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)

Pushing the Limits: Healthy Living is Difficult

Hello from Geisinger,

A 3:00 appointment has evolved into waiting for said appointment and then adding an MRI. So, three hours later I am still in the hospital and waiting for the MRI. That will be followed by another appointment with the orthopedic surgeon next week. I am not sure what all is on the horizon, but that has been how most of my life has gone. While I realize the amazingly miraculous life I have been able to live in spite of all of the complications, I must admit there are times I struggle to overcome whatever the latest complication tossed at me. A few weeks ago I was provided the incredible opportunity to speak to the medical students and faculty at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) as a presenter for their Grand Medical Rounds. As I prepared for my lecture/presentation, I will admit I was a bit nervous. These are the people who have observed, examined, operated on, rearranged as well as poked, prodded, and probed every imaginable part of my GI track, or are training and learning to do it to others. They are the people to whom we give enormous power in spite of the fact they are called practicing physicians. They are the people who understand us, at least in terms of the biology and physiology, but somehow might seem to forget that we are more than a specimen; that as a patient, we are a human. In my case, I am an ostomate who have endured 11 abdominal surgeries, struggled with complications because of their surgeries, which were my only option to live at the time, and now I am 64 and struggle with hydration, disconcerting biopsies, diabetes (as a Crohn’s consequence), liver damage (as a Crohn’s consequence), episodes of Gout (as a Crohn’s consequence) and kidney issues (also as a Crohn’s consequence). Are you seeing a pattern?

Each day I live I am pushing the limits because I have been told that the reason they do not know what do to with me is that most people who have experienced my complications do not live this long. Each day I live, I know that I have been given yet another gift of 24 hours and I need to manage those time blocks as well as I can. Each day I live, I wonder how it is that I have somehow managed all of this? In the month or so, the demands of a 4 Prep/5 Section semester has taken its toll on me also. In spite of eating quite healthy, I have somehow managed to put about 10 pounds back on. This is beyond frustrating for me. I think there are some rather radical options (and yet healthy) things on the horizon. The other thing is simply getting back to my walking. I did see something on MSN this morning about how a younger person lost 50 pounds in about 8 months, and it was a sensible process. For me this is not about merely losing weight, but it is about helping my liver, my joints, and other things that have been affected by the Crohn’s, the surgeries, and the regiment of steroids and such. When I was at the gastroenterologist recently (during the fall), his response to my history with IBDs and all of the complication was telling. He noted that my body is like an upside-down jigsaw puzzle, and while they can see the pieces, they are not sure how they all fit together. This analogy did not surprise me. The more interesting part is when he noted that they reason they do not know exactly what to do with me was because most people with all of my GI maladies do not live as long as I have. I guess that is both a blessing and a sort of worrisome statement all in one. As I have noted above, there are times I struggle with what a premature birth and the lack of knowledge of IBDs when I was a child have left me, but again there is something about all of those struggles as a child that prepared me for what would come.

As I have lived longer than any of my siblings (and 5 of 9 have left this world at a younger age), I am well aware that there are no promises of a tomorrow. What all of that as done is help me realize the giftedness that I have in each day. As I sit in Starbucks in the library, I cannot help but watch the variety of students, staff, and faculty that walk past the corner table where I sit up an office on a regular basis two mornings a week. I wonder what they will be like at my age. What will the world be like? What sort of things will they try to manage or what will college be like? I am quite sure it will not be like anything we see today. What I worry about more is the quality of life many will live. Much like a shrinking middle class, there are not a lot of what I call average people. It seems like they pay particular attention to their health or they are totally oblivious. The number of 20-somethings I see that are significantly seeming out of shape or overweight is stunning. As I watch the mount of sugar they put into things, I hear diabetes screaming from every cup of coffee or latte that is sold. One of the first blogs I wrote on a previous blogging site was titled “Freezing, Fashionable, or Flummoxed.” It was after standing outside this same Starbucks 10 years ago. A young lady had mittens on, a hooded, fur-lined, parka, short-shorts, and UGGs. I remember being stunned by all of it. Again, there are times I find myself feeling old . . . what I find to be appropriate dress in classrooms or on campus, and what I see many students wearing continues to push my understanding of professionalism or appropriateness. I have, in fact, add some requirements regarding attire to my syllabi.

The pushing of limits seems to be the norm in our daily culture than the exception. This occurs in fashion, in our speech and communication, and in what we seem to allow either ethically or otherwise. During the past week plus, I have listened to the Impeachment Inquiry Hearings. I feel a bit badly for anyone being called before the committee at this point. Many of them have reiterated they are not there to predict or push for an outcome, but rather to answer the questions and the way they are pushed and pulled by both parties are incredible and disappointing. The limitations of our ability to understand how our government works is an important consideration. We have little idea of how the upper echelons of the various agencies and the classified nature of much of what happens goes way beyond the common citizen’s purview. I think all of this is related to my initial thought or purpose of this post in that I believe what we have become, and what is currently happening in Washington, D.C., pushes limits in a variety of ways that cause our country’s fabric to continue to be more frayed and tattered. I remember as a child believing that the President or serving in the United States Congress was something to aspire to becoming or doing. The other day in my three freshmen classes I asked how many of them believed such a profession was admirable or something they would hope to do and not a single student raised their  hand. In my opinion, I do believe that many of my students are wondering about all of events in the Capitol, but they are not sure what to do with it. As I listen to all of it, even as a sexagenarian, and yes, as a person who has a political preference, I am not sure how it all will transpire. What are the limits of our willingness to accept what I believe is a questionable phone call and the withholding of aid? I think the issue of former Mayor Giuliani and his involvement in an international political process is problematic. I think what will happen is both rather predictable and important. As I listen to the inquiry, it is stunning to me how each party can couch their questions that ignore the former mayor on one hand.

If indeed, the President held up Congressionally approved monies to a foreign country for investigating a company, the 2016 elections, and by extension Vice President Biden (as noted by Ambassador Volker today as an adjusted understanding), I do believe the President will be impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Furthermore, I do not believe the Republican-controlled Senate would convict President Trump, particularly when the benchmark for conviction is 2/3 majority. I do believe as legal commentary noted today, while there is extreme partisanship, there is still democracy. Our Constitution allows for inquiry, which is fact finding, the impeachment hearing, which I believe is a legal proceeding, and then the move to the United States Senate for a trial, which is under the administration of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It is amazing what I learned way back in my 8th grade U.S. Government class. I must give credit to Mr. Flom, that amazing RHS and WHS history teacher who I believe I had for at least one class every year (and often both semesters).

As I move toward the end of another day, to be honest, I am tired. I find that the hours I used to be able to manage and the hours I can manage now are very different. Certainly, the limits have lessened. My endurance has lessened. At the beginning of this blog, I was being examined for possible hip surgery. Again, a consequence of my Crohn’s. This week I have attended four doctor’s appointments from podiatrists to neurologists. Again, my understanding of my limits, while frustrating is becoming more clear, at least in its cumulative effects. There is so much more even today to ponder. The neurologist came up with a couple of possible pathways forward, and decisions are made to try a certain regiment for the next couple of months. If that is not sufficient, there is a back-up plan. I guess the important thing for me is there have always been options. I do not always like some of them, but at least I have them. Throughout this blog I have considered the limits of the various elements of our lives. What is the best way to approach the limit or boundary? Those who know me would probably agree that I push them. I need to understand them; I need to engage with them. That is how I determine what to do with them. Limits and boundaries offer security, but they also allow an opportunity for growth. If we are unwilling to engage and see how they work, what sort of things might we have missed out upon? In my case, I think it would have been an incredible loss. My life would have missed so many experiences: from college to travel, from jobs to hobbies. I grew up hearing how I was not so many things. I grew up smaller, and at times bullied. I did not realize until lately how that would have (and has had) consequences. That will be a topic of a blog probably soon, for a variety of reasons. If I had not pushed the limits of this unique body, I am not sure I would have experienced much of what I have. With that in mind, it is time to get back to work and imagine the limits of some of my students’ writing. Here is my musical interlude that is about this season of thankfulness.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

My Conflicted Love-affair with Alcohol

Good morning from the Acre,

I am back in Pennsylvania more about a month before my initial plan, but I believe it was a decision that needed to be made. As a person who plans more than some might believe, I can be flexible, but lack of control of my life or my schedule is more stressful than often imagined. As noted in a couple of my last posts, the summer has been a learning experience, and while not always pleasant, probably important in the bigger long-term. The first few days back have been a time of introspection and trying to understand how things that have been so enjoyable for most of my life seemed to be disconcerting and difficult. I have been a wanderer, a vagabond of sorts,  but perhaps it is that I have called one town home for almost a decade. This time 10 years ago (almost to the day, I was arriving in Bloomsburg on the motorcycle and embarking on a new adventure, a new position, and a new place to call home. In that decade, so many things have happened to cause me to become the person I am now. Certainly the work done to make Bloomsburg a home and place I feel a sense of belonging in is significant. While much of this has to do with the university, I have also established relationships and friendships outside, which continue to develop, and I have been able to create a space that is my safe haven. This summer work on that, which is significant, was part of my stress. It was the taking care of things vital to structural integrity that created a stress for me that was unlike anything I have ever felt. Perhaps part of the struggle is a feeling of selfishness or attachment to “stuff,” which is not something that has been typical of me. That is not to say I do not appreciate what I have nor that I do not take care of things. In fact, I have been teased for the energy put into caring for things at times, but that is more because I do not want to replace it or pay to get it again. Perhaps what most surprised me was a felt like a home-body for the first time in a profound way.

The week of introspection has caused me to consider another aspect of my life. From the time I was barely twenty-one, I began to work in restaurants. My first server position was in a restaurant in Ames, Iowa called Aunt Maude’s. It was a fine dining restaurant that had flaming desserts and entrees, we carved rack of lamb table-side and used a gueridon, not anything I had experienced in my NW Iowa meat and potatoes background. I also learned about alcohol in a different way, and actually a healthier manner than what I had done in the Marine Corps. I have noted in the past that my first experience with alcohol was literally a case of they poured it down me. It was not a positive thing. However, I did not learn from that. During my early 20s I bartended and waited tables and my abuse of alcohol was the rule rather than the exception. The consequences were some of the normal things, but the more unintended consequence was that I did foolish things. Not only would I spend money buying for others, but I got involved in some risky behavior that culminated in a friend pulling a gun on me and I grabbed that gun, which was loaded, and it discharged and shot him. There were two entrance wounds and one exit wound. This meant surgery would remove that bullet from his upper thoracic area. That no one was more injured than that was a miracle. That did get my attention, and I made some changes. Yet, both at Dana and later at seminary, while the bouts of over indulgence were not frequent they still occurred. What was it that made me drink to the point of excess? That is still something I am unsure I can answer completely. I think most often it was a need to be accepted, to fit in. I was often about 5 to 10 years behind (older) than the people I was around. That began when I returned to Dana as a 24 year old freshman. Perhaps it was if I could drink with the best of them, I could fit in. Regardless the underlying reason, I did some really stupid things. Once I became a parish pastor and campus pastor, that changed. There was about a 5 to 6 year period I drank sparingly or not at all. Then one day I decided after loosing a position to go to the bar. Unexpectedly, but by my own volition, I got trashed. That began about a 5 or 6 year period where I drank way too much again and while there was a bit of a respite in there when I had gotten married again, after that marriage I returned to graduate school and there were too many times I was well beyond legally intoxicated. Again, some of behavior during those times is something that is nothing to be proud of nor would I condone in others. It embarrasses me to this day. It is something for which I have made apologies and still feel like those apologies are inadequate. Simply put, the fact I have not died of alcohol poisoning on more than one occasion is by the grace of God. There is no logical reason I should be alive.

