bowel) Syndrome, which is a direct consequence of the surgeries I have endured because of Crohn’s. It is primarily an issue of malabsorption of the intestinal tract. In my case, it is the combination of the removal of the large intestine (or total colectomy, which began in 1986) and the eventual removal of a significant portion of the ileum or part of the small intestine (which occurred completely in 1997, after reconstructing it in 1991 and again in 1993). For me the malabsorption is really no absorption because those parts of the intestinal tract are no longer present. The present treatment as it appears will include shots, vitamin supplements (of or for a number of things), a change in fluid intake, and a different diet. At least for the time being, I will not need parenteral nutrition (which would be vein feeding). The significant point in all of this is pretty simple. Once again, I have some sense of what is happening and why. Now I merely have to make the changes necessary to manage all of it. Most of my life has been about managing a situation where it seems things might have come up a bit shorter, smaller, or earlier than imagined.

Throughout high school and even into, and for most of, the service, I was the younger one, the shorter one, the smaller one, and probably, though difficult to say, the more immature one. All of those things had consequences for me. Being shorter created what might some call in today’s world bullying, but I saw it as a sort of teasing, and, indeed sometimes it had negative consequences. On the other hand it taught me how to cope; i learned how to manage difficult situations with both decorum and a sense of humor. That was significant because if I had been inclined to fight over most of it, I would have spent most of my childhood getting my ass kicked. My Great-aunt Helen once told me that I had developed a pleasant and pleasing disposition early in life (like before I was 2). Being shorter meant I was always in the front row in those group elementary school pictures. Being shorter meant that I was not going to be a basketball player and the fact I did not weigh three digits until I was senior in high school meant football was probably not a healthy choice. Instead, running and such were much more suited for my shorter, lighter physique. Then there was the fact that I looked even younger. Where I went to school, we had a junior/senior high school. Seventh (7th) graders were initiated, sort of like college freshmen and beanies back in the day. Looking as young as I did, I was still be initiated when I was in 10th grade. I remember going to a youth event for my church and being embarrassingly mortified when one of the older members of my youth group made fun of my minimal body hair when I was in 9th or 10th grade. Maybe that is why to this day, I have only been clean shaven twice since I was perhaps 23. I never really thought about that or made that connection. Starting school at the age of 4 seemed like a good idea to my parents, and probably to me, when I began kindergarten, but it had consequences when I got older, but was still one of the younger ones. Amazing that for the first third of my life, I was always that person: younger, shorter, smaller, and yes, still the immature one. That continued through my time in the Marine Corps. When I tried to enter the Marines, I did not pass the physical because I was too light. When I got to boot camp, I was named Private Chicken Body because I was so small. I was told if I lost weight I would be dropped to PCP (not a drug, but Physical Conditioning Platoon). Even when I got out of the Marines, I did not look like your typical veteran.

When I got to Dana, for the first time I was not the younger one, but actually one of the older. I was 24 when I entered as a freshman at Dana. While I had been to college before that first foray into higher education was less than stellar. When I started Dana, I was more immature than most realized, or more accurately, I was more frightened. I was afraid of failing again, and I was determined to not make the same mistake I had made previously. While those four years did a lot to shape the person I am today, there was still so much to learn. There was the need to believe in myself. There was the necessity of believing that I was worth something, that I was capable, that I belonged. Those maladies affected me more than most will realize. The maturity aspect of this is what I believe has been more inopportune for me than the shortness, smallness, or being younger. It seems, particularly into my 40s, that I was behind my peers. In my 20s that gap seemed to be 4 or 5 years, even when I was chronologically older. When I got into my 30s, and especially when I was a parish pastor, there was the necessity to catch up. In some ways, I did, but emotionally, not so much. This created more adversity. I remember having to work with so many people and so many things. I was theologically and practically prepared, but the little person, who was still such a profound part of me and that few saw, felt totally unprepared and inept. It created more problems that I have probably admitted in my personal life also. While there were ways I was ready to be married (and by that time I had been married for 5 years or so), there were other ways I really was not as prepared as I believed. There is an irony in that because while I was certainly older and more prepared in some ways, I was probably not any more prepared than she was, but I was viewed as older and wiser. It was not always true.

