From where does it all come?

Hello from a quiet office and empty building early in the morning,

I have been in my office working on some needed things since about 2:30 and it is almost 6:00 a.m. Amazing what I can get done when no one is around. I remember when I used to go to my study when I lived in Laurium, MI and work on things for my graduate classes. I often spent a good part of the night studying and working. I miss that study room actually. I got a lot of work done there and perhaps some of the most productive times in my academic life were in that house on Woodland Avenue. It seems that life was a lifetime ago, but some of the important lessons I learned there have remained. Hard work is essential if you are to be successful. The things my father offered as handy facts have shown themselves to be more profound than I could have ever realized.

So . . . a different day and a different location, a bit south of Pennsylvania. For the fourth time, I am back in the Dominican Republic. I have been here once a year for the last four years. It’s time I’ve learned more things about the amazing people call Dominicans and their island. What I have found this time is somewhat disheartening. I suspected this to be the case, but now I have some actual numbers. All the smiley people, who work so very hard to make a dream vacation in reality, work both virtually and almost literally for nothing. This is not for the people they do it for, but rather how much they are paid for  working often 12 hours a day. This time I’m not as awed by everything as I was my first time here. Please,  don’t give me wrong; for the person looking for the ultimate vacation, I do not think you can beat it. Even when minor things pop up,  and they always will because there is no such thing as perfection, but every single person I’ve asked for help has bent over backwards to accommodate me. Or little dose of reality on this trip, seems to be a door to our sweet that hates key cards. I know to leave them away from the phone, but I’ve gone through five of them in two days. Now they just shake their head and I just look like an old white guy.

As I work on this blog is Saturday, but I only know that because I booked the calendar. In someways every day here is the same. I get up, eat breakfast, take a walk along the beach, go to the Tower, where Wi-Fi is the best, manage my other life, and figure out what I must actually do, which isn’t that much, and go through my day. The things I hear the most are: Buenos días, ¿como está? which in Dominican Spanish has no “s” gracia mi amigo y excelente.  ¿Si no dices muy bien a su ¿como está? Puedo garantizarle que quieren arreglarlo. It really is living in a dream for a week, or a long weekend. What is evident because they continue to build and add options. It seems my retirement will  be working with a travel company. I really do want to create options for people who think they could never do such a thing, to make dreams come true, and memories that will be a highlight.

What amazes me is why am down here both enjoying and working, for checking the news the craziness that is an administration, seems like a never ending merry-go-round and I’m not sure job security is an oxymoron. A number of people,  for whom I have great respect, voted differently than I did, many claiming that the fact he was not a politician was a good thing. From my perspective, it seems our President wants to run the White House like a reality TV show, or as his company where he is the boss. It seems, thus far, that hasn’t worked so well.  And I don’t care if it is the alt right or the alt left, something carriedto the extreme generally doesn’t work too well. But when extreme is usually created as an response to the other. One of the many things that has surprised me about living in Pennsylvania is the number of confederate flags, a more above the radar actual appearances of people wearing KKK regalia, and an over racism I never saw growing up in Iowa. Of course, Iowa now has Steve King as a representative, which is beyond gauling to me. Even though I was long gone from there long before he ever came to office, I find it embarrassing. The amount of hatred, intolerance, and prejudice is beyond anything I have ever witnessed in my life. As noted by others, hate is learned; it is not inherent. Why are we so afraid of “the other?” More often than not what I have one from the other is to learn more about myself. When I learn more about myself, I realize more oh and thoughtfully about my strengths and weaknesses. To me this is always positive. Sometimes painful, but if that’s the case, it. probably things to happen. All in all this latest trip to the Dominican Republic has helped me realize the many privileges I have, but also the responsibility I have for the other.

Being an American does mean something to me. It also means that I have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate than I am . . . it is both a faith thing and a patriotic thing for me. With that in mind, I share a song from the group who still amazes me by the complexity of their music, albeit 40 years ago (in spite of the note it is 35 year ago, this video is 5 years old . . . indeed I am not a math major, but . . . )

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Being Worthy

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Good morning from the airport in Charlotte, NC,

First, thank you for the texts, the comments, the tweets and the other ways in which so many of you have reached out and shared your kindness and concerns over these past days. I actually stopped to see Lydia one last time before I left Menomonie at 1:15 this morning. She was sleeping and yet seemed to be leaving this life at the same time. It was snowing steadily as I drove the 70 miles to the airport, and it was nice that it was 2:00 a.m. so there was little to no traffic on an interstate yet to be plowed. I listened to music that comforted me and allowed me to ponder as I crawled my way, figuratively speaking, to MSP.

What is abundantly clear to me is the simple fact that I have been, yet again, given two amazing gifts from Lydia. The first was to have 8 days with her and to be with her as she prepared all of us, both the staff of COH, who have been her family for three and a half years, and me, who became the son she never had, and has spent the last ten years with each other, to let her go. To say there were poignant moments during these past days comes no where near explaining the words, the expressions, and the tears that have been shed in the last room on the left at the end of the hall. The second gift, because in spite of the fact she told me that ” I had a shit temper”, she also knew that I would be an emotional wreck should I be in the room when she passed. Therefore, I believe, and I was told by both the caregivers, the nurse, and the administrator (and now by Melissa and Maria, through José) that she waited for me to leave. I never told her I had to leave on a particular day, but she held out. What people did not realize about Lydia, unless they were blessed enough and therefore allowed to get close to her was that she was an incredibly loving person. I wrote about her compassionate nature in other blogs, but whenever anyone was hurting, it affected her to the very core of her being. Her eyes would well up in tears and her voice would tremble as spoke in her Austrian accent, “Michael, it is just terrible.” And she always rolled those Rs. Kevin, her painter, tells of the time she took a large amount of food to the food pantry in Menomonie. As she saw the people waiting for basic staples, she cried and wanted to go buy more food to take back to the pantry.

Yet, to be fair, she was not always easy; she could be incredibly tough. She expected a lot from people, but nothing more than she expected of herself. She worked tremendously hard at creating a life for herself in this country and in 29 years of work took only two sick days. I think, in spite of her independence, after George passed away, she was unbelievably lonely. I did not know her for about 10 years, but I have a pretty good handle on who she was. I think Dennis, who spent 13 years in the carriage house, was important in that transitional time. I think Shelley , who probably treated Lydia better than Lydia treated her, was also important. I think the hard work and companionship that Shelley gave was important to Lydia in the time following George’s passing. I think Lydia was continually reaching out to people and simultaneously pushing them away. Somehow, and for some reason, she did not do that to me. The other three (technically four) people who managed to keep Lydia’s companionship and she never pushed away were Bill and Maryann (Bill and Lydia were colleagues at Stout and actually started at the same time.), Becky (Lydia’s department secretary), and Elaine (her next door neighbor). For some reason, and I am not sure she would use this term, but we somehow demonstrated a worthiness and as such, she trusted us. When she trusted someone, by extension, she loved them. In spite of the fact she never weighed more than 100 pounds until the last couple years of her life, and ended her life under 5’0″ tall, her heart must have taken up most of that space because it was incredibly large and strong. I also think it is what kept her alive these last days.

While I have noted this to people before, I am not sure I wrote it publicly. I do believe there are events that occur in our lives that we do not really understand until much later. I think my coming to UW-Stout is such an event. What I know or believe now is that Stout merely served as a vehicle to create other possibilities. First, while I learned important things at Stout, both positive and not so much, the learning I achieved was significant. It afforded me the opportunity to meet Mark and Gayle Decker and prepared me for coming to Bloomsburg, where I would be with the Deckers (although more of them) again. It prepared me, albeit primarily through observing others, about how I might develop and support a program. However, perhaps the most important and unexpected event was a chance conversation with Elaine that led me to Lydia. As I noted in a recent blog, I had no inkling that we would become a family. I think, and not meant inappropriately, I became her caretaker, her child, her spouse, all in one. It was both a blessing and a curse of sorts. I think of the morning I woke up and she was standing at the side of my bed staring at me and asking if I were awake. I think of driving her around town (much like driving Ms. Daisy) on her errands. I think of fixing her breakfast every morning or mowing, or walking along the roof with the blower, cleaning out the gutters so she wouldn’t. I think of raking leaves or snow blowing and shoveling to try to keep her from doing it and freezing. I remember going to her house for a glass of sherry or fixing dinner so she would eat more than grapes or bananas. I remember taking her out for rides in her 1977 Oldsmobile Ninety-eight and her patting the robin-egg blue dash and exclaiming, “Michael, it’s a beautiful car.” I now believe that Lydia was, and is, the real reason I came to Menomonie. Indeed, epitomized in the last 8 days, it was in sitting by Lydia’s side that the event of 11 1/2 years ago finally became crystal clear to me. Menomonie=Lydia. Regardless her penchant for independence, God knew she needed someone to be there consistently. For God to believe I was worthy of this calling is humbling to me because I am not extraordinary and seldom do I think about any kind of worthiness.

It is now the 28th of December and I am back in Bloomsburg and Nate has taken over the vigil. I am not sure how he will manage things as the family is with him and they have relatives in the area. I called COH a couple times yesterday and I spoke with Nate also. When I called this morning there was no substantive change. Lydia is Lydia; there is nothing more that can be said. I think she will wait Nate out also. The idea of being there is much difference than merely physical presence. That is what I believe. Lydia inside her deteriorating cognitive capacity is as sharp and determined to manage her life as always. Perhaps our worthiness is the actual witnessing of an amazing lady who will live her life completely and also completely on her terms. Perhaps it is that she allows us to participate in such an extraordinary event that offers us something of worth. She is not in pain and she rest comfortably; she is still lucid at moments and even poignant and witty, though that comes primarily through her eyes and her smiles, frowns or other body language at this point. Yet, as I noted in her comments like “no kidding” or “I know” or her patting my head lovingly as I cried on her shoulder demonstrate the worth our relationship has to both of us.

As I got up this morning, it was also a Sunday 17 years ago that I received the phone call that my father had passed away. He had dementia also, but actually succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I have wondered if today will be Lydia’s day and it would merely connect us in yet one more ironic way. Today I will try to focus my energies here and organize some things before I am on the go again tomorrow. I need to manage a half dozen things specifically first thing in the morning. I have appreciated all of your comments, your prayers, and the various ways you have made me feel worthy of your gifts and friendship. I will be communicating through FB and this blog over the next week. I will have photos of my researching and working on more of Lydia’s story in the next days. May we all find our places and things that give us a sense of worth. Sometimes, probably usually, they come when we least expect it.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

Understanding Friendship

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Good Sunday morning,

I was hoping to be in Virginia last night and driving back this morning, but once again, my body seems to have its own plan. I guess a more efficacious consequence was I slept longer and more completely last night than I have for a while. I need to do some cleaning this morning and then I am going to spend some time in Jim Thorpe today. I need to touch base with my nutritionist and chat about some options. I will also get some school work done. There are two things to get off my plate this week: programmatic things and grading as well as some logistics.

The last weeks have pushed me to reflect on the true nature of friendship and one of the repercussions of attending last week’s conference has me considering the complexities of this relationship as well as to ponder what it actually means to say someone is a friend. I have long been cognizant of my own distinctions in terminology as well as how I practice the relational differences between friends and acquaintances. There are also connections we make between family members. What I am sensing for myself at the moment is whether we are talking about those we truly consider as friends (and those individuals are most rare) or those we are biologically, “adoptive-ly”, or even maybe “terminologically” offered the honor of family, being a family is a tough thing to accomplish.

Those are two different relationships and very different issues for me, but they are both paramount to me, especially as I am in a new phase of my life. If I consider my life in its entirety and determine friends, I think I have two life-long friends. These are persons I have known for 2/3s of my life and we have remained in each other’s lives. They are the two, who, no matter the space or time between our contacting each other, will know and understand me and vice versa. They have been there through all the phases of my life. One of them from preschool. There are a few people I have met later in life, and they have held more than one role in my life, often straddling the personal and the professional, but they have become treasured people. One in particular is a colleague, now one of my bosses, a brother of sorts, and a person I admire and trust without limits. There is a person who I met through Lydia, he worked for her and helped her with so much more than things around the house. He has also helped me and he is so gracious. He is a fabulous person and incredibly knowledgable and intelligent. I am blessed to have him in my life. Finally there are some people in my old neighborhood “on the circle”, they are astounding because of their care and love. They are people on whom I know I can depend. I have been blessed. Then there is my actual family. They’re people from my adopted family (the extended Martin family). There are my “technically” second cousins and two of those “cousins” are more important than any words will ever really explain. They really do get me as I get them and the one knows me so well that I am actually a little frightened and wish I could figure things out better than I have as of late. There are some immediate family members (or the closest I have at this point), a nephew and a niece and their mother. I am so blessed by them. What I realize is that I have richly honored to have so many amazing people in my life. Rob has worked so hard and is doing really well. Jennifer is an amazing woman in every sense of the word. Friendship is a gift and something that, much like trust, is earned over a period of time. It is something that is tended to and cultivated. It is something on which you can depend. It is there and it is as unconditional a thing we can create or as we can muster as the fallible humans we are.

It is now Monday and I am still writing. Today I was speaking with some staff people on campus about a former student who should have graduated two years ago. Some transfer credits and a PE course. Still working on it for her. Then I was in the ACT101 area and two people asked me about my work with a former Bloom student I have helped. It felt good to say that he is in a better place. It was interesting to hear some more pieces from last year that I did not know. While some of it caught me a bit off guard, some reflection on my part forced me to admit that part of his difficulties were because of his kindness and willingness to be influenced by others around him. I am saddened to hear some more of the pieces because it shows that I need to be more discerning on how much I trust. I have learned this lesson the hard way earlier in my life and now again I am compelled to realize I trust people too completely or I am willing to see the good and ignore the obvious flaws more than I should. The consequence is pain on my part and a sort of shaking to my core that requires me to face the reality of our human selfishness. Sometimes their selfishness is immaturity; sometimes it is a particular thought process that is a bit short-sighted. Those two things can be remedied. Sometimes people are not really good people, plain and simple. Those are the people you need to be able to be watchful of, the people who should probably be relegated to a safe place (I.e. moved to a marginal position which cannot cause you harm). It is a difficult thing for me to do that. Even when warned time and time again by one who knows, I continued to offer chances. It was today that I was actually hit figuratively square in the face, I did not bring this person up at all, but the individual was brought up in the context of the larger conversation. Things I have witnessed again and again, but did not want to admit to myself the obvious flaws, were noted by these two faculty/staff. I actually said little, but mostly nodded in affirmation. It was sad for me, but I tucked it away. It will be sadder for this person and that consequence will be sooner rather than later. While I do not generally wish anything bad on someone, the reality of continued bad decisions is going to cause some even bigger issues. I am glad in this case that I am not the parent. I think God was wiser than I (not surprisingly) as I am ending life childless. While I am not always as forgiving as I might be, the picture for today is about that need. Such power we have when we fail to forgive, but the damage we cause to ourselves and others.

I am crazy-busy as some call it at the moment, but I am making progress. That is all that matters at the moment. Tomorrow I am taking my Bible as Literature class to the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg to research. I am also working on some of my own research. I am looking forward to the trip and chapel. I am also looking forward to seeing my colleague the Rev. Dr. Mark Vitalis-Hoffman. I have work to do in the morning before meeting students at 5:20 a.m., so I hope to be in bed shortly.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin