A Conscious Decision or the Consequence of Many

Dzień Dobry from my little room in Garbarska,

It has been a productive day and a day where I decided to focus on my own work rather than the needs of the group. That is not always an easy thing for me to do, but it is something I should learn to do more often, or at least more effectively. One of the syllabi for the Spring is completed and the course shell for the course will be done yet today. The specific act of solitude today is also something that is relatively new for me. While I have noted for some time that I have learned to appreciate, perhaps even crave, my alone time, there are moments I ponder the consequence of it also. Over the past few days, as those on Facebook can attest, I have posted a couple of scanned photos from my earlier (and some have reminded me “much earlier,” – thanks Michele Meier) lives. I note lives because I am often questioned about how I have done so many different things. I guess I have not really considered it all that different, but rather a sort of a continuum. There is always the need to be looking at or preparing for what is ahead and simultaneously we are reminded of our past and connected to what has made us who we are.

The past couple days I have begun to take stock of what matters most to me, what it is I most value, but also to ponder those things that might have been. I am not sure if it is a growing old thing or if it is wondering at times how it is I am where I am (well I do not it is some of that because I am certainly not where I expected to be, but I do not say that in a regretting or lamenting manner). If I were to address the things that are most surprising to me, the first is this solitariness that characterizes me personally. It is more than merely being single, it is a matter of wondering at times where I belong or where I fit. I have always been, and certainly more than most realized, including myself, the lonely-in-the-middle-of-the-crowd person. I have fit in many places, but often felt like I fit in no where. Generally, it is not something that bothers me, at least, when I am not thinking of it, but there are times like now when I wonder what might happen to me, and for whom that might be an issue. This is certainly not a call for pity or others to tell me I am valuable, so please do not worry. One of the things I have been able to do in three score and one years is understand my strengths and weaknesses, and be pretty comfortable with who and where I am. I guess this is more a pondering of what if something different might have occurred.

If you have read this blog with any consistency, you are probably aware that I get in these rather pensive moods, where I need to figure it out, even when, perhaps, there is nothing to figure out. I can see Melissa staring at me now and then shaking her head. It is that melancholy underpinning that seems to be part of my make up. While I did not get married until later, even then, what I know now is perhaps I was not ready to be married, but is one ever?? What would it mean that you are ready? What I know now is that my first marriage to Susan was done because I thought it was the next reasonable thing to do. That is not her fault in any way, it is mine own. I do believe perhaps the happiest time of being married to her was when we were first in Omaha Village and actually pretty broke, but we depended on each other and I think we believed things were as they were supposed to be. Yet, what I know is the summer before the wedding my CPE unit had raised serious doubts for me in if I could ever be a good husband or father. Perhaps I should have postponed and thought more. There was also my own struggle to understand what it meant to love someone in such a way. I know what I often told couples as a pastor, that the love they had the day of the wedding, which seemed so amazingly complete, was not nearly enough to see them through the remainder of their lives. It is something that has to mature, be tested, and endure. I can say that, but can I do it? I am not sure I learned how, but then again, it is by example or is it from something inside of you? Yet, there was, as many know, a second marriage to Theresa, and if I ever believed I was in love with someone, it was her. She pushed me away more than once, but I returned on both ends of that marriage. Many, to this day, call me a bit deluded for staying involved as long as I did, but then again, I am at fault for a number of things in the failure of that marriage.

Yet, significant time has passed since being involved in either situation. In fact, from the time that I left almost 17 years. In my blogs I have noted that sense of did I expect to be here at this point in my life, and the answer is a pretty unequivocal “no.” Yet, what did I expect, or do we have the right to expect anything? I want to offer a shout out to a few people who give me hope. My undergraduate classmates, Keith and Kathy, Paul and Lisa, Scott and TC, Mark and Kay, they have all made it, so to speak. I know there have been health issues and significant things that I am sure have tested them, but they provide a sense of hope for me. I admire each and everyone of them. I am not sure how I would even begin to think of being married to someone at this point. I did spend significant time here in Pennsylvania with someone I have known for 30 years now. She is a wonderful and beautiful person, but both the distance and commitments seemed to be hurdles larger than we could manage. I wonder if I was perhaps meant to be a single person. Certainly the last decade and a half has taught me how to be on my own and manage it. Certainly a job that consumes me (and I am always astounded by my colleagues who manage families and the academy) does not seem to offer much option to take on something else, and yet there are times I believe it would probably create a better sense of balance than I currently have.