What I am forced to admit is that my immaturity certainly did things to doom that marriage. I know some who know both of us will say that I am being a bit hard on myself, and perhaps that is true, but I am not shouldering all the blame. It seems I must merely try to be more honest about my part in that failing. The other day I was talking about that period in my life and I have known for some time that while I believed I was handling things well, again, not so much. What I know is taking a position at Suomi at that time, while it seemed to be a good fit was anything but. Living in the dorm as I went through that divorce was problematic and even being in my own apartment the second year was less than ideal. Those two years also set a course with a bishop, to whom I referred in an earlier blog, that would be terminal for my calling as a pastor, at least in terms of ordination. Then I moved onto graduate school again, and toward a second marriage. The year between leaving Suomi and getting accepted to Michigan Tech was a brutal one, working as “the most educated server in the Keweenaw” did little for my self esteem, and probably damaged my liver more than I knew. I have often said all food and beverage staffs are dysfunctional families. That along with returning to being involved with the fraternity I had pledged as an undergraduate was a blessing and a curse to me. While I somehow managed grades and such, I did not manage responsible behavior and simply put, I tried to catch up on all the things I somehow believed I had missed. In terms of a rhetorical strategy, it did little for my ethos. Certainly, some probably thought me mentally ill or schizophrenic, and quite possibly, rightly so. I made mistakes in that time that I still regret. To get back to the theme for this posting, I fell short of what was expected and I was certainly a smaller person for it. By now I was into my 40s and honestly, I there were times I acted like an undergrad socially. Somehow academically, I did substantially better. Not surprisingly, I was in counseling this entire time. One might think a second marriage might have created a better situation, and in some ways, it did, but when the marriage created more issues, life was still a problem.

As I moved into the 21st century, I was still trying to figure out where I fit and who I was. That is a bit ridiculous for a person in their mid 40s, but it was who I was at the time. While again, I was successful in my professional life at this point, my personal life was in a shambles. In fact, my counselor at this point and I had this specific discussion. There is, as I noted a second marriage during this time, but I will address that in another blog at some point. I will say that I have had contact with my second wife recently and apologized to her for my failures. I am glad I was able to do that because it is about taking accountability for those choices. There are always ways to justify our mistakes, and certainly as humans we are prone to do so, but I think I am beyond that point. Simply put, I am a person who had (and still has) good intentions. The difference from the earlier Michael and the Michael of today is I allowed my immaturity and my things that I missed out on as a younger person to cloud my judgment. I wanted to experience some of the things I missed out on. With the older Michael, I somehow had my maturity  catch up with my chronology. I think perhaps the place that finally happened was in Menomonie, not in the first couple of years, but when I suddenly found myself caring for a new sort of adopted parent. I realized that I needed to do things better than I had earlier in my life. I needed to make up for what I felt was the failure of not being there for my own father.

I think I have always had some insightfulness into the needs of others and could see things that would help them, while failing to see the same exact thing in my own life. Again, somehow, my caring for the “little tornado,” as I still fondly call her, changed those things for me. Simultaneously, being in a new place professionally, and feeling a need to begin over, offered opportunities for me to finally close the gap. Interestingly, reconnecting with some and seeing things from a different perspective was helpful. Even in that reconnecting and exploring possibilities, I learned more about myself and what I needed if I am to care for myself. That was a new experience also. Most of my life I have probably vacillated between completely one side of the other, which is never good. What I am forced to admit it being short on one side or the other creates a situation that is seldom manageable. During the past 8 years I have been in Pennsylvania, I have finally closed the gap and I am probably where I need to be for the first time in my life. What I realize is I owe many people apologies for the failings, the mistakes, the inadequacies that permeated much of my life. I am sure I will make mistakes in the future, but it is my hope the failings will not cause others discomfort and struggles.

For the time being, it seems that I have a structure for my life and a structure for my health. Both things are helpful, and they are important. As I have told people, currently I have more doctors than I have fingers on one of my hands, but they are in touch with each other; as such I have an amazing team caring for me. During the past month, the care of others from students and colleagues to friends near and far, I am been blessed. Having the insight of a health professional who is also a dear friend has been my unexpected gift in all of this. The ability to ask questions and receive caring insight and advice has been both comforting and created a sense of security I am not sure I would have were the help not available. Speaking of other health things, as noted in a previous blog, one of my colleagues has passed on and the other is certainly in the closing days of his fight. Together they created a footprint on the English and Philosophy Department at Stout that cannot be replicated. In both cases, the loss is profound and life-changing, not only for their families, but for the scores of people they have touched across the country, and even the world. This is not hyperbole; it is the simple truth. As Dan has signed off on each of this letters to those of us honored to walk this journey with him, I leave you with this. Hug the ones you love. What amazing advice and what an important thing to remember.

While I have shared this video before, it seems appropriate in this time as I think of my mentor and treasured friend, Dr. Daniel Riordan.

 

 

To everyone else, thank you for reading and again, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I am blessed by you all . . . if I have offended or caused you harm in my earlier life, please forgive me.

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Thinking Carefully; Wondering Broadly

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Good Morning from the diner,

As I write this I have reminisced and realized that on this date, my Great-aunt Helen, probably one of the more elegant women I have ever known, would be celebrating a birthday today. I need to do some searching on a year, but I am imagining she would be around 108 or so. In addition, four years ago today the reality of a flood in Bloomsburg was terrifically apparent. That flood crested at 32.75 feet and the consequence of the flood is actually still felt here in town. The third significant thing that occurred in my life was a pretty serious motorcycle accident. I ended up with two skull fractures, serious facial surgery, and even more significant hand surgery. My little finger on my left hand is a veritable hardware store. I was fortunate and have been fortunate in so many ways. This past week I feel like I am still trying to get my feet firmly underneath me and some sense or semblance of order to the semester.

That semblance is still struggling because it is now the weekend and I had begun this on Tuesday. Part of that might be that I have been technologically challenged again this week. First I misplaced my phone and then it seems it needed to be reset again. It is just now, Sunday that it is working reasonably well again. This is the third time I have had to completed restore it. That little process takes about 3 or 4 hours. I need to get a hold of a number of people as I just got their texts and or other attempts to get a hold of me. I need to put in perhaps one of the most labor intensive weeks that I have had in a long time this coming week. Along with other things that have occurred, I was elected the chairperson of the Evaluation Committee this week. That will also be a labor intensive thing, but I will manage it also.  It is hard for me to believe that 14 years have passed since the fateful September day in 2001. What is harder for me to imagine is what the world was like before that time. It is almost like we were in a world of naiveté . . .  and looking back with 14 years of hindsight, we certainly were. There are two substantive differences that I have noticed personally. Because I have flown as much as I have, the reality of flying today and the fact that there is nothing really enjoyable about it is a difference to me. I used to look forward to the idea of being on a plane. Those days are long past, and it is not merely the cramped or overcrowding . . .  it is the way that we are treated in general. We have become numb to the cattle-like herding that seems indicative of most airline travel. We have learned to manage lines, inspections, questions, and a general sense of mistrust like that is normal. It is normal, but the very fact that it has become the norm is undeniably sad. The second thing that has changed for me (personably as an observer) is the way that we have learned to mistrust others as a general course of action. As groups like ISIL (ISIS) or Al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist groups continue to skew the image of Islam in the world, the unfortunate consequence for all Islamic people is they are viewed suspiciously. I have amazing students who are Turkish, Egyptian, Sudanese, or other predominately Muslim countries and I cannot imagine what they must put up with daily because they choose to wear a hijab or because they look either Middle Eastern or North African. These changes in the world, while I understand them, cause me more sadness than anger or suspicion.

I remember the day following 911 and a student in my second semester composition course at Michigan Tech noted in my class unapologetically, “You deserved what happened yesterday.” This student from the UAE was unbowed in his opinion and the uproar that occurred in the class and my attempt to focus on what he said as well as wonder a bit more broadly was one of the more delicate rhetorical moves I have ever had to make in a class. I remember the project we did in that class that semester and the amazing work those students did to manage a response that focused on the community of caring and giving that was created out of that tragic day. There was a sense of caring globally that was outstanding and unparalleled. I wish we had more of that yet now or that we might have held on to it. There are a number of places where it seems not only have we lost it, but we are in a much more dangerous position that perhaps anytime in history. The first place I would not for that disharmony is in our nation’s capitol. I understand this is only my opinion, but I think the founders of this country would appalled, or quite sad, that their grand experiment has seemed to be reduced to such rancor that it seems that even the most mundane piece of legislation has become a marathon to complete. I cannot imagine they would be impressed that Donald Trump finds it appropriate to speak about Carly Fiorina’s face as if that were a politically reasonable way to manage a campaign. While I am all for spirited debate and appropriate arguments, and even being passionate about what one argues, the reality of the present campaign pains me more than words can express. Donald Trump is nothing more than a rich kid, sandbox bully. I might even be willing to allow that he has some intelligence, but use that first rather than after the fact. That is my soapbox rant for this blog.

In the days that I worked in graduate school after 911, I worked on a project for one of my mentors. That was a project that looked at the images of 911 as well as some of what we might call remix songs. One of them that still moves me is what I am posting here.

I cannot watch this even fourteen years later and not have chills up and down my body. I have not gotten over to see the 911 Memorial in NYC yet, but I need to do that. I am reminded that so many people’s lives were irreparably changed that day, but so was a national fabric, in fact, the world fabric. What creates such hate among people? I am forced to think carefully and wonder yet more broadly to try to find such an answer to such a difficult question.  I cannot imagine what that day must have been like for all of those in Manhattan and the boroughs of New York City. I know how shocked we were in the rural and seemingly protected Upper Peninsula. I have found another video that as I watched it brought tears to my eyes.

If you might take a moment to think about your own attitudes and your own change in perception since that day, it might be a good thing. Who are we as people? What is our purpose as people? From where does the hatred for one another because of difference in skin color, religion, socio-economic class, or orientation come? What makes one person better or more entitled than another? These are the questions that permeate my thoughts as I consider the post 911 world? What allows a person’s religious beliefs to trump their political or civic responsibility? What happens when people proof-text and use the Bible to uphold their bigotry or self-righteousness? What happens when we believe we have the right answers and, therefore, the answers or views of another are considered wrong, or unchristian, or something of less value than ours? We end up with a world of mistrust and hatred. We end up with a world that marginalized the other.

During the coming week I will turn 60 years old. I am not exactly sure how I have ended up where I have. When I graduated from high school as an small, naïve, and wide-eyed Midwestern boy going into Marine Corps boot camp, I had no idea that I would be were I am today. When I met the first girl I really liked as an adult barely out of the service, I ever realized how much another person could influence my life. As I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team member, I had no idea that the persons I met that year would be part of the remainder of my days. As I arrived at that small liberal arts college in Nebraska, I had no idea that so many of the people I met and the things I learned would create such an amazing educational foundation (and that is about life as well as academics). Since that time, I have been involved in education pretty much non-stop, I have learned that everything I do has a teaching element to it. It is who I am. I love to help others learn and improve their lives. I have become a pondering person, one to generally thinks more carefully and wonder more broadly. What are the consequences of our actions and how does what we do affect others long after we are no longer there? I did not think that turning 60 would be that monumental. The only other birthday that I have found significant in my life was 25. Somehow, it seems this one might outpace that one in terms of personal impact. I am not entirely sure, but I am realizing that I am thinking about the remainder of my life more carefully and, yes, perhaps, more broadly than ever before. What I know for sure is there is nothing promised and there are no guarantees. That is also a consequence of 911 for me. We have no idea where the end is. I am realizing that my grandmother, my hero, only lived to be four years older than this coming birthday. My mother only eight years  longer. I am not sure I have ever thought of entering a decade that might be my last, but I am realizing that is a more likely possibility than the previous decades. I am not trying to sound fatalistic, but rather, I am being more cognizant of the fact that each day is a gift and there is a lot more to consider. I also realize I have a lot I would still like to do. So . . . . with that in mind, it is time to get to it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Six years

Loving WineGood early afternoon on a Labor Day,

I am currently laying on my bed as I compose this, but I spent the majority of my morning reading blogs. One of the things I have required students to write the past few years is a blog. The rationale is two-fold. First, it requires them to write on a regular basis and second, because it is public, it requires them to consider audience more carefully. What I have found in my own writing of a blog is that it actually clears my head and allows me to think more systematically.

It was 5 years ago yesterday ( hence beginning my sixth year) that I taught my first class at Bloomsburg University. I am amazed that much time has already passed. It has gone by quickly and it has been productive and enjoyable. I have been saying for sometime or has been the best five years of my life professionally, but I am beginning to believe that might also be the same for my life personally. I am not sure I realized that until I began to carefully consider where I am and how fortunate I am. In part, it could be because I have not done much to separate my professional and personal lives. It might also be because being a professor is not what I do, but it is who I am. Yet, one needs other aspects to his or her life.

I have read again and again how my new students, and some not so new, need to learn to balance their social and academic lives. We are really no different, we merely need to work in opposite directions most often. I am forced, if I am to be honestly reflective, that seldom have I ever balanced these two aspects of my life. I am not sure where that imbalance began; perhaps when I got to Dana College. Up to that point I was successful at moments in my professional life, but I was inconsistent at best. I am not sure I actually even had a personal life, I merely floated along. There were times and there were specific people who made me look at myself. My former pastor, Fred Peters might have been the first person in my adult life to held me accountable for some of my stupidity. My cousin was really the first person who caused me to think about how my actions affected another. She still does. My year traveling on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team and my host families, perhaps Lee and Judy Swenson did more to get me to look at what I was doing and where I was headed. I was 23 and rather aimless.

My time at Dana was certainly one of the most important growth periods in my life up to that point. I was not an 18 year old freshman like the majority of my Foundations students. I was 24; I had spent time in the Marines; I had flunked out of college and I was given another chance. I remember being petrified that I was not smart enough to be in college. I remember wondering if I was smart enough to go to the University of Iowa, but I was accepted into their honors program. I had a full tuition scholarship. I remember wondering if I had good enough grades to get into seminary, but I made it. Then there was getting into Michigan Tech and being rejected. Thanks to a chance meeting in the Library (the restaurant) with Carol Berkenkotter. I ended up on a journey that would actually bring me back to Pennsylvania. I remember Don Williams and I specifically taking about the disjuncture between my personal and professional life at times.

Yet in the 14 years since I was divorced , I have struggled to find a place or perhaps a reason to have a personal life. I worked at it in Wisconsin, but my professional life struggled. Since coming back to Pennsylvania I put significant effort into establishing that aspect, but distance and schedules strained that attempt and, in spite of such similarities, the attempt, from both sides, was not successful. I think I was trying to figure out the balance and I did not manage it well. So what do I feel now? It seems I have a better balance, but the question is why? Or more specifically what created that sense of balance. It is always amazing to me how circumstances create a sense of necessity. As I began to work on my tenure things last spring, other changes and individuals in my life required me to consider the personal aspect of my life. While there were instances and periods in my life where I felt overwhelmed and incapable, I had some consistency at the same time. That consistency and growing change in my life was a kind of second adoption. It was a two-way adoption process. I should note that my family (the family in Iowa) is as important as ever and I know they struggle with my being so far away. I miss them, but the distance, their growing, and changing houses, each of these things has kept us from communicating as often. I miss them mores than they realize or I have made clear.

This adoption has filled voids in my life I did not realize I even had. I titled a previous post “If you never had it, can you miss it?” I have since learned you can. While I am not a parent, I have been referred to as a godparent. I have realized the importance of family in a way I never have. I have begun to understand that having a balance in my life is work, but it is gratifying. While I have learned much as I have begun a sixth year, what I know (and I guess I have always known) is I still have so much yet to learn. I am 40 years older than my first year students and I am still working on the same things they are. However, now it is about more than a phrase or a cliche, it is actually about something much more important. It is about being happy, about being content.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin