Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Disunity and Disrepect

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Good morning on a significant week in world history,

I imagine you could make this claim about almost any week, but I will offer an explanation as to why I make such a claim. A half of millennium ago, a German monk, one who had hoped to be a lawyer before a lightning bolt induced change of vocation, posted 95 points of debate on a castle door. Those points, once again fueled by a kairotic moment in printing history, created as much of a unexpected seismic change in history as perhaps an election did almost a year ago might end of being. It’s not particularly comforting for me to compare the event of something (or the someone) I admire to something (or more someone) for which I profoundly struggle, but the parallels are somewhat obvious. There are ways this could probably become an interesting political study; there are certainly ways one could argue it’s an indictment against the powers that be, and in our present dilemma, in both directions. I believe the election of the business-person-“turned”-politician (and the quotation marks are by all means intentional) has created just as much of a seismic change nationally, if not globally, and perhaps galactically. Before you think I’m just being hyperbolic allow me to explain as you read on.

As I pick this up this morning, the headlines shout out that another mass killing, this time in a church in Texas, has occurred, the most lethal event, up to this point, in the Lone Star state. Is it possible that there is a connection between the two last killing sprees and that both states have some of the least rigorous gun laws or enforcement in the country? Is it even within the realm of possibility? This morning, the headlines also note it is not a gun question. Yet guns were used yet again. I understand it is about people, and this one had a history of domestic violence (and a record of such), but was able to obtain semi-automatic weapons. So the law is in place, but it seems, yet again, that it is too easy to circumvent the law. There needs to be better enforcement, certainly, but why do we need such weapons? Why is that not a reasonable question that deserves real consideration at the Congressional level? To take General Kelly’s question  and words and push it a bit further . . .  while I believe there is no place reasonable (outside of a military confrontation) to kill another, shouldn’t a church be considered particularly sacred (pun most certainly intended)? The dearth of information about this person and the red flags that occurred, but somehow not managed is nothing new. All the checks in the world are shown to be ineffective again and again as people are able to purchase not merely a weapon, but a semi-automatic weapon that has the unparalleled ability to be tremendously deadly in a very short period of time. One can make the argument that another gun frightened him away and led to his eventual demise. Welcome to the NRA and their protection of the almighty gun. This ridiculous approach to justifying our willingness to accept yet another mass shooting as constitutional protectionism simply must stop. Taking away the ability to purchase or own semi-automatic weapons and charging anyone who has one with a felony and the loss to have any weapons would be a good start. Not having AR15s or similar weapons is not an attack on the 2nd Amendment, period. The reasons and arguments I can make to dispute any of your “right to bear arms” bullshit is ready. Merely ask. I am tired. I am tired of making excuses. Any thoughtful  NRA member should not be against reasonable gun control.

However, back to where I began. Luther, for those not aware, did not plan to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, he did not ever expect, I am quite sure, that some 80 million people would use his name to describe their faith. He would not have probably been comfortable with any such idea. In fact, after the Edict of the Diet of Worms, if you were accused and convicted of propagating Luther’s ideas, you were required to forfeit all of your property (Wikipedia). Luther questioned power, but not merely to question power. He questioned, offered arguments about, the misuse of power. When power is used unethically, to fail to question it allows for abuse. To fail to question it undermines the very fabric of human decency because it mistreats or takes advantage of those who do not have it, hoping to merely benefit those who do. As some of you know, I am a penchant for questioning this sort of power mongering. I have done it in the past with some pretty dire consequences, but this is not something I can abide. As Lord Acton, the British historian and moralist said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He certainly did not invent the idea of power creating chaos or difficulty, but he is credited with this specific quote. Ironically, for me, the first place I saw such power used was by a Lutheran bishop. Questioning the power of him at the time, and even confronting that power by my own action created an interesting result. When I tried to resign the clergy roster because of what I felt was poor leadership (and this is a simplification) my resignation was not accepted. When I made a serious mistake the bishop actually said, “Now I am in the drivers seat and I want your resignation.” Those two events were only weeks apart. Luther’s willingness to question the power of the Catholic Church was not without danger, and anyone who knows the story knows that after the Diet at Worms, he was given an imperial ban, a co-issued ban by the HRE Charles V and the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Leo X. What this meant was if you found Luther you could kill him on sight. Welcome again to a serious problem and an wonderful example of two people with the most power in the 16th century world and what they were willing to do. This is a combination of church and politics and at that time pretty well covered every element of human existence. In the Diet (another word for trial), when asked if he would step back from his proclamations which questioned authority on a number of levels, he responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” The more infamous words attributed to him are probably not his, but they sound impressive. They are “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” More likely after leaving the hearing room he said something more important. He pronounced, “I am finished,” However, Friederich the Wise, the elector of Saxony and his protector, had other plans and that is how Luther would end up hid away in the Castle at Wartburg.

Certainly there have been reforming movements within the Lutheran Church, and, again, anyone who knows the denomination knows it is fragmented and there are a number of issues still discussed and questioned from the beginning. There are questions about the interpretation of scripture, of the role of women in the church, of our ecumenical ties and the list can go on. In fact, I am not sure Luther would be very impressed with how fragmented we have become. There is a second Lutheran for whom I have great appreciation. He is the person on whom I wrote my dissertation, the German theologian, scholar, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is the person who not only questioned Hitler and the Final Solution, but when the church did not stand up strongly enough, he was willing to become a double agent and was eventually hanged for his role in the plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer, in 1933, still believed that authority and order were the very things needed to limit authority. Yet, what Bonhoeffer intuitively seemed to know from the outset was that Hitler would use his power as chancellor in a manner that would create (or perhaps force) the abdication of order and power that belongs to people based on their decision to form a society to begin with. Bonhoeffer would say that when such a situation occurs, the leader becomes the misleader. Paul Tillich, another skilled and renowned theologian had written (in 1932 before Hitler became chancellor) “A Protestantism which is open to National Socialism and repudiates socialism is in the process of once again betraying its task in the world. Apparently obedience to the statement that the kingdom of God is not of this world it shows itself to be . . .  obedient to the victorious powers and their demonry” (Evangeliche Kirche zwischen Kreuz und Hakenkreuz).

Questioning anything that our government does today is deemed unpatriotic, and that trend is something that has been around from the beginning of the country, but it certainly seems more infelicitous than ever to question. Arguments have been made that the 2004 election that actually elected George W. Bush to a second term (yes I realize the inference here) was a referendum on whether or not we could hold him accountable for his tax cuts that moved us from a surplus economy to a debtor economy again (hmmmmm . . . . anyone seeing a parallel with what is currently occurring) and claiming a necessity of war based on WMD, which also helped tank our economy. As I write this, it is election night and a number of my colleagues, who are full-time faculty have thrown their hats into the political realm this election and at this point, one has been elected (I cannot find results for the other two raises as this point). I am glad to hear that it seems two states’ governorships will be in hands that do not support the isolationist, fear-mongering national tenor of our politics. I believe that our President was elected for a reason, but I am not convinced the reason might be what most think. In spite of his claims, I do believe he lost the popular vote. In spite of the fact that Hilary Clinton seems to have done more to railroad the primary that we might have thought, I believe we ended up with what we perhaps deserved . . .  I know that is a bold and difficult statement, but perhaps what is most important for me is having Donald Trump as our President has forced some soul searching. It has created a degree of scrutiny that has probably never been witnessed in our national politics. I know there is both a positive and negative to all of this, but there is a certain kairos in that too. Social media, the very thing that might have elected him is now created a profound difficulty for him, and much of it is due to his own 140 character nonsensical, preposterous tantrums. Should I be surprised that he has already tweeted that the Republican candidate for Governor in VA “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for” (Fox News). Could it be that the people of Virginia are simply more supportive of Governor-elect Northam? Could it be that this election is a questioning of the direction our national politics are going and this is a way to stand up and question that direction? It is always dangerous to read more than one should into other things, but I believe the more significant danger is to become comfortable with our current politics that allow for the politics of division and hate to triumph over the believe that all people matter. I believe the more insidious danger is to become comfortable with a President who demeans and lashes out against anything or anyone who questions his position or authority. I believe we are better than that as a country. I believe the dream of the founders of this nation held on courageously and selfishly to the dream of a country where each person mattered and each voice or vote truly counted. I was unfortunately not shocked them 90% of my freshmen students did not find it important enough to vote today. I am not shocked when people do not take the time to ask questions and then complain about the consequences. I, however, cannot sit idly by and allow such a treacherous path to continue unabated or unquestioned. I will continue to be “a spoke in the wheel,” one that questions; one that squeaks; one that looks for justice in a time where justice seems to be an ideal rather than a practice. I refuse to allow the language and the rhetoric of a bully define who I am as a citizen. Perhaps we needed Mr. Trump to understand what we do not want for our country.

Thanks always for reading.

Michael (another American citizen)

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.

Critically Thinking in a Surface-Oriented World

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Hello from Bydgoska 19C,

My brain is whirling,  but my body is tired, so I might sleep a bit and come back . . . we’ll see what happens. Well . . . the typical happened; much like when I make a road trip and need a break, the power nap works very well. Though this was about twice the length of what I call the optimal nap (45 minutes or so), I am awake. Brushing my teeth and a little face washing always seems to do the trick. Today we continued to attend classes and some of the students are struggling with finding their bearings and as such, did a scenic walking tour around City Center Krakow today. The sociological view of Jewish emigration and identity is a very interesting class. It is also quite interesting that in my reading I have found a number of things I can use. We went to a second class today, which is a film studies class. We will watch a number of films in 9 different languages over the next three weeks. We watched on in class today, which was a bit bizarre and I watched the second assigned film this evening back here at the dorm on the computer. While I have watched foreign films before, I am analyzing then a bit differently. My immediate reaction to both of these films is they are not your typical American Rom-Com and you would not go to the movies to feel good or escape life for a while. It is not your typical American entertainment. There is an article accompanying these first two films assigned and that is going to hopefully help me see where the professor is headed. He is a very young and rather amusing person in the class. In addition it is evident he knows his craft and there is much more to what is going on than merely a surface sort of analysis.

It is the sort of surface analysis that is really the point of this posting. I remember back to high school when Mr. Littlejohn (I know it sounds rather Sherwood-ish in nature, but let me assure you there was nothing easy for the taking here), my chemistry teacher failed me for attempting to merely get by. I can still see him when he would get angry and pound the lab table with his fist and explain, “You have no drive! You must produce!” If there is anyone who when to Riverside Junior/Senior High School who had chemistry or physics and reads this blog, I am sure they can remember him. He was perhaps the first person who really pushed me to consider the option (really the need) to do more than phone things in, as my colleague, Dr. Decker, calls it. I think I actually had a string of teachers in that realm. I remember my 7th grade geography teacher giving me a C at midterm and telling me I should never have grades as low as that. I remember being embarrassed when she said that to me. In college, probably because I had already failed out of Iowa State University, when I got to Dana College, I knew I had to get to work. What I knew more keenly, however, was the simple fact that I had never really tried very hard. Even in the service when I got accused of cheating in Communications and Electronics School because I had a 100% average after three weeks, I had not really tried that hard. I merely memorized and did my work. Perhaps it was the Delvin Huttons in the world, my Greek and Religion professor at Dana, who first challenged me. Yet even then, with a C in a couple of his classes, I did not feel challenged I felt put upon. How dare he??!! Perhaps it was more telling when he said to me that I was not smart enough to take a summer Greek class that someone really pushed me to prove to them, but more importantly myself that I was capable. It was the Donald Juels, who wrote on a paper that he “hope[d] that I learned more in the class than was exhibited by my paper.” that finally pushed me in a manner that forced me to look at myself honestly and figure it out. There was someone at each level. When I was working on my doctoral degree it was Patty Sotirin, a person for whom I still have the utmost respect and admiration. As late a year ago she was still disagreeing with me and pushing me to consider other options on a paper. Her insight and accuracy into any given situation is unparalleled. What all of this says to me is pretty simple, without challenge, at least for me, I too am content to merely do enough, but who is my challenger now? Honestly, it has to be myself. I have to be willing to work harder, see clearer (more clearly), think profounder (more profoundly) . . .  (yes, I know there is grammatical structure issues, but I was working on the parallelism of the list — I can’t help it).

What are the consequences of not doing this? What are the consequences personally and beyond? The consequence personally becomes a lack of initiative. It becomes a loss of truly dreaming. It becomes a lack of curiosity and ultimately hope. Dr. Donald Juel, my New Testament professor, wrote in my PhD recommendation, which I was allowed to see after I graduated, that he did not know my best work yet, and probably neither did I still had not done it or something to that effect. He did say that I had a tenaciousness that he had seldom seen and that I was willing to work harder than most anyone. He did believe that I would see it. To this day, I am not sure I have. I do believe I work hard, but I have too many things going on all the time, and that is of my own doing. I claim to be the victim of my circumstance, but I am not sure that is as true as I would like to make it. I need to do more succinctly what I tell my students, prioritize and then have the discipline to follow those things. I think I go through phases where I do this well and then other times not so much. I wish I knew more about more things that is the problem, and while I know that seems to be a generalized statement, there is more specificity to it than appears. If you really know me, you know that I have this insatiable desire to learn and to learn about most anything. I am more of a cultural inquisitor than I realized. I want to understand the connections and that is why this current history class the students are taking (and I get to lurk in for free) is so fascinating to me. The question that creates a foundation to this course is why is it that a stateless minority has been able to maintain its existence and prominence in world history? She is referring to the Jewish people. What she has already forced upon me is an appreciation for their tenacity and a connecting between scripture and history that goes beyond anything I had previously considered. She did that in less than two hours and she did it simply and thoughtfully. There have been moments I have felt like an undergraduate student again, wishing I might have taken the opportunity to study abroad and work on issues of culture and language. I wish I would have not given up my Goethe Scholarship to study German in Bremen before moving to Pennsylvania the first time. I do hope to figure out how to manage coming back to Poland next summer and studying Polish for 6 weeks or so intensively. I would need to do some other work in the Spring to prepare, but it would allow me to do some other traveling and learning also. I have said on more than one occasion that if I would do my life again, at least educationally, I would want to learn five or six languages fluently and then study linguistics. There is a student on the trip who hopes to work as an interpreter at the United Nations. When she told me this, she almost apologized for her dream, and I told her to not ever apologize for having a dream. She is a strong and thoughtful young woman and that is what the world needs.

Too many people are willing to merely scratch the surface, and too many educators, bosses, or others are willing to let them. What does it mean to really strive for something? Most of our students have a better conceptual understanding of this than they might admit. Anyone who has participated in a sport or learning some art form (music, art, dance) and really put in their practice time to excel does understand reaching for more than merely going through the motions. This is where the practice of everyone needing to succeed has its problems. Some are merely better and some work to be better, but we need to be honest. This does not mean we need to be brutal or uncaring, but going to far to the side of needing everyone to win or embarrassing or hurting people through nasty demeaning behavior on the other is not what competition needs to be. The consequence of these extremes is exactly what has occurred and why should be surprised. If you encourage those who need the improvement to actually work to do it, most will step up to the plate. If you help them over the elevated bar, two things happen. They will put in more effort and they will appreciate that you helped them improve. I am often told you have to work hard to fail my course. I do not let people merely fall between the cracks, but as my ACT 101 students from the fall found out, and should have known from the summer, I do expect you to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to be successful.

What are the consequences societally? We get people like Donald Trump bullying people and an absolutely horrendous number of people supporting his boorish behavior. Bullying is not thought-provoking, it is merely provoking. Insulting takes little intelligence, it requires an unbelievable amount of fear and arrogance. It allows assholes with power to merely scream, “You’re fired!” So why is it that so many are paying attention and following this sad excuse? Because his lack of decorum on the public stage is how many of them act in their personal lives. He gives them license to continue their own sad behavior. Xenophobia, or any phobia for that matter, comes from fear and ignorance of the actual facts. It is exactly what Dr. Orla-Buskowska has been showing us in her class the last couple of days. This license for a lack of decorum has other consequences. If such behavior is tolerated, and in the case of Donald Trump’s example, encouraged, no one is required to examine or analyze the issues. Difficult problems are not managed or understood, they are merely rolled over. The extreme of that behavior will be witnessed by the students first hand when they visit Auschwitz in a couple of days. And for those of you who want to say that I am comparing Trump to Auschwitz, I do not believe he has gone to that level, but a more logical extension of the extreme than one wants to consider would allow for such things. How does Trump’s call against Latinos/as or Muslims differ from what was done in the United States against the blacks (and too often still is) in the pre-Civil Rights time? How does it differ from what we did to the Japanese post-Pearl Harbor? These are the consequences of not looking deeper or analyzing more carefully. These are the consequences when we fail to really study and understand the complexity of the world in which we live. I for one do not want to live where we should once again create places where the last words one sees on the gate is Arbeit Macht Frei. The picture at the beginning of the post is of my father in WWII. He came to Europe in that war to fight the consequence of not thinking more carefully and being willing to merely accept what was being espoused.

Well, it is about 6:30 a.m. and I have been up for about an hour or more, but I have other work to do.

Thanks for reading, as always,

Dr. Martin

Processing Evil

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Hello,

It is about 1:00 a.m. in Poland and I am flying back to the United States in the morning, but I wanted to get some things down here in my blog before I leave. Today I went with the group of students from Bloomsburg University and Dr. Polyuha, who was gracious enough to let me tag along, to see Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oswiecim). Oswiecim is the Polish name of this town and it is a town, that unfortunately became the location of the extermination of over 1.3 million people in barely four years. Birkenau has to do with the birch trees that were planted at the edges of the death camp to make such evil seem more serene, if you can imagine such a thing. There were four crematoriums at KL Auschwitz-BIrkenau II, but they could not keep up with the gassing of the thousands of people on a daily basis. In fact, they became to burn bodies in the woods surrounding the camp to try to keep up with the corpses, and in fact they were working on building a third unit to try to manage all the people who were coming to this Ungodly place (and I use that word intentionally). I have visited both Dachau and Buchenwald, and I was stunned by those places, but nothing could have prepared me for the massive scale of genocide that I learned about today in this place. Of the 1.5 million people who came through that gate claiming “Arbeit Macht Frei” at Auschwitz I or on the trains to Auschwitz-Birkenau II, we were told only 144 people escaped. Almost 90% were exterminated immediately. If you were old, infirmed, female or a child, your chances of living more than a day or two were minimal at best. I learned that of the 7,000 prisoners lived at the liberation of the camp, many of them died because they were given too much food in the first days following their liberation. We heard that for the first week one tablespoon of soup a day was all their bodies could manage. As we walked through the camps today, it snowed and the wind was quite bitter. It forced me to imagine working 12 hours a day with no shoes and merely the cotton covering of clothing they had. The inhumanity of this place is beyond words. There was a room where the length of an entire wall (behind glass and probably 15 foot deep 50 yards long and piled three or four feet high) was the hair shorn off of the woman who entered the camp. The hair was actually bagged up into bales and sold. This completely stunned and revolted me. Thousands (which is a mere fraction) of shoes or hairbrushes or cosmetic cases are on display to provide some sense of the horror and the complete dehumanization that occurred in this place. However, that, in spite of its unimaginable nature, is not what is the most staggering to me. The most mind boggling, shocking, astounding, or dastardly thing about this place is how the Nazis worked tirelessly to figure out how to be more efficient in their extermination of those people they deemed of no use or value.

Good morning (it is about 7:15 a.m. and I have been up for an hour getting organized to fly back the states latter this morning. I have been writing lists of things I need to do. It is a bit daunting, but discipline and work and it will get done. It has been good to be away and in another part of the world for a few days. As if often the case, five days in a place gives you a little taste of what it offers. I know that Poland is both a land of beauty, but also of a place where many struggle to get by. However, that is the world in which we live. I think the experience of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau yesterday merely reminded me of how we justify something to the extreme. Mr. Galan would call it failing to love the other, and I believe that is true, but I think it goes to something more fundamental (again he will argue love is fundamental and I agree, but I am not sure we agree how one expresses that love) for me love is demonstrated through respecting the other. I think respect is the ultimate expression of loving the other. When you fail to value or respect the other you disregard their right to exist or co-exist as a person. Certainly what happened to the Jews, or the Russians, or the Gypsies, or the infirmed, or the gay . . . in all cases, it is the other . . . was because they were deemed without value, they were disrespected. I know that he and I will have more conversations about this idea of love. I think he uses the word love, where I use the word respect or value. To love another, really love them for me means the other person has found their way into your heart and changed your life.  That is actually for another blog I imagine.

I think what the lack of respect or value for the other does, when exercised in the extreme, is exactly what I saw yesterday. You can exterminate them and justify it because you do not see them as human. I am reminded of the article by Stephen Katz titled “The Ethics of Expediency.” It is an article I use at times in my Technical Writing course. I am not going to say much about it, but in this document, humans are referred to by terms like “load” or “cargo”. When we dehumanize the other, we can justify almost anything. Disrespect for me is always wrong . . . . and when pushed it becomes evil because it devalues one of the most important elements of creation. Trying to process that one culture (and an astounding culture at that) could systemically remove 6,000,000 people in less than four years, at least for me, cannot be done. It was again questioned that how could others not know, perhaps not the scope, but not know the action? What was offered yesterday was thought provoking. It was noted that other countries had different priorities. The priority was to end the war, not about saving people. For me, as I often do, I merely observed people yesterday. It was particularly interesting to observe Maria, who is Polish, and she has relatives who live in this city (Oswiecim). Her body language and the look on her face was particularly moving to me. Perhaps in was heightened because I know her. Perhaps it was heightened because I am here as a guest of her father. She has been through the camp before and noted that most Polish people say you should see it once, but that is enough. Perhaps that is part of her demeanor, but I know that even though I have been to other camps, I do not remember being as moved as I was yesterday. I will have to dig through the pictures. I do not think those pictures were scanned yet. I have pictures from Buchenwald. While the gate at Auschwitz claims “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free), Buchenwald’s gate reads “Jedem Das Sein” (Everyone gets what they deserve). I find this saying even more troubling. It implies that those brought to these camps deserved the inhumanity they had to suffer; that they deserved to be treated with such disrespect, and that somehow God would have said such action was okay. Remember that Germany was a “believing” nation. That was part of the reason that Bonhoeffer, my dissertation topic, chose to get involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. He claimed that if the church was not going to be “the spoke in the wheel” that stopped things, other measures needed to be taken. One of my other former students and I chatted on the bus yesterday. He was in my class about 4 years ago this coming semester, and is actually going to graduate school in Israel I found out. He is a history major and it was great to speak with him. We talked about the idea of disrespect and how such actions can lead to such atrocity. He is a very thoughtful and intelligent person.

I have continued to try to wrap my head around the other significant change that I will be facing when I return. It is to begin to manage Lydia’s affairs. I am glad she was so organized and clear in what she wanted. While I have struggled with that change, being in Europe pushed some things off until I get back to Bloomsburg and begin to go through all the things I will have to do. I am not sure how it all works, honestly, and I am sure I will be speaking with Bridget at some point today, perhaps tomorrow. I have one entire day in Pennsylvania and then I leave for Salt Lake City. I need to still get some things arranged there too. I think I will probably be in my office most of tomorrow trying to get organized. While coming here did give me some great material for considering the novel, and contacts, amazing people who speak the language, there will need to be other trips. I think coming in the summer would be a good plan and something I might have to do some work on getting a professional travel grant for. I will be traveling some more before the end of the break and I am hoping that hiding away for a few days in one of my favorite places next weekend and beyond will allow me to get second semester organized and ready to go. I have a new prep this semester and I have done some reading and have some things at my disposal from the winter term class last year, but there is much more to do. It is almost 8:00 a.m. here in Krakow and it is important for me to get my ducks-in-a-row for what is immediately necessary, so I think I will sign off.

Understanding or processing evil, as I titled this blog, is something that is a present tense verb for me (in the Greek language sense of the present tense – and I am not trying to merely rhyme here), and certainly the events of Auschwitz-Birkenau are past tense (but, again, in the Greek language sense). Present tense verbs in Greek are much more about continuing action. While I am not sure I can ever understand the evil that prompted such despicable horror toward the other, it is something we as humans need to continue to process. We should never stop considering what evil we might do to another individual. Indeed, the gerund form of continuing to process or ponder is necessary if we are to stop committing such atrocities. It is precisely because we do not continue to do so that I believe such evil continues to occur. I believe that evil is in us and I will not merely blame it on “the devil”. The past tense in the Greek language is called the aorist tense and it means “completed action with continued significance.” There can be no doubt that what the Nazis did during the late 1930s and into the 1940s has significance for us as humans. Yet, we still rain evil down upon each other on a daily basis. Genocide has not stopped; it continues in various parts of our world on a daily basis, but somehow I am afraid we turn our heads and pretend it does not happen. Perhaps I still have too much idealism in me yet. I want to believe that people are predisposed for good. Yet, when I walk through such a place in the cold, wind, and snow as I did yesterday, it is impossible to be idealistic. It forces me to consider what happens when we as humans disrespect or fail to value the other. It has been a wonderful experience to be in Poland these last days and learn more about yet another culture. We are so diverse and yet some connected. Perhaps that is what I needed to be reminded of yet again. We are dependent on each other for survival, whether we want to consider that or not is a different question.

In a few hours I will be on a plane from Krakow to Berlin and from Berlin to NYC. Es hatte eine gute Reise gewesen. While I need to work on my Spanish and get my head back into that language again, I have now another one to learn.

Do Roberta i Katarzyny,

Dziękuję wszystkim za życzliwość; to było wspaniale spędzić czas z tobą tu i obiecuję, że wrócę.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Meine Mutter

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Hello from Kraków and my little apartment,

It is about 1:30 a.m. and while I was originally in bed before 9:00, I have awakened and decided to write something if I going to lay here awake. It has been almost 24 hours since I got Nate’s initial text telling me that Lydia’s unbelievably strong battle to hold on to her life had finally ended. Over the previous 24 hours I had told people here she might wait him out also. She went 12 days without eating and I think she probably drank less than 10 ounces of water during that time. In that time either Nate, Carissa, a staff member of COH or I was with her. The smiles she gave and the hugs or pats on the head she doled out as those of us who watched her (probably not a single person could see her and not have tears at some point) was, and is, quite phenomenal. As I sat in her room (she is the only person to have occupied that room up until now) at the end of the hall, she seemed to let each person somehow see that incredible heart she possessed. She seemed, while never completely losing her ability to illustrate what she wanted or did not want, to try to genuinely show each and every person that she was grateful for the care they were providing.

I should note something about that care and all the wonderful people who have offered their care to Lydia during the last 3 1/2 years. First, they are not paid nearly enough for the extreme circumstances and difficult positions they endure each day. There are some incredible caregivers who try to help these men and women maintain their dignity as their minds disappear and their lives regress into the abyss of nothingness. When Lydia was first at COH, those individuals who were already where she would eventually be, petrified her. The actions of people, those who were once hard working and blessed with extraordinary intelligence, is unpredictable and often outlandish. They can be both physically and verbally abusive and that takes an emotional toll on the caregiver. Yet, I have observed first-hand care that was second to none from some of these employees. Yes, they are employed, but they are so much more than an employee of this company that has dozens of these facilities. There are individuals who are angels in human- form. As Lydia was blessed by their care and compassion, I too have received the precious gift of their love and concern. I would try when I was back to get them something from Caribou (the Midwest Starbucks for those unfamiliar) or I would fix dinner for everyone as a small token of my appreciation for all they did. While I do not want to point out any particular people, I did note during my recent visit that the present staff was probably the best overall staff I experienced during the entire time I had been coming to COH. I also know that such a staff is only possible when they are phenomenal people to begin with and the particular building management supports them in their care. I am grateful to those who are there full-time also. The atmosphere of genuine decency and expected respect for both the residents and family was so apparent. The corporate office in Minnesota is richly blessed to have the administrator, nurse, and activities person they do in Menomonie. In my opinion, they probably do not realize how fortunate they are. The individual acts of care and kindness you have given to Lydia and me will never be forgotten.

It has been a day of relief on one hand and tears on the other. I understand this dichotomous response and am willing to just let it happen. I do struggle with the fact that I handed off the physical presence of being in Room 23 to Nathan and I am grateful to him for choosing to come back even when I said it was probably okay to let her go because I think it is what she wanted. I do believe she held out much longer than anyone believed either humanly or medically possible because she did not want me ( or perhaps anyone) to be there. I am grateful that Carissa came in on a New Year’s Day and spent three hours on her day off with her. Lydia came to love Carissa and it was evident in the way Lydia looked at her and by the way Lydia’s entire affect changed when Carissa would come near. What I know for sure in my heart is that Lydia came to trust the people at COH and for that to happen, it took amazing individuals doing miraculous things. More importantly, you can be sure those who provide that outstanding care do it because they are outstanding in their own right because none of them are, nor could they be, paid enough. That being said, they should certainly be compensated much better than they are. I have learned much about elder care and, in particular, care for the memory impaired.

It is now Saturday morning and I did hear from Nate on some things and he did seem to get the immediate things that needed to be managed yesterday done. It is interesting to me that his need to be in Menomonie in the future and my need will now be quite different. He will have significant issues to manage there and I will not. Theresa and he will have substantive interest in Park Circle now and I will not. That is not to say that I will not go back, but I will no longer have a place to stay and in the next weeks I will have to probably go back and clean out my things from the Upper Sanctum and collect all the books and things that have been there since I left Menomonie. I know that what will happen in the next weeks is a process, but Lydia was amazing and she had it all figured out. I am fortunate to still have some amazing friends and former colleagues there, so there are ways that Menomonie will always have a sense of place for me or feel like home. However, the main reason that I have gone back in the past 5 1/2 years is now a guardian angel for me and someone who has profoundly changed my life.

I cannot get the image and the experience out of my head of the moment that last night when I told her I loved her and she had become my mother, the parent I no longer had and she simply whispered, “I know.” As I moved down the hall from her room, I cried and trembled as I tried to walk away from this person. I remember Lexie and Brianna both tearing up and hugging me as I got to the common room. I think as I reflect on my own year of attempting to be a parent, for better or worse, perhaps most of what I know of parenting actually came from Lydia. I am not sure I realized that until just now. That might be something to ponder in another post. As I type this, again the sun is out and shining brightly into my windows, though if it is like that past couple days, it is fleeting. I guess that is apropos at this point. The fleeting nature of our experiences and what they offer to our lives is something to be considered. I have known for a long time that Lydia would come to this day and I would have to figure out how to manage it. It is life and I do not mean that in either a cliché or an uncaring way. Life is profound; it is a gift, but one that often burdens us or one we might too often take for granted. In the past days as people have reached out, I am once again shown how blessed I am. Those who took the time to send their words through text, FB, Whatsapp, or even phone calls have done so much to support me. I am grateful for those who have taken time to connect in whatever small way they have (they are not small).

It is now the evening of the 3rd and I am back in my little abode. I enjoy this little studio apartment and I appreciate the solitude. Today I was actually on my own as Robert dropped me off at the Wieliczka Kopalni Soli (The Wieliczka Salt Mine) to tour it. This mine is gargantuan (and that is an understatement). It has 9 levels, but we only saw three. It no longer mines salt, but still produces 150,000 tons through desalination. The tour was almost three hours long (if you want to see pictures and follow me on Facebook, I have posted some there).  The picture at the top of this post is of Pope John Paul II and is carved entirely from salt. It was created in 1999. The mine has been in operation for hundreds of years and during WWII the Nazis actually moved a factory into the mine. Some of the salt pockets that have been mined are almost a hundred meters deep and the length and the width of the some of the rooms are astounding. There is a huge chapel (there are actually 20 of them throughout the mine’s rooms and tunnels) and three men carved some of the most amazing Biblical scenes into the walls. The floors, the ceilings, the walls, everything is made of salt. It is not really describable through words. Over a half million people visit it a year, and there is no doubt in my mind why. I think it ranks up with the Seven Wonders of the World. This is my fourth time to Europe and I have seen beautiful and stunning things, but I think the last two days are right at the top of the list for beauty and awe.

As noted, I am back in my room and I want to work on my syllabi for a moment and some other reading, but I cannot stop thinking about Lydia and coming to grips with the reality that she is no long present in my life in a physical form. I understand death, both from losing family members and as a former pastor, but this passing has hit me probably like the loss of my grandmother did. While I am keeping busy, there were three times today that my eyes welled up in tears and I did not even realize I was thinking about, or emoting because of, her. Last night when I tried to read to Robert and Katarzyna what I had written about her, I began to cry. Again, what I realize is I have lost yet another parent. Perhaps it is because she is, was, and will be, the best mother I have had. If you have read my blog during the past year (again see Wondering What She Really Thinks) you know that I have struggled with those maternal relationships. What I know about Lydia is that she could really get to me in a number of ways and produce a myriad of emotions, but when it was all pushed down to the basics, I think I loved her more than anyone, with the exception of my grandmother. I think I might have even loved her more than my adopted father, and that is saying something pretty profound. Is it because I am older and I understand the frailty of life more poignantly? Is it because she so affected my life in the last 10 years? Is it because we realized what we both gave and received from the other? I think it is some of all of these things. While my biological mother is still alive, I have no desire to reach out to her and that is for a number of reasons. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but I think other experiences have taught me that I do not need to make everyone happy, and there are some I do not need in my life. In fact, it has been a hard lesson, but what I am realizing is there is no promise from anyone that he or she will remain in your life. While I do not mean this to be selfish in anyway, it has become abundantly clear to me that believing in the one’s self might be the only guarantee we have, and not even that is sure because sometimes we can be pretty flaky, even to ourselves.

What I know as I am going to call it a night in Poland (tomorrow is my last complete day here), I have lost yet another special and incredible person. While she owed me nothing, she has offered and given me much. While she was could be aloof, she was as down to earth as anyone I have ever met. While she might have appeared to many as hard or unapproachable, she welcomed me and loved me as few ever have. While she had no children, sie wurde die Mutter, die ich nicht hatte, und ich werde geehrt und demütigt, um einfach und liebevoll zu ihr zu sagen: ‘Lydia, ich liebe dich und du bist immer meine Mutter sein.’

As always, thanks for reading. When I post again, I will probably be back in the states.

Michael