Perhaps it is really a combination of circumstances, inability, limitations, and a lack of knowledge or skill. There are two or three people in my life that have so totally amazed me, and that somewhat complete astonishment has continued over the decades; the four person fits that category, but I have already confessed that failure. One goes back to early in my life, one from when I was in college and one after being gainfully employed. In each case, I can imagine the proverbial growing old with them, but such an imaginary journey is not a reasonable expectation for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, none of them live in Pennsylvania. I also think there is an issue of imagining the person as you remember them versus what might be their present reality. There is only one case where I believe I have a reasonable understanding of the other, but there is still an issue of distance and the need for someone to make a significant change, or that one occurred. All of those things would be hanging on to a dream, and that is certainly not reasonable. I wonder if sometimes, my baring my inner most fears causes others a sense of fear or vulnerability. For me, I do not feel vulnerable, it is freeing to ponder and wonder all of this through my fingers. What it seems to me is that as I have entered this decade, one that I am not completely sure in a more profound manner I might not finish, I find myself reflecting more on the what ifs of my life. I have noted if I could go back to school, doing it over, I would probably go into linguistics and cultural studies (focusing on languages). That is not something I grew up ever imagining. I was never encouraged to know another language or consider life outside of Iowa. There are times my Midwestern heritage still stands strong and I miss the friendly nature of those who I grew up or where I lived in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. It has been too long since I have made my way back to Sioux City. I did make it to about an hour away late last March. I want, desperately, to get back there, perhaps at the end of the academic year and before summer school.

I also have noted the significance of having a very different understanding of what seems important, even paramount, to me and how that differs from earlier in my life. I have learned that I am more of a walking oxymoron that I have perhaps realized. While I am profoundly patriotic, I am more globally influenced and enamored than I was ever aware. While I love to travel and learn, I am wishing, even as I sit here in Poland, once again learning phenomenal things, I would be more content at this moment sitting in my house. I want to learn more and more and keep working, but there are moments, where I wish I could merely retire and relax. I wonder if all people my age wonder some of this. Perhaps I am not as far out there as I sometimes think. Well  . . . so how do I answer my question. I am sure that where I am is a consequence of a decision, or a couple of major ones. It is also the consequence of things that were, and are, part of my flawed humanity. It is my humanity and its flaws that still stupefy me at times. I wish I could manage all the flaws, which seems contradictory of me saying I am comfortable with my weaknesses. What it says is I understand the some of the reasons for the flaws, but I wish I understood them more completely. Perhaps it would be possible to change some of those things, but for the time being, it simply is.

It is now late evening and I am about to sign off, but I had the most wonderful dinner this evening with Robert and Katazyna. I am very blessed to have them here in Kraków when I come here. It was wonderful to see the progress made since two years ago and it was wonderful merely to catch up and spend time. I am looking forward to seeing them again. In the meanwhile, I will continue to ponder and wonder some of my what ifs and merely keep on. As that is what we do.

Thank you for reading.

Michael, the solitary one.

Traditions of Christmas

Scan 757Hello on the day retailers go into the Black,

I am probably not helping them make any goal today and I am grading and attending to matters that somehow once again seem beyond my control. I do not plan to do much shopping, if any today, and I have other things I want to try to manage. I sometimes wonder if my attention to detail is something wrong or merely something that causes me difficulty, or perhaps both. The picture here is of two of my seminary friends when they came to Pennsylvania when I first lived in this state a quarter century ago and was a parish pastor in Lehighton. They are in the house I lived in and their names are Tim Christensen and Sandra Van Zyl. I miss them, but still know where they are (in Montana).

I did have a nice Thanksgiving, though a bit untraditional and a bit traditional. I spent part of it on the road taking my Midwest guests back to the airport and spent some time in a traffic jam. Then I went to a family’s house for dinner. They had extended family there and it was nice to meet them. It always it interesting to be around a group at the holidays. I listen to comments and conversations and one learns so much. It was the “cousin” comments which taught me the most and gave me new insights.

I didn’t finish all of this yesterday and last evening (it is 4:00 a.m. and I have been awake for over an hour, so I write) I was at the Decker’s. I had a nice time watching Grace in a parade and seeing Caroline and Rose scramble for candy. Mary always brightens my day because of her amazing love and beauty. Max, Mark and I played a card game following the parade (which Max beat us both) and Ethan, Christian (the Clark nephews who were visiting), and Gayle worked on a jigsaw puzzle (which they pulled an all nighter and I just got the completed picture as a text). It was interesting that advice both Mark and I gave Grace last night, I need to take for myself. It really dawned on me as I was saying it. In fact, I noted that point and Mark and Grace both noted it back to me.  It is a bit ironic how we tell others not to put up with what we ourselves are putting up with. So, now comes the hard part: doing it and continuing to say that impoliteness is not reasonable nor acceptable, regardless of what the other does to justify. I realize that I put up with a lot more of this than I should and then when the consequence is my generosity or kindness (in any form) is taken advantage of, I am always surprised (I should not be). What I am learning is what I offer or think about a person’s intentions or character is not as pure as I want to believe. If one’s heart is not selfish, it is almost impossible to act selfishly. This is the adage I must remember.

Tonight when I got home I pondered (yes, again I am pondering) why it is that Christmas music so profoundly affects me. I am not sure if it is because I grew up singing from the time I was small. I am not sure if it is because I remember recording an LP (do your remember those things?) with the Sioux City Children’s Choir. However, it was actually trying to listen to Christmas music on Thanksgiving evening and a comment from the cousin that gave me the most insight into things I have watched, but perhaps did not really understand. In addition, it also got me thinking about the music. The station I was listening to was probably the most traditional of any Christmas station one could ever hope to find. John Rutter and Robert Shaw have probably done more arranging and composing of Christmas music than any other two people in the world. It is their Pandora stations that play the most amazing Christmas music one could ever hope to hear. Check it out; I am quite sure you’ll be glad you did.

This coming Wednesday, I am going to see Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas concert in Bethlehem. I have not seen them live since I was in seminary. I got two tickets way last summer, but the plans I thought of have changed pretty dramatically, and I am really fortunate to be going with a former colleague. She has a “bit of a musical appreciation” so going to see the concert with her will be amazing. She is also one of the people for whom I have great admiration. I am looking forward to it. Next weekend I am going to hide out in Jim Thorpe for the weekend. I plan to see the Bach and Handel Chorale there (and probably do some grading).

When I grew up every Christmas was at my Grandmother’s house. This is the same person with whom I lived until I was about four and a half. I have mentioned her in my blog many times, and she is my hero. She is probably the most loving and giving person I ever met. She had a much more difficult life than I have really taken the time to imagine. She grew up on a farm in the depression and the dust bowl years in South Dakota. She did go to college, at least for a period of time, but she did not finish. I never learned the story behind that. I’m not exactly sure how she ended up married to my grandfather, but I think that deeply loved each other. He died when she was only 45 years old. So what I’m realizing that she spent the rest of her life, the next 19 years, as a widow. Another one of those ironies, Lydia has been alone also for 19 years. I think with me this is me the most about my grandmother is that she overcame her alcoholism. I did not know she was an alcoholic, but I remember as a small child going to the liquor store with her. From what I understand, my grandfather also had a drinking issue. It was really after I became an adult that I understood what it happened. Long story short, AA changed her life. I think she quit drinking when I was seven years old and she never drank again. For the rest of her life, she focused on her ownership of the bakery and she was active in Eastern Star. She eventually was the Worthy Matron of her chapter. I remember in high school being amazed as I watched these elegant women do the things they did at installations. It reminds me of someone, a person who worked at the bakery. I wonder where she is today.

Christmas at my grandmothers house was amazing. She owned a bakery – the one I worked at from the time I was 12 – and everything that was made there was delectable. Both she and her older sister, Helen, where the most amazing cooks in the world. So between her bakery and her culinary skills Christmas dinner has never been equaled. However, that was only the beginning. Grandma pulled out all the stops at Christmas and her generosity was unparalleled by anyone. I do not come close for those thinking I am like her. I only wish I was. I can still remember her kindness, her smile, and how happy she was that everyone was in her house. Perhaps the best part of Christmas was that we got to stay at her house the week that followed. My favorite breakfast every day consisted of two poached eggs, a half a grapefruit, and toast. Hanging out at the bakery is a small child and working later in my life was something that I love to do. I still remember the present of a toboggan and sliding on her hill. The house she lived in the rest of her life with the house I had spent my first years in. It was a place of safety; it was a place of love. Perhaps that’s the most important gift she gave me the gift of unconditional love. While I’ve tried to emulate her all too often I fail miserably. However I still have her example to remember and to cherish.

In spite of the craziness at the end of the semester, regardless a number of things that can get in our way, it is the time to remember the things that matter. No matter how busy we are or how much we have on our plate simple acts of courtesy and kindness or what Christmas and traditions are about. I am blessed by my traditions from earlier my life and the memories I have. I’m grateful for the things that I have learned this past year. I’m not sure what the future will bring or how long with future is, but I do know that I have been blessed. Even when I don’t understand all the reasons or even the actions of others, I can still find some blessing in those experiences. I’m grateful for my traditions, for my heritage. While I will not leave children behind, I was reminded again this week by an email that somehow I make a difference. While I love the traditions of Christmas perhaps my most important legacy is in the classroom. It is one of the places my gifts really shine. I hope you can find time to create new traditions and begin new things. I’m looking forward to Christmas and having some people at my house to share to learn together, and perhaps create a new tradition, at least once. Well, it is 5:30 a.m. – time for a nap.

The link is from one of my favorite group, the concert I will see this next week. The song is titled “Traditions of Christmas”. I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin