Being Thankful

Hello from my kitchen in the morning,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you as always for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

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

When Times Were Simpler . . .

Hello on a bitterly cold night,

As I lie here in my warm bed and my house is heated to a comfortable temperature, it is impossible for me to get the news headlines and stories out of my consciousness of people throughout the country who stand a real chance of freezing to death because they have no where to go to stay out of the cold. Then there are those who are indoors, but perhaps have little insulation and even less money for heat. The university has closed tomorrow because of the cold, requiring only essential workers to show up, keeping heat and other essential services available as students are still on campus and buildings and such need to be heated. As I crawled into bed I could hear the wind and I could actually feel the cold in the walls of my house (welcome to an old farm house). I have certainly done things to the house to manage some of that 1905 plaster and draftiness, but there are still issues. I have felt like it I was transported back to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or some of the previous climes in which you needed appropriate clothing and a hearty breakfast before heading out. Yes, it seemed that even though I survived that sort of cold, it was not nearly as dangerous, and I did not read headlines like I did this morning that a University of Iowa student died in that cold. Those things hit close to home for me. I was a student there and I have a great niece who attends there now. It is not some far away place (well it is in terms of distance at the moment), but it is a place I have walked around, a place I know all so well. News stories note the air temperature in Iowa City was about -21 at the time the student was found and the wind chill was -55. What a tragic ending for a student, a family and a community. I remember frost on the insides of windows when I was in the Upper Peninsula. I remember playing in the snow when it was very cold, or at least it seemed cold. Was it that I did not understand the complexity of that cold as a small boy? I remember driving across South Dakota and Minnesota in whiteout conditions and being a passenger in car on Eastbound I90 when the driver of the car slammed into the back of another car that just plain stopped in the lane of traffic because of visibility. Maybe it was I felt more invincible then. Maybe I have gotten a wee bit wiser in my older age.

Yesterday as I sat in my office, at one moment I looked out the window and it was cold and windy, but bright and beautiful. In less than five minutes it was snowing so hard and the wind was blowing just as hard and I could barely see outside the window. It was a crazy day and as I had to walk across campus, depending on the direction, there were certainly some marked changes in how difficult and painful that walk was. I remember cold and wind again as a child, growing up in the upper Midwest, we know about negative temperatures and wind chills. Some of the places I have lived since have somewhat typical wind chills of -35, which on a January morning is not uncommon. Where I went to graduate school, the average winter snowfall is 270 inches or so, or about 9 meters. That is serious snow blowing and shoveling, and to prove, perhaps for once and all that I am abnormal, I rather enjoyed all that snow. In fact, I just Facebook messaged someone about how I missed it as I looked at their pictures. Even as a 40 something, being out with the snow blower on winter mornings in Laurium, Michigan with Don, the retired school superintendent, and Mack, my media mogul neighbor, was like three little boys cavorting, while building snow forts. As soon as the sun was up, we were at it. It was simple and clean (though a bit noisy, and perhaps not as clean as I would like with our gas powered engines.). . .  the end of the week got to me with business and an office that had a ceiling leak and now no heat, so things were not simpler on the first floor of Bakeless. So, it is early on Monday morning and we are into February already. I want to try to finish this before I leave for an almost insufferably long day. It is my normal Monday (and that is for most semesters). A three hour Monday night course makes for a long day, particularly when I am usually awake before 6:00 a.m..

We are already into the beginning of the third week of the semester, and it does not get simpler for either professors or students about this time. We are trying to get students to perk up and engage and many of them are still in holiday break mode, sometimes sort of sleepwalking through their first few classes, hoping against all hope that they will not miss anything. There are a couple of things that contribute to that in terms of schedule also. Since we do not begin classes until Tuesday, the MWF classes miss a class in the first week and the shortened week makes it easier for students, and sometime professors, to buy into the so-called “syllabus week.” My students are not so fortunate, but I have found that while I enjoy teaching the winter term, the finishing of that class, while simultaneously beginning the spring semester is a bit brutal. I think that is where the simple got lost in childhood. As small children, and even as what they now call middle school, we have a rather Pollyanna-ish understanding of time. We have so much time on our hands, there is little that demands attention, and there is always tomorrow. Procrastination is instilled because there is little consequence for waiting or taking things a day at a time. In fact, we are generally encouraged to not be in a rush. Don’t grow up too soon. Allow yourself to relax, you have the rest of your life to work. Now before you get to upset, believing I am all about child labor, that is not what I am espousing. Where is the happy medium for teaching the value of time and still allowing someone to be their age? I think it probably varies from person to person (of course, says the man who has never had children).  I have noted at other times in my blog that my favorite and happiest times when I was a child were at my grandmother’s home. Perhaps it was because she made things simple . . .  not unrealistic, however. She was up early every morning to get ready to go to the bakery. Even when we stayed with her, she made us breakfast, which is today still my comfort food (two soft poached eggs, a piece of toast, and a half of grapefruit), and we were out of the little house on Harrison Street before the sun was up. She would stop at two grocery stores on the way to the bakery in the morning, both to front things (straighten her sections where the bakery items were sold), and to take inventory for that day’s anticipated orders. In addition, we would be at the bakery until almost 6:00 p.m. at night as she would sit at her office desk and work on the business aspect of being a bakery owner. We seldom got home before dark and the reverse of the morning would happen on the way home. We would, again, stop at the same two grocery stores to manage her inventory. As I grew, got my drivers license, and did delivery for her, I would do much of this on my own. So really, there was nothing simple about owning your own business, but her cheerful attitude and the inexhaustible storehouse of love she had and exhibited for my sister and me sure made it seem simple.

What amazes me as I write this is the profound change I have witnessed in my life. That is not unique to my generation and what has happened to the generations before me. Certainly the industrial revolution had 20th century consequences that were beyond the imagination, but as we continue with the technological revolution, which I believe we are still merely beginning to understand (e.g. AI or VR), I cannot even fathom what my students will experience in their lifetimes. About two weeks ago, the mother of my sandbox buddy, as we have often called other, lost her mother. She was 103 years old. That is an amazing age. She was born in the middle of WWI. She graduated from high school in the middle of the Great Depression. She has daughters who are now retired themselves. In the century of her life, she witnessed incredible change. However, did all we have done and created to make our lives more convenient make them simpler? I am not so sure it has. We certainly have gadgets to make our lives more convenient. I can tell my phone to turn lights off and on and even set them to a certain percentage of brightness. I have someone ring my door bell and tell who they are because I can see their picture. I can connect my computer to my other computer and my phone or my television. I can turn on speakers in my house to manage sound and music that comes from my phone or computer . . . and the list goes on. No, I have not gotten an automatic vacuum cleaner or a robotic maid (yet), but one never knows. The fact that I have only recently finally updated my phone was surprising to some and even though I call my residence the technologically savvy farmhouse, I still enjoy being away from it all at times. Those who know me are painfully aware that sometimes I leave my technology at home or in the office or in the car. Those who know me are sometime excruciatingly exasperated when I fail to get back to them in a timely manner because we are to be connected 24/7. Then there are other times when I am grading and commenting at 3:00 a.m. So is it all simpler. I think the jury is still out, but it is not looking good. We certainly have more access than ever. We can find out most anything by our handheld futuristic Alexander Bell devices. We are more connected to the world in which we live than my friend’s mother could have ever anticipated as a girl. Simultaneously, we are more isolated. Instead of speaking with someone in an interpersonal manner, we will text them. Instead of calling someone to come over, we will snap them or FB them, or Instagram them.

This past week I had a student come to me noting that they were surprised to be on academic probation. They had a difficult first semester to put it rather mildly. When I asked about their situation at some point I asked, do you have friends here? They answered, “No, I have no friends: I am alone.” I do not think they were being hyperbolic and that answer cut me to the core. No wonder they are struggling to do well if they are completely alone in the middle of 10,000 other people. No wonder they cannot succeed academically if they go back to their room and shut the door and stay in their room overwhelmed and all alone. There is much more I could say, but I need to be careful to not reveal too much, but this student is not unique. What have we created societally in causing students to believe the only way to succeed is to excel in college, and only if you are willing to spend 100K on something that guarantees nothing can you find happiness and success. That is ridiculous, but we have surely drank that Kool-Aid. And I say this as the college professor. That does not make life simpler. So, what are the answers to a simpler life? I think it is not simple, but I know that the time in my life that was most simple was when I knew I was loved and that someone had my back no matter what. Now, six decades later, I do not think the answer is much different. Perhaps I wish I realized that so much earlier. With that, I leave you this song. Those of you who know me well, know I have a sort of melancholy side to me, in spite of my general optimism. I leave you with this, one of my favorite songs.

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Tomorrow, Tomorrow (Hopefully Less is More)

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Good early morning from the acre,

As has been the case since returning a bit over a week ago Thursday morning, my body is working to acclimate back to being on Eastern Standard Time. At this point, the latest I have been up is 9:00 p.m. as after that it seems neither my brain nor my eyes want to function with any degree of efficiency . . . . In fact, that lack of efficiency, and the onset of the semester, has had me busier than I can even find a metaphor to adequately describe. At least one that is not more than a cliché. So, as per usual, I will clear my head of competing thoughts so I can get to work on the pressing matters at hand. The weekend needs to be one of incredible productivity.

There are three things that rise to the front of my thought processes in our ridiculously divided world at the moment. While they might seem random, unrelated, and disparate, they are not. The first is the number 29. This morning as I woke early -yes – around 5:00 a.m., I read with sadness that Fatima Ali had lost her battle with Ewing Sarcoma. If you are unaware of her story, look it up. She was a world quality chef who competed on the series Top Chef, and after learning her diagnosis, remission, and reoccurrence of this devastating terminal form of cancer used her voice and social media to document her final battle. In many ways she was at the top of her game when she was diagnosed with this virulent form of cancer. Making it the point of even competing on Top Chef is a testament to the long hours, unparalleled dedication, and passion with which a person tends to an art that many of us could only dream of attempting. While she did not win (I think was 7th out of 15). She was awarded the fan favorite of the year’s competition. Her indefatigable spirit and the joy she exhibited won her an innumerable number of admirers, both professionally and on a more personal level. There are always the questions of fairness regarding such struggle and ultimately the loss of the battle to remain alive. Cancer at any age is unfair, if there is even such an option in life, but when it happens to one of my former students who is in her 20s, it seems so impossibly brutal. My father was diagnosed at 82, and from diagnosis to passing it was a total of 32 days. There was barely enough time to prepare, but I have often thought perhaps that was better. I remember going home to see him after he received this news. It was both sad and a bit comical. He was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, though I have learned since, there is so much more, but regardless. When I got home to see him, he asked why I was there. When I told him he was sick, his response was, but I will be okay. I told him that this time that was probably not the case. A day or so later when speaking with his primary care physician, he noted that he was told he had cancer, and he could remember that it was in his liver and in his kidneys, but he could not remember the third place (it was his pancreas). He sort of stared at the ceiling, however, and then looked squarely at his doctor, telling her that was the one that was going to send him down the road. He was so matter of fact about it that it made us all speechless. Somewhere in that deteriorating brain of his, he had figured it all out. Cancer, while much more manageable than it once was, is simply a brutal sentence.

The second 29 that seems to matter at the present moment, at least for me, is the Freshman United States Representative from the Bronx, who already has her own moniker AOC. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has certainly created a stir, from her unlikely win in a primary election against a well-established and high ranking Democrat to all she has had to manage since being elected to the House in November. She has been scrutinized perhaps as much as the President himself. As I noted in my rhetoric class notes for the week, there is more similar about them than perhaps meets the eye at first glance. They are both outsiders who won unexpectedly; they are both from NYC. They are both willing to use social media to promote their message. They both are strongly opinionated about the direction they believe the country should go, and those opinions are based on their differences: gender, social-economic background, ethnicity, and I believe they have very different ethical or moral compasses. One of the things I believe AOC has demonstrated is quite a bit of grace and moxie under scrutiny. Certainly, there have been some gaffs, but I think she has purported herself extremely well considering. It is a bit of a stretch from bartending to make ends meet to ending up in Washington, DC as the youngest person elected to the House. And regardless of whether I agree with everything she says or the stance she takes, I do believe she is thoughtful and considered in what she says and why. More so, I believe she is a strong example of what it means to actually represent your district. That is what, at least presently, I admire about this young woman.

The second issue is the shutdown and what has happened in terms of the consequence for 800,00 people,  but that is only the tip of the iceberg. I noted in one of my last blogs that a former student, friend, and fellow-caregiver for Lydia had been working with no pay as a member of the United States Coast Guard. I am sure his view of the shutdown, the reason behind it, and the reality of what it did is quite different than mine, as he is significantly more right-wing than I am liberal, but nonetheless I respect what he believes and why he believes it. For me, the fact that we have gone 35 days with the partial government shutdown and we are basically where I noted we should be in a previous blog somewhat stuns me. I am not a politician. I am not a wealthy one-percenter. While I am certainly blessed, I also work hard and put in many more than 40 hours a week. I am fortunate enough to go to a job I love every day and I am paid quite reasonably for what I do. What astounded me most this past week was the unparalleled cluelessness of the administrations Secretary of Commerce, who had the audacity to assert that furloughed workers should just take out loans, but the Federal Credit Union, which falls under his purview is charging 9% interest on those loans. He addition, he claimed he could not understand why federal workers, who had been out of work for 32 days that the time of his comment, would need to use food banks. This is a person worth 700 million dollars. Well NO SHIT! that he would not understand. What an arrogant ass!! It should be noted that inflation is at 1.9 % so a 9.0% loan rate is pretty outrageous. Then Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, intelligently responded to the shutdown with the following auspicious remark, “It is a little bit of pain but its going to be for the future of the country. And their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now” (Huffington Post 1/23/19). This is beyond stunning. Again, it explains more about the President and his family and how out of touch they are with the average American. Many of the very people who voted for him were those most likely to be hurt by this extended train wreck. What concerns me about this is the conservative base of the Republican Party took the President to task over this and too often he seems to worry about that base support than any rational action that might be the best way forward. Before you think I am against border security and working to make sure that we admit legal people, I am not against such a proposition, but again, the idea of a wall or barrier, or steel girders or whatever you choose to call it is not the be-all, end-all. Certainly reinforcing or repairing what is there seems logical. Building where there is nothing merely for the sake of saying you built something is beyond ludicrous. It seems much more logical to employ people and technology. Again, the figures seem to indicate that there are fewer people trying to get across, and if I think logically, the increased scrutiny on the border for a whole variety of reasons would seem to support why the numbers trying to enter are down substantially from their high point, during the GWB years. Just look at the figures. Second, allowing people in who want to work and contribute does not seem like a losing proposition to me, it seems like it would be precisely the opposite. Where all of this ends up is anybody’s guess, but hopefully both parties in Congress will get serious and actually try to hash something out that creates a reasonable way to manage the border, that creates a way to support immigration that is legal and helpful, and that works to manage the 100s of 1000s DACA individuals in moving toward citizenship. It is not amnesty. It is allowing those who know no other country a change to become contributing citizens of the place they have already been contributing to since birth. Taxes is not the only way to contribute. Money is not the only way to contribute. Using one’s God-given talents to help the other is not a waste of time or effort. It is time to embrace and create a system that rewards those who have spend their life here under any circumstance and allow them an opportunity that they have probably worked harder for than most of us realize.

The third issue is the reality of how what happens in Washington, DC affects our average daily life in so many more ways than we often consider. As I noted earlier, we are represented by the people we elect. This is why we call our democracy a representative democracy. We elect people to actually watch out for us and listen to our concerns and our hopes and dreams. We believe that somehow our vote matters and what we believe and support is what citizenship is all about. This past week, ironically on the day we remember a non-violent, but profoundly significant figure in our nation’s history, we saw an event take place that epitomizes the divisions that seem to more aptly illustrate our American fabric than many of us wish to admit. Before I note the event, let me offer than I think there is more to this complex day that either side seems willing to admit. Nevertheless, the viral video of a high school student wearing the dreaded MAGA hat and the Native American, who was chanting, demonstrated all too clearly that the media on both sides was ready to put out their own spin on something that had much more to it than the lack of spatiality between two distinct and seemingly unconnected individuals. I am quite sure that an 16 year old (I think that is what he is) has had his life turned upside down in ways he does not even understand at this point. I believe the elder Native American, who understandably has a boatload of reasons, finds himself in a situation he did not intend either. During the week, I have watched, read, and did my own research into the background of Covington Catholic High School. For the students who go there and were not at the event in Washington, I am sure they are mortified by all the attention this event has created. I am sure graduates are not as apt to want to say they graduated from this place. I should note with some of the things I have read, I would not want to be associated with this place either. If you do a bit of your own research, you can come to your own conclusions. The irony of some of what I saw and have read and the fact they were marching in Washington, DC on MLK Day has not gone unnoticed by me. The fact that the students were wearing MAGA hats are an entirely separate and problematic issue for me. Additionally, the President’s statement, which seems rather Charlottesville-esque, was also, unfortunately characteristic.

So what does all of this have in common? It is indicative of the incredibly pain that seems to be in all directions of this country, but simultaneously, the sun rises, the moon sets, sometime in an incredible manner like the eclipse this week. In spite of the things we hear regularly about how screwed up it all seems to be, we need to take heart that there are still people who care. There are still people who want to make a difference. Why do I know and believe this? Because I see them every day. I work with them. From the secretaries to the maintenance people, from administrators to faculty, I see people who care in their daily lives and work to the best of their ability. That is the amazing reality of where I spend my days. From people who support every aspect of the place we call Bloomsburg University. I have spent most of my weekend working on my classes, but it has been a good weekend, a productive weekend. I am blessed to be able to get up in the morning and go back to work where I believe I somehow make a difference also. So, I will close with a thank you for all who remind me that not all is lost. There is so much more to what is good and positive if we take the time to notice. Here is my thought and video for this post. Heart is certainly one of my favorite bands, and I dream and believe that we can find a way to come together more thoughtfully and more completely. So I offer their song Dreams. I love the sort of Salvador Dali sort of vibe to it.

Thanks as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

 

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

Three Score and Three

carpe diem

Good early morning from the acre,

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

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

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

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

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

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

With care, and thank you for reading,

Michael

Understanding the Puzzle (aka: My Body

Hello from my study,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Michael