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

REO, Starship, Fleetwood Mac and Memories of Holling Hall

Hello from my front porch,

It is a beautiful day in North central PA, and after a morning of meetings with students and grading, I am taking a break to enjoy my porch. I did some initial flower planting of Hyacinth bulbs, and now I am waiting for the UPS delivery and for a former student to stop by. One of the requirements of this new issue with my liver is to continue to lose the necessary weight to provide my liver the best chance to regenerate. That means cutting back to approximately 1,700 calories a day and walking at least five miles a day. I am working on the calorie plan, mostly to understand what consuming only 1,700 calories entails, and then figuring out creative and tasty ways to do that. The walking element is not difficult, but it is time consuming. However, after about three hours of grading this morning, I did manage to get 7 laps in around the quad. That is almost 2 miles. With the other walking today, my trusty phone tells me I am up to almost 3 miles for the day. I really quite enjoy a rather pedestrian sort of walk. I do not try to speed walk or set any sort of amazing distance; it is to manage a steady and comfortable pace. Most of the time I wear my Wi-Fi earbuds in an just enjoy whatever I choose to listen to, be it classical, folk or classic rock, and even at times country. If it were not for the grey hair and white beard, I might pass for one of the students and their technologically saturated lives (at least I can hope that is the case). Over the years, I have added a pretty wide variety to my repertoire of listening. I have give Sarah (Hansen ) Jacobs a great deal of credit for my interest and continuing love for classical music. I remember as a sophomore in college how she would give me clues about a particular piece as push me to see who it was by understanding the style and characteristics of a particular piece. She would provide hints. I remember her offering me classical Greek passages also as I was struggling my way through Dr. Hutton’s first semester Greek course. She was a sort of precursor to Dr. Brandes and my music history classes and certainly a bit more personable and enjoyable that the Greek class. Over the past few days, spring as definitely sprung here and I have been working in my yard. BTW, it is a couple days later since I began this post. Today was a day of cleaning, moving things, rearranging, and organizing. I need to be much more intentional about this. As I cleaned and organized, the duplicates I found of things are beyond what one might imagine, and there is a level of ridiculousness in all of that the defies logic in more ways that I probably have fingers and toes.

One of the things that happened on my walk the other day was a playlist that sort of warped me back in my first couple of years as a student at Dana College. I knew of REO Speedwagon before I was a student there, and certainly owned their two albums, You Can Tune a Piano and Hi Infidelity. I remember two students my sophomore year who lived on the floor where I was an RA. Bret O’Reilly and Frank Polich. Frankie, as he liked to be called was a serious Kevin Cronin fan (one of the latter lead vocalists for REO). That group and the others in the title were part of my life as a student at Dana. I can remember my junior year roommate playing “Time for Me to Fly” out the window of my third floor Holling Room. I will not offer the reason, and while I found it amusing at the time, it was a bit brutal. To this day, however, my favorite REO tune is “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” A second song that morning kept me right back at that little Lutheran liberal arts college. Jefferson Starship (and yes, originally Airplane, but definitely more pop than the Airplane was) certainly covered a wide-range of genres from the psychedelic of the 60s, when Grace Slick epitomized the Haight-Ashbury scene, to their more pop sound of “Jane,” which was a song without either Slick or Balin. I think “Jane” managed to keep the group relevant as things were changing. Slick would come back and iterations of the band continue even now, but the 1985 release of “We Built this City,” provided the sound of Starship to an entire new generation of listeners. The next song to be offered as I walked the quad was from the group Fleetwood Mac and their Rumours album. I did not realize that was their 11th album, but I listened to this album so many times that first year I was on 4th Holling Hall with my roommate, Peter Bonde. I did not know nearly as much as I do now, but I sure did appreciate their music. To this day, I find Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar picking astounding. When I later learned about the drama in the group, it was even more (and still is) phenomenal they could put out such a significant group of songs with the stress they had to be living in. Perhaps that album epitomizes just how much passion their is in good music. Passion is such an important part of our humanity.

Music has this unparalleled ability to transport us back to the place we were when we first heard the song. As I listened to these songs, I remember names and faces, and ironically since I posted some of them have commented on the FB page, one of the places I posted this. What this means is I am editing. It seems again, I have done some of my best proofreading after posting. I remembered floor shirts and intramural football games; and I remembered how music was my saving grace as I worried about whether or not I was smart enough to be in college. I remember playing my guitar for weekly campfires for Campus Ministry teams. I remember being blessed to have friends who still reach out. I remember David, a person on our floor from Kansas who would hang out in our room as he tried to get his bearing about him in being a college student. I was so fortunate to have a roommate that first year even though I thought I did not want one. I remember being welcomed by some wonderful people. The memories of travels to Wahoo, NE for a concert, a 25th birthday party thrown in my honor and classmates who stunned me in so many ways. I am still blessed to be friends with and to maintain those friendships through various social media outlets as noted, but those friendships are so much more dear to me now.  I wish at times I could go back to that little campus on the hill. That is an entirely different story for another time. One of the nice things about being able to remember Dana for what it was is how the people there honestly changed lives, and that was not only because of the outstanding faculty, but it was the incredible classmates I had in my classes. There were so many capable and intelligent people in that little college. Yet, music was central to most of it. Between my stereo, my love for music that was more complicated than a 1/5/4 chord progression (and groups like Kansas would fall into that category), and then my opportunity to sing in the college choir for Dr. Paul Neve was something that affected my appreciation for the diversity and complexity of music in so many ways I had never known. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lubeck as I traveled during an interim and listening to the music of Buxtehude. This experience was heightened and more profound because Buxtehude had lived in that very town, the town known as the Queen of the Hanseatic  League, something that occurred with the rebuilding of Lubeck in the middle of the 12th century. I remember how I learned to appreciate Scandinavian chorale music from my time at Dana. It is something that gives me both pause and comfort to this day. I remember some incredible voices from my classmates from little towns like Fairbury, NE or from little Iowa towns. What I realize is the three semester class that was the highlight of my college career, and also the bane of the existence of others, was my Humanities course. What it taught be was to synthesize the world in which I lived. That is still the case today. As a child of working class parents, and please know that I am grateful beyond words for those parents – particularly when they adopted me, I knew very little about art, classical music, poetry, literature, or world history before the 20th century. I knew about going to church, working hard, basic meat, potatoes, and carrots, and jello salad or things at church potluck dinners. I knew about bakeries and working in a bakery and working summer jobs. I was exposed to some music between Sioux City Children’s Choir and church choirs, but I had little idea about how I would ever manage to go to college. In fact, I remember a serious argument my mother and I had because of the cost and her lack of knowledge of said costs. Yet, to this day, music, and practically any genre, is basic to my daily existence.

As I think about the first couple of years at Dana, my living space was in Holling Hall. The first year I lived on Four-North, the home of the Raiders. The second year I was on Two-North, where I was an RA. That was an experience of all experiences and my third year, I was on Four-South until I transferred to the University of Iowa. My last year, I would come back to Dana and stated out in Holling again, but would move to Rasmussen Hall, which to this day, I know it was a difficult, but necessary decision. That semester in Rasmussen was perhaps one of the best times of my life. Studying Physiology and Anatomy with two floor mates and another young woman was outstanding for a history and humanities major. My RA saving my life, probably literally when another young man had a breakdown is still appreciated. Living on campus was an important part of daily life at Dana, and I believe integral to understanding the culture of that small campus. It was always a bit different being an older student, even though the age was not tremendously older. Yet in an exceptionally traditional Nebraska place, being 24 as a freshman was outside the ordinary. I think that is why music was so important to me. It kept me both grounded in my past, but living in the present. When I was a freshman, there was a Navy veteran on my floor. He introduced me to Jimmy Buffet and Moosehead beer. I appreciate Jimmy Buffet more than the Moosehead these days, but that is no big issue. At the time, I found Moosehead beer quite stunning. It was so much better than domestic swill. Today, I consider and remember Dana with a certain wistfulness. What I received there as a student and what students received for 125 years is no longer available. It is ironic as I write this some of the things I learned in my Art History lectures comes flooding back to me as the Notre Dame Cathedral is burning in Paris. I remember being in Paris in January of 1981 and seeing this magnificent structure. I remember learning about flying buttresses. What a tragedy this is. I am reminded of a smaller fire, but nonetheless devastating to those who were fortunate enough be in Old Main, the central architectural building on the campus when I was a student. There are so many important memories and experiences that shaped the person I have become personally, intellectually, and professionally. Yesterday, my father would have turned 104 years old. Hard to believe he has been gone for more than two decades, but much like the memories that I noted here, it is as if he lives on also. When people tell me I am a lot like him that is a profound compliment.

As I move forward through another day, it is hard to tell what will spark a memory of the times that formed and molded the person I have become. What I know is I am the product of so many things: music, people, places, experiences. Each have contributed to the tapestry known as Michael Martin. Hard to tell what will create yet another design or layer. Yet, I am blessed to have time to create yet something that is a blend of the old and the new. That is the way things work. For the time being, here is a song from the past, and a shout out to my Navy classmate from my time at Dana. The picture above is from today and speaks to the fact that nothing is spared from the elements that create the world in which we live: fire, water, air, and earth. To those who have reached out in response to our mutual Dana memories . . .  to my Dyak friends, my college choir friends, and those who mean more than I have appropriate words, thank you!! Seems apropos that Jimmy Buffet grace this post, so to my Navy classmate, thanks for the introduction.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Full Circle

Hello from Caribou,

I have been here in Menomonie for the last 4 1/2 days and have a couple left to go. Not surprisingly, I have been here in my old haunt working away, where I have actually been quite productive. It is a great way to begin my day before 7:00 and sit here and focus for about 4 or 5 hours. I have completed a lot of administrative stuff done as well accomplishing a great deal while working to create my summer class. What I have realized looking at the enrollment for my two sections is I will be doing nothing but that for about 6 weeks. This means everything else needs to be completed before then. I have wanted to get together with more people while back here in Menomonie, but work will have to take precedence. Yet, whenever I get to the point I feel a bit overwhelmed (or a great deal overwhelmed), I need to do two things. Come up with a plan for the process and then get my head cleared out, which means it is time to write. . . .

We are into the middle of June and I made it back to Bloomsburg, but then slid away again to the Eastern Shore of Virginia (and Cape Charles) where I have spent four days both sunning and writing. The week I made it home to Pennsylvania, I got a number of things completed. Seems I might finally have the upper hand on some things, though not everything is done yet. . . Here is what happens when I start a blog, get sidetracked, compose other blogs, and eventually find my way back. Other times I would delete it, but to demonstrate a point to my two sections of Literature and Society, I am going to add to it and still post it to my site. What you can see is there is something about writing in the moment, but it is not always possible to find the words, the strength, or the energy to complete it at that same time. That does not mean you should throw it away as a failure, but rather come back to it.

That coffee shop in Wisconsin is where I did most of the work for your class. It is where I wrote the Syllabus. It is where I put the shell of all my work in BOLT together. It is where I worked on other things that needed to be managed. Finding a place where you can sort of disappear, even in the crowd, but do your work is essential if you are going to be successful here as a student. Then I went from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania and then to Virginia. While it was a sort of mini-vacation, it was also a working vacation. I began work with a colleague on an article that has been three to five years in the making. Honestly, for the first time we moved beyond the talking to composing stage. What I am trying to help you see is simple: no one is (or very scant few are) able to sit down and compose anything of value in its entirety at one sitting. It does not happen, at least for me.  I certainly have times where I am more productive than others, but writing well over a long period of time is excruciatingly laborious. It requires a clear sense of where I am going and why? It demands incredible focus and willingness to keep at it. It pushes my brain, more often than not, to extreme exhaustion. Literally, it seems I can no longer think or put words together with any semblance of cohesion. I do not say all of this to scare you; instead I want you to know that your writing struggles are not unique to you. It is hard to write well.

Today your classes were like the Tale of Two Cities, the best and worst of times. There were really good questions and concerns raised, and there are some phenomenal students in both sections of class. I do know that some of you are feeling like you just got run over by a bullet train and it is not slowing down. Unfortunately, there is more truth to that than you might have realized. The work you are doing with Ms. Water’s in your Reading course should help you with your blogs. In particular it should help you with connecting the reading to writing a more thinking and analyzing style of blog entry. It should connect you, the reading, and your experience as a summer freshman. It was intentional on my part to connect the tending to some of your own personal experiences. That is the Literature and Society piece of the course, the purpose of the class laid out.

Remember last week when we first looked at the Hip Hop Reader, I made the assertion that all art is a reflection of the culture in/from which it is created. The literature you are looking at in these readers are short creative pieces where writers from a wide variety of backgrounds are reflecting on their own interactions within their cultures and considering how it creates a sense of connection or meaning for them. What are some of the cultural differences you have experience within a mere 10 days in Bloomsburg? Some of you have spoken about being homesick. That is not uncommon, and to feel homesick does not make you an incapable or immature student. It means you value that place and you love the people who are there. Not only are you in a different location, bit you have a boatload of requirements academically that are unexpected.

This summer is an opportunity (there is that word again) for you to establish yourself in a new manner. It is a change for you to determine on your own what exactly you are capable of achieving, but this six weeks sets a direction for the remainder of you let life. Hyperbole, you ask? I will assert (or argue) NO. How well you manage this summer will give you a pretty strong sense of just what you are each capable. That is an important realization. I know there are a handful of you who have not even begun to scratch the surface of your ability. The time for waiting is over. Completely, unequivocally past. To not step up now will push you into a corner that you will not enjoy. I do not believe a single one of you wants to tell their parents or significant other you failed and got sent home. It is not a good experience. Again, I have done it as I told you that first day of class. And today it is so much more expensive.

Full circle I wrote as a title. That was because I was back in Wisconsin where I first taught in a tenure track position, I am back in Pennsylvania, where I lived from 1988-1992. I believe my relatives lived here in PA five or six generations ago. Last year I made it to Ireland, where my relatives lived 500 years ago. We have a way of going full circle, and sometimes creating concentric circles at the same time. This blog started in WI, made it to PA, to VA, and now back in PA, but it survived because I held on to it. Sometimes, we know not where we go or how we get there, but we continue on. In my piety I do not believe that to be accidental. With that in mind I offer this song by the 1980s group Mister Mister.  You have to like those 80s styles . . .  oh my, but here is an interesting version with Ringo Starr.

 

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Feeling Better . . . And Feeling Blessed

Hello from the Acre,

It is amazing what technology does; it matters not whether we are talking social media and our daily obsession or whether we are referring to what happens in a dctor’s office, an X-ray room, or a same-day surgical suite. This past week I have been a willing participant in all of them. I was in early adopter of social media, but if I’m to be completely honest I had no idea how it would eventually affect my life, my teaching, and certainly my scholarship. For some it might be difficult to understand how Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might be related to what I did in graduate school. On the other hand, for some of my graduate school colleagues and for my intellectual and academic soulmate, Dr. Timothy Oleksiak, and hopefully certainly the case for many of my students, the connection is like peas and carrots as noted so skillfully by Forrest Gump. It is also, in my opinion, a significant component in what had created the nationalistic fervor that seems to be so prominent in the world as we currently experience it. There is certainly much more that could be said about this but I will hold off. And I know that surprises some of you because I generally don’t hold off on much. . . . A week or so has passed and I cannot get this finished because so much is been on my plate. I have been in a doctor’s office daily for my B 12 shots, and for the most part, that has been rather non-eventful. The same can’t be said for an attempt for starting IV yesterday while I was getting an MRI. Honestly, I do not remember such difficulty growing up, but somewhere around my 35th birthday there seems to have been a change. At that point, my veins got a mind of their own and as soon as I walk into a medical facility, they decide to dive and roll. Yesterday,  however, might be a new record: four different people attempted nine times total. And some of those attempts were excruciatingly painful. Yet, all the same, by the time we’re done the tasks were accomplished. Today except for a few bruises and some telltale signs of a stick, I am OK.

Blessings come in many forms, but perhaps the most profound blessings are given through the people that we meet and the realization of how much they have influenced or blessed our lives. It is been almost 8 years since I left the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and more specifically the Department of English and Philosophy (and yes I know that is strange pairing within an academic department; I thought the same when I was there). During the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on many things. Putting aside much of the hurt that was inflicted by one person in particular, and through the ripple effects of that person by those within the department. The starting elements of that healing began at a KOA campground in Paducah, Kentucky, as I drove my Harley from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. And the times I’ve gone back to Wisconsin over the years I kept in contact with whom it seemed reasonable. There in the past 36 hours two significant people in that department with a long history of scholarship and teaching have both entered hospice. One is my former chairperson, who is an amazing scholar in his own right, and is also genuinely a kind and gentle person.  The other is the person of whom I have spoke in past blogs (or more accurately wrote), as well as my mentor, the person who help me navigate that last difficult and painful year I served there.  Together they have well over a half a century within that department, and the numbers of students and colleagues they have affected is profound. One of my most important colleagues here in Bloomsburg, preceded me both at Stout and as he and I like to say, he poached me away from there. More truthfully, he saved me. Yesterday we spoke about both of these people and how we had a somewhat reversed reciprocal relationship with them. His closer relationship was with the chair and as such this time and the loss of that person for him is much more personally profound. For me, it is the latter of the two. It was interesting for me, and helpful, to have that conversation, on a whole variety of levels. He and I had our own time to reminisce and get ready to mourn from a distance this change. To my former colleagues who read this blog, and with whom I’ve stayed in contact, please know that both of us hold you all in our prayers and in our own ways our hearts break with yours from a 1000 miles away.  To Sandy and Mary, as you prepare to say goodbye to someone whom you love so deeply, I pray that you might find strength and comfort in knowing that you do not walk this journey alone. That is one of the blessings we are given in community.

In terms of my own health issues and things that I’ve noted very specifically in the last couple blogs, we continue to do testing,; I continue to walk through appointment after appointment, hoping for and determining a plan on how my teams of doctors and my homeopath will manage my struggling yet resilient body and the long-term consequences of Crohn’s disease. Today I have begun wearing a heart monitor for the next month. As it is about 2:00 a.m. that I am composing this, my timeline is technically correct when I say last night, I was at an annual event that might be one of my social highlights of the year. The LBGTQA Comission on campus, had their annual gala and silent auction. It is the 9th year that I see many more of my colleagues from across the University’s campus than perhaps any other night. Last night they collected over $10,000 to support students on campus. That’s a wonderful thing.  However, as I walked around last night socializing and sharing stories,  it was impossible to not marvel at how amazing, committed and hard-working so many people are on a daily basis, and damn, this reminds me that somehow I forgot to fill out my Snyder amendment this past week. Oops. Another thing to add to my list. But again I am so blessed by so many people. A person with whom I seldom get to spend time, but I was blessed enough to have dinner with one night at the beginning of my third year here, was at the event with his wife. He is our athletic director and I respect and adore them both. I don’t think I’ve actually spoken to them with much more than a hello since they were over to my house for dinner last summer. It was a poignant reminder of how quickly things go and how little time it seems we have to be with those who matter. I had the opportunity to speak with the person, who is a newer faculty member, and she and her husband are the most wonderful couple. She recently gave a recital, and while I knew  she was a significantly talented musician, I have not been transported into another place while listening to music like that since I was in the Thomas Kirke in Leipzig in 1985.  Or listening to music air cathedral in Lubeck, listening to the music of Buxtehude in the very church he had played in and that was in January of 1981. And then there was the surprise of running into the niece of a colleague, who unbeknownst to me, had returned from a year in Spain. She is such a phenomenal young lady. Again, the opportunity to be among such astounding people should never be taken for granted, and to give thanks for such tremendous gifts seems so inadequate. And all of these gifts are just in my little corner of the world.

It is unfathomable that we are already to April 1st, and that is no joke, but the passage of time certainly fools us. It is also the day that my Dominican family and I are launching our little travel company. Called Galtín (Gaul TEEN) Travel, we are specializing in vacations to the Dominican Republic. In fact if you followed by this blog long enough, I have written a number of entries from there on more than one occasion. If you want to know more, please go to galtintravel.com and check things out (If you get a password protected issue, that will change within the next few hours as we had it protected until launch). I can promise you an amazing time in a fairytale setting. An all-inclusive long weekend or week or 10 days, it is all up to you. You can go by yourself or with another person; you can take the family or group of friends and we can accommodate your needs. Yes, this is my unabashed advertisement. And if you book during the month of April and travel before the end of 2017, we are offering a 20% discount.  It is possible to get straight flights reasonably priced from JFK, Newark, or Philadelphia. You need to book your flight and have a passport. We’ll help you with the rest. I have traveled there three times now, and each time was more amazing than the first. It is honestly like walking around in a fairytale world for a few days where every need is cared for and every desire pampered. The current strength of the American dollar does not hurt a bit. Between that strength and the discount, there might never be a better time to book your travel.

If you go to the site, I have blogged there also about why I might undertake such a venture with my Dominican family. Together we hope to make a difference for others offering something that might seem impossible. In some ways it is sharing how we have been blessed together with others. Working with them on this process has been a learning experience, and there have been some minor bumps, but that is always the case when you do something the first time or when you try to move dreams into realities. It has been the hard work and many hours of pondering the actual doing. I must give credit to the two younger persons for getting things actually into a place where we can actually do this. Then there was additional rethinking, revising, and reconsidering that has gotten us to this point.  Once again, I have realized for most of my life, I’ve never really known what I expected or even where I was going. All I know is that I’ve been blessed in many and various ways, but many and various people. People enter and leave our lives sometimes because of our own changes and sometimes because of their’s. Two people who have profoundly influenced me, and my development as a scholar and a professor, are, in their own ways, preparing to leave and by similar paths. To both Mike and Dan, thank you for mentoring me and sharing what you have. To Sandy and Mary, my wish for you is a sense of comfort and strength in your time of sorrow. To all the children and the grandchildren, I’m sorry for your loss. I know all too well how difficult it is to lose a parent. I cannot help but feel both deeply sorrowful in their passing, yet profoundly blessed by their influences in my life. The interesting thing about being blessed by something or someone is that it is almost always unexpected and probably even more undeserved. These gifts actually occurs more often than we might ever know because we simply don’t realize how simply blessing are provided. It could be a gas station; it could be coming home and finding new people. It could be leaving and moving and losing and gaining at the same time. It has happened again these last few weeks as an unexpected reintroduction has come to pass. The conversations,  the sharing, the reminiscing, and the relearning has brightened up my days, lifted my spirits, and reminded me of how deeply I loved someone. It has transported me back to a time in my life where I was searching desperately trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. It has been good just see how another person perceived me at that time. It has been helpful to know that what I felt, I did not feel alone. As I was blessed by their presence then I am blessed by their presence now. Once again I’m reminded that I never know what to expect in my life and the twists and turns it might take. But through it all, it is evident to me again that we do not walk alone. We do not fail to influence, or be influenced, by the other. So yes, I am feeling better, but more importantly, I am feeling blessed. The picture above is of a car I once owned. The video below is of a group whose concert I once attended. I still think Nancy Wilson might be one of the most attractive guitar players in the world. Just sayin’

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael

Where has 40 years gone?

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Hello from Fog and Flame,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello from my office,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and good luck in this week.

Dr. Martin

Grateful for a Life, but One too Short

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Hello on a cold, but manageable day,

It is in the single digits outside and for Pennsylvanians, but I actually like this kind of weather. Perhaps it is because it reminds me of being small. Perhaps it reminds me of the times I would play in the yard one particularly snowy winter and we made snow forts and tunnels in the yard. Life was simple then, or at least I thought so. Today is a day for me to focus and catch up. It is a day when FB has helped with its little Valentine’s wrapping of a message to make them more festive and to offer thoughts to those who matter to us. I remember as a small boy always feeling different about this day because my father would get chocolates for my sister and my mother, but we did not really get as much, so I learned indirectly (or directly) that Valentine’s Day was about females and not for males. Not that I felt that left out after the first time or so, but rather it was a different time I think. I am pretty sure my father was not trying to slight my brother or me.

As I have sort of a propensity to give to others, I tried to make sure that I did not forget Valentine’s Day for that other person when I was an adult. There was once before I was married that I did not to a particularly good job of managing this holiday and I was in deep trouble. That left a lasting impression to this day. I remember another time that Susan, my ex-wife, got her hair cut really short a day or so before Valentine’s Day and I did not know this was in the mix and she came home. My response, unwisely, was something like, “what the hell did you do to your hair?” She began to cry and there was no making up for that on Valentine’s Day, which was within a couple of days. It can be a difficulty for us as humans to adequately express our feelings. Then there is the sense of shouldn’t we just let the people we love know this daily. I am certainly not the first nor the last to call this Happy Hallmark Day. . . . What does it mean to love someone?  I have learned all too often that my love, or what I believe to be love, is sometimes selfishness. Not that I hope to be selfish or that I would intend to be so, but rather that my love is not nearly as unconditional as I might want. Perhaps that is the question, can we be unconditional in our love or in our giving to another? I certainly want to believe in the possibility, and yet I know even when I’m most well intended, it seems I’m always hoping for something in return. At this point, maybe it’s because I’m just merely getting old. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide if I want my solitude or I’d rather have someone around. Yet another Valentine’s Day has passed and according to some research in my class the other day over $1 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly not saying we should fail to demonstrate the love or care we have for those who are important to us. Perhaps when I am questioning is what it really means to genuinely love someone. I think, in part, is that I still have this hopeless romantic inside of me hoping for that head-over-heels person. There’s also the realist in me who feels such a situation at this point in my life is unlikely at best. It is not that I’m depressed by such a reality, but rather I wonder how my life (and as I originally wrote, in a Freudian-way, “wife”) might’ve been different.

A few days have passed since I started this post, and ironically the experience that I wrote about in my immediate past blog has ended. Rebekah has lost her battle to remain on earth with us. She passed away this afternoon, after battling as well as she could against enormous odds. To lose someone in their 30s, in such a shocking and unfair manner, is always difficult. As my father said almost 40 years ago, “Parents are not supposed to bury their children.” There is nothing that can prepare someone to face such a tragic circumstance. It was heartbreaking to see her last evening, but it was abundantly clear that death would be a compassionate visitor rather than something to push away. That being said, nothing can remove the hurt or sadness that comes when someone so young faces the end of human existence as we know it. Could it be true that Bekah happened to be in that laundromat for what would occur this week? If I had not met her that day, the last 5 1/2 years of her cleaning, calling, coffee-ing would not have happened, but perhaps more importantly, in my own piety, God would not have been able to use my background in being there with her and her family. As I often say, I do not believe God causes bad things (again, my piety and my opinion), but I do believe that there is the possibility to use whatever happens to bring us together in ways that we are able to support and care for others in ways we could have never anticipated. Why is it that some make it through things that they never should and others have a seemingly simple thing be life-changing?  . . .  It is now Thursday morning and a phone call last night, which was wonderful and needed, kept me from writing, so before I dive into the other things of the day, I am hoping to finish this and post it. Looking in the paper this morning, there was no announcement or obituary for Rebekah, but last night I found myself merely being quiet, listening to some music, and allowing those songs to be my own Psalms of lamentation. Music is such a wonderful thing because it touches the soul in the way few other things can. When, as scripture tells us, that the pain is too great for words, the spirit speaks on our behalf. I believe the way music affects our spirit is exactly that happening when we cannot find the words because we are so overwhelmed. I spent time reading the responses and outpouring of care from so many people. That is one of the positive possibilities of social networking, but it certainly demonstrated the impact that Rebekah made in what most would consider to be a relatively short life. What has been particularly interesting to me was that she was not a picture posting person, particularly of herself. The number of pictures that appeared in the last week were quite significant, but to see the transformation of her over the years was really quite fun for me, as someone who did not know her nearly as long. I think that is what is so momentous for me. While I am a people person, though not as much as I used to be, Rebekah had a way of disarming one’s defenses. Her infectious smile and her willingness to be just who she was, as well as her ability to be feisty/spunky and simultaneously compassionate/charitable, could not help but draw you in. I often told her, on the other hand, I would not want her angry at me. Again the passion that was such an integral part of who she was could be a double-edged sword. Her eyes, which were the most amazing color, could telegraph exactly what would soon be spoken.

It has been wonderful to meet her brother-in-law, Bill and her sister, Chandra. The other evening at the hospital as I listened to Chandra speak, the voice was a carbon-copy of Rebekah. Perhaps I should say that Rebekah was a carbon copy of Chandra since Bekah was the baby of the family. The way in which they have received me into their midst has been such a wonderful gift. There is so much that can be said about Bekah, but I can only say this: Bekah, you allowed me to be in your life as you took care of part of mine. You shared your wit and humor; you shared your fears and hopes; you shared both the important and the seemingly mundane; through it all you touched my heart. I am a better person for it. You knew your time was precious and you talked about that. There are times when we fail to realize we are in the face of such beauty, grace, and goodness. As I have looked at pictures this past week, you have had a beauty and elegance to you from the very beginning. Indeed, you were such a person, a person of unparalleled charm, beauty and love. I will miss your kindnesses; I will miss your ability to make me smile and laugh; I will miss the times you called and said, “I need to speak to Michael.” I will miss our meetings at DD or CB. I will miss seeing the red VW that turned into the white Bug that followed me into my driveway or old barn. I will miss the smell of a clean house and the notes on a table that told me what I needed to do to get my act together. You are loved, and that will never change. Bless you, Bekah.

I share this with Chandra, with Bill, with Bekah’s parents, with Kayla, and with all of those for whom she made a difference.

To the rest, thanks for reading.

Michael (Dr. Martin)