What is so incredibly asinine about all of that is I did my pastoral care and counseling classes in treatment centers. I remember one of my most dear friends speaking to me as well as writing me a letter about my alcohol abuse at one point. I still have that letter. I grew up with alcoholics in my life and both my siblings had significant drug and alcohol issues, to the point of treatment in one case. So what changed . . .  what is it that allows me to have an rather astronomical amount of alcohol in my house and not drink it. Somehow, I am able to see it as a way to enhance a dining experience rather than control it. Somehow, perhaps it has been watching what it has done to so many others and realizing what could have happened to me. What happens for me how is so different than what happened before. Where I once seemed to practice a theory of being able to drink with the best of them made it all better, now being around intoxicated people makes me uncomfortable. Being around someone who reeks of alcohol makes me queasy. As I noted above, I have been in Bloomsburg for 10 years. I have been intoxicated three times in that 10 years (which can be argued is three times too many). That is not to say I have only drank three times, but I have learned to be much more responsible. Can I offer a reason for that change? Not with some sense of complete clarity. Not even with the idea of it was intentional. I think rather it was a sense of what I did, or am apt to do, when I drink too much is problematic on a whole multitude of levels. Perhaps it is because I realize so much more completely now that being a professor, as I have said many other times, is not what I do, it is who I am. During the past year, I have witnessed, again, first-hand what alcohol abuse can do and the consequences of someone’s actions on those around them. It is painful to watch. It is more painful to know there is nothing you can do to change it. What I have come to realize is how our American culture glorifies the use of alcohol or sees it much like owning a gun, somehow we are entitled to be able to drink whenever or however we wish. Damned the consequence. Ironically the summer I spend working in the winery I drank less than other times. I think I owe that to both Peter D’Souza as well as Marco for helping me see the natural aspect of wine making and how it works to help create an entirely different food and taste experience for a meal. Even now when it comes to beer or cocktails, I am able to think about the art of the beverage and what it can do to help enjoy something socially versus I need to drink to get trashed or even buzzed. I love what food and beverage can do together, and I simultaneously hate what we do societally with alcohol. American culture does not seem to be able to promote social drinking. Drinking it about getting trashed. We have to pre-game before we go to the bar. We have to mix crazy shit like Red Bull and Four Loco. The results have been deadly. For instance, did you know that in 2010 31% of fatal weekend car crashes involved alcohol? That is 8 years after the 0.08 for DUI went into affect nationwide. Again, in 2010, 17,000,000 people admitted to driving intoxicated. If they had their own state, they would be the 5 largest state in the country (I did research on these statistics for this blog). Again there is this sense of we can chance it. Again, in the spirit of transparency, I received a DUI when I was lived in Wisconsin. I had a medical issue, and attempted to drive home (less than 6 blocks total). I got pulled over 72 steps from my house. That night cost me over 5,000.00. One of the things I learned in my mandatory classes was that a person will drive intoxicated a couple of hundred times before they are pulled over and actually charged. If that is accurate, it is mind-boggling, and petrifying.

So where does that leave me today? Yes, I have alcohol of various kinds in my house: beer, spirits, and wine and quite a quantity, but I can go days or weeks without drinking a drop of anything. I enjoy having a glass of wine with a meal. I enjoy a ice cold beer on a hot day, and I love experimenting with spirits to see what I can concoct that will taste refreshing and enjoyable. Yet it is an art a type of creativity that offers an opportunity to share socially in a responsible and enjoyable manner. I have somehow learned that one can be social, responsible and enjoyable all at the same time. In 2012, the alcohol industry made 162,000,000,000.00 (yes, billion) dollars (again, I looked this up through economic databases). I guess I do contribute to this amount. Where am I today as I write this? I understand why people might get intoxicated. I think most often it is to forget their own problems; it is because they have not dealt with some aspect of their past or because they do not like something about themselves. Perhaps it is an attempt to fit in. This morning I was speaking with a dear friend, who has a strong affinity for their ethnic heritage. They noted that that heritage is ensconced (somewhat of an oxymoron) with alcohol and that connection has resulted in their choosing to eliminate alcohol from their personal use. I have noted the propensity for the misuse of alcohol in my own family on many occasions in this blog. If I were to balance the misuse of alcohol on a scale to the appropriate use of alcohol in my experiences, either communally or individually, the misuse side of the scale would so far outweigh the appropriate use that you would wonder if there was any weight at all on the one side. So how do I understand this love affair? Indeed it is conflicted. Indeed it is frightening. It is such a delicate balance. How did I learn to balance? Embarrassment for my past actions is one of the greatest motivators, I believe. Realizing how much I have to lose should I lose that balance is another aspect. Somehow, for me the grace of God that has kept me alive or out of trouble or jail more times than I have fingers and toes, and even if I borrowed some of yours. I think being an example for others, and realizing the consequences and damage of some of my past, which still haunts me, has been a motivating factor. For so long, I struggled with my identity and feelings of inadequacy. I think I have managed much of that, or more importantly, I learned that alcohol does not fix that, it only complicates it. Using alcohol did not make me fit it more completely, it made me look more completely foolish. Using alcohol inappropriately enhanced inappropriate and embarrassing behavior and it damaged my relationships and my reputation. Some of that will never be repaired. To this day, I enjoy more than words can say how a great Mourvedre can enhance the spice and flavor of a good ribeye steak. I enjoy the amazing flavor of caraway seed and lime in an aquavit and tonic on a hot summer evening. Yet, it is the experience of the flavor and more than merely getting stupid.

Respect or healthy respect seems to be apt here. It is something lacking in so many areas of our societal fabric, and that, of course, is an entirely different topic. I think it is where I am, however. I have learned if you play with fire (and I have used things like Ol’ Gran Dad or 151 to flame desserts), you will get burnt. That adage is certainly true. I have been burned more than once, but it was not a burn that changed me, it was merely age and wisdom, and the observation of consequence, of both my own actions and the actions of others. I will always appreciate alcohol when used to enhance a meal or a social setting appropriately. As my former professor once said, I can appreciate alcohol, but he had no tolerance for drunken behavior. He is still an incredibly wise man, and he is entirely accurate. I have been prone to put a video at the end of my blogs that somehow connects to the topic, but almost all music videos about alcohol glorify it, so I decided on something that was about trying to make the appropriate choices and take the chance and make life better without being intoxicated. I love this video for the generational beauty in it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Fascinated or Consternated? Yes? No? Simply Regrouping

Dzień dobry z Krakowa w poniedziałek rano,

To był produktywny tydzień i czuję, że poczyniłem pewne ważne postępy w moim początkowym nabywaniu języka polskiego, ale nigdy nie jestem zadowolona, że to wystarczy (It was a productive week, and I feel I made some important progress in my beginning acquisition of Polish, but I am never really content that it is enough.). Those who know me are probably not that surprised. What I have been forced to realizing is that learning a language as an older human is so much more difficult than it was for me at a point earlier in my life (e.g. late 20s, when I crammed two years of Greek into a summer). There are the three components of language as I often noted for others. Much like a three- legged stool: vocabulary, patterns, and grammar. The first two are about memorization and the grammar is more about comprehension. When I learned German or worked to teach myself Spanish, this sort of pattern worked, though more effectively for German than in Spanish. It certainly worked for Greek and, maybe to a perhaps lesser extent for Latin. Hebrew was in a world of its own and while last summer this seemed to work generally for Polish, this summer has been a much different story. It has pushed my comfort level off the cliff and caused me fear and tears (and I mean that literally). So what is the difference in a year, particularly when last summer, while hard work, was so enjoyable?

These questions have consumed me this last week and a half and caused me to ponder the learning process in ways I never fathomed. There are a couple things that I believe have happened in the last 12 months to create this dilemma of feeling like a failure. First, I think both my ears and my eyesight have changed (and not degrees is improvement). Second, the grammar is more complex and while it is comprehendible, it takes more time to master and there is little time to manage that complexity. In other words, I am not as quick as I once was. Third, my own failure to review and reconnect with the previous work before arriving caused a lack of foundation, or more accurately the losing of the foundation I had. Each of these elements have created a perfect storm that has resulted in my failing to manage what I believed possible. What I have realized as the way I have learned in past is no longer effective. I am reminded of what Mr. Galán would note when I attempted Spanish. He said regularly, “You just need to speak and use it. You need to listen and try to understand.” He was (and is) correct. The problem becomes a much more complex and more of a struggle because I am afraid of making mistakes. My overwhelming desire to be perfect at it paralyzes me. So then the question becomes is there somewhere between using my grammatical life jacket and just jumping in the water and not being afraid when I cannot see the bottom. I use this metaphor because I know the actual fear of not knowing where the bottom is and how that paralyzes me also.

I do think I have come up with a plan. The first thing is to step back and review at my own pace the work I did last summer and to move forward with the additional work done over the last two plus weeks, which was significant. If I can create a firm foundation there, I believe I can move forward in a manner that I can feel positive and proud of. I do want to work from a couple different vantage points or entrances of sorts. I honestly believe there has been more deterioration of senses (which has affected acquisition more profoundly than expected) in the past year than I had any inkling had happened. It not only affected my classroom options, but also my studying. The most consequential seems to be the length of time I can continue to work at all of it, and that limitation frustrates me beyond words. Therefore, to compensate I must figure out something more efficient and effective. Then, and the director of the summer program, Dr. Prizel-Kania, probably can shed light on this for me, knowing what my ultimate goal to be, what is the best way forward. What I do know is that any lack in proficiency is no one’s particular fault. It is not about blaming, but rather accepting the reality of the situation. What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is the instructors I am blessed with did everything in their power to help me. My three instructors, Mikołaj, Dominika, and Sylwię are incredible at what they do. Likewise, the program works for the great majority of those enrolled, most who are in their 20s. I do know that learning a language is a special skill and I know being older offers different challenges. I am wondering if I recognize those challenges as I reflect on myself or if I am missing something. That has occupied my thoughts more than one might think since last Thursday (it is now Tuesday morning – about 4:00 am. for those of you on the East Coast). What I believe I need for my own sense of sanity is to get to a level of hearing and speaking that is comfortable, and I think there are some ways (outside of complete immersion in Krakow) that might offer such an opportunity. I think my own sense of inadequacy had more to do with most of my struggle this summer than anything else.

In addition, what I have come to realize is that learning a language you plan to speak (and maybe it is because I learned German so long ago and when I was dumped into an immersion situation with it, I was in my 20s) versus a language you read is something very different. The needs are different, but likewise the learning process is much more comprehensive. If I return to my stool imagery, I am not sure a three-legged stool will work, it is much more like a four-legged chair or perhaps table. The extra leg is needed because hearing and listening become important on a different level. Second, the idea of a table is that the area covered is much more extensive and it needs order and structure (perhaps more accurately, I need order and structure). That is another component of immersion that is, perhaps, contradictory to how learn most effectively. I need structure and order, which means I need time to think and assimilate. That is in part because I need to make sense of things, but also because I think it takes me longer and I am more frightened by feeling as if I have no control. This trip has been different from my previous trips for a couple of reasons. While I know my way around Krakow better than ever before, I have feel more isolated than I ever have. While I found a level of being comfortable in Moscow after a few days, I was not comfortable to travel on to St. Petersburg by myself. I felt vulnerable in a manner that I had not in many years. While some of that certainly disappeared here in Poland, something has happened to make me less content or calm than I have in the past. I am not sure from where that comes or how it occurred, but I do know that I do not like it. Earlier this summer I was sharing lunch with three former colleagues and the first of the three and I were waiting and I did what I always seem to do when I go into my colleague, Dr. Decker’s office. I align things and make things orderly (fortunately he humors me and merely tells me it will get messed up again). She noted my actions and asked me if I were an OCD person. I had never really thought about it (seriously, I had not), but I responded, perhaps I am. As the summer has continued, I have noted to the degree that is true. Holy Crap!!! So then I began to reflect and wondered from where that propensity had come, and how long had I been such.

I am sure my psychology colleagues would have a heyday with this, but what I realize is we were required to keep our rooms very orderly growing up. I did not struggle to do so. We dusted the house every morning (every day, but Sunday) and on Saturday we dusted, vacuumed and stripped our beds to be washed. I was not allowed to leave my room in the morning before the bed was made. It is still one of the first things I do in the morning. We were not allowed to leave clothes out on a chair unless they were folded and neat. I thought all of that was normal and that every house did things like that. I have long since learned that is not true, but those of you who know me, know I cannot even function if my space is not orderly and well kept. While there are moments I fall short of that, for the most part it is who I am. I do know that I go through streaks from time to time also. I am forced (yes, a strong word), but it is something I do to myself, to try to understand this need for structure and order. During my time here in Poland sharing the Air BnB with another person, who was there prior to my arrival and who will be there after my departure, I have been required to rethink how what I do affects the other in a different way. There are been some compromise (and most of that has to do with his smoking (and the managing of that habit), but one of the things I realized early was I was the intruder if you will. He had a pattern and my requests would change his pattern. My reason for asking for some leeway on the smoking is more of a health issue than control, but I struggled to even ask for that. What all of this tells me is that I will avoid conflict at all costs, even at my own detriment. The reciprocal nature of that is when I finally have had enough, my response is not proportionate to the issue at hand. Of course, as usual there are so many issues that are part of that puzzle. I know most of them, but managing them is something quite different. . . .

It is about two weeks after I wrote this initially and I am back in the States and have been for a week. It has been a week of decompressing and reflection. It has been a week to ponder and regroup. It has been a weekend of trying to wrap my head around the inability of our country to deal with violence and make some meaningful moves toward curbing the violence, the gun-usage, and the hate and bigotry that seems to be engrained in every region, section, state, municipality, and neighborhood of this land. How we got here is certainly a complex issue. How we move toward something different is perhaps more complex, but doing nothing accomplishes one thing: more shootings with assault style weapons and more people dying needlessly. Certainly it is a mental health issue; it is an anger management issue, but there are things we can and should do. I have written at length about all of this, so I am not going to iterate it, but damn!! 30 seconds and 9 lives lost because there was a drum magazine in a semi-automatic assault weapon. What more needs to be said if you think with any logic at all. That is undoubtedly exasperating, consternating, and simply pathetic. States have authority to make changes; so does the federal government. This senseless violence is a social epidemic and it needs to be managed and approached as such. It is a health concern in so many ways. I have nothing more to say, but the response to the Ohio governor by people in Dayton seems to cover it: DO SOMETHING!

In terms of my Polish I am doing something and working on making changes as I move forward to work on it systematically and regularly. I think that will work much better with my learning style. It will result in a foundation that is stronger and more effective. It was a tough and, at times, overwhelming summer, but I will prevail and manage this. Thanks to all who have reached out to me in the past weeks to check on me. I am grateful. As I write and finish this blog, it is the day that Lydia would have turned 95. I still love and miss her.

Imagining Parenthood

Hello from Kraków,

Forty-seven years ago today, I became an uncle. I wax 16 years old and working two summer jobs. I was staying at my grandmother’s house for the summer, and while I was trying to be responsible, I still had a lot to learn. During that hot July, my older brother and his wife of only 7 months, who were now living in Lawrence, Kansas, would become parents to a baby boy. It was not the life or the place probably either of them imagined residing, but this unexpected move toward parenting had changed their college plans and the world of being a family, of parenting, was now their reality. My brother was a member of an up-and-coming Chicago/BS&T band that had made quite a name for themselves throughout the Midwest and their booking company was located in Lawrence. My sister-in-law, who was exceptionally talented in her own right, had left her New Jersey (across the River from NYC) life to attend college in NW Iowa, I am pretty sure this was not what either she or her family expected as she pursued a music degree. While she and I have spoken, and I know her moving away to college was sort of in here DNA, I am still not sure how she ended up finding Morningside College.

That was a transforming summer for me. It taught me about frailty because during the trip my parents would take to visit their new grandchild, my father would suffer a heart attack. This was before the days of bypass or catheterization, and not realizing the extend of his cardiac episode, my father would drive himself home from Lawrence to Sioux City, a distance of exactly 300 miles. Not an exceedingly long drive, but it was if you had just had a heart attack. I was not home as noted because I was working two jobs and I had to be at the bakery before 6:00 a.m. and I was not yet really driving that much and I did not have a car. In addition, I worked a second job in the evening from 5:00 p.m. until midnight and I worked 6 days a week. Therefore, it was logistically easier to stay at my grandmother’s who owned the bakery, and she was kind enough to let me borrow a work car if needed. I did, however, that summer buy my first car. It was a 1964 Impala and I purchased it for a whoppin’ $175.00. My grandmother also put me on her company insurance, so that saved me a lot of money. I was aware that my parents had gone to Kansas to visit the new parents, but I was not aware of what occurred during their visit. I would not learn that my father returned to be placed in Intensive Care until my uncle, my father’s oldest brother-in-law, would call and tell my grandmother what had happened. Suffice it to say that was overwhelming to me beyond words.

During the next weeks and months, I would eventually move back home, though not until after my senior year had begun and for some time I was driving across town in order to attend the school in the area I was supposedly living. I would move back from my grandmother’s home to my own at the request of my father, more like to plea, to come home. It was a tense and difficult time, but I did as he asked and suffered the consequences and wrath of my mother, who unabashedly told me she did not give a damn where I was or where I would come or go. It was an uncomfortable time in the house in Riverside. That would contribute mightily to my deciding to join the Marines upon graduation. While I was in the Communications School at MCRD in San Diego that fall (1973), my niece would be born. I still remember getting a phone call that she had arrived. In spite of my brother passing away a few years later, after there was a third child, I have been fortunate enough to be in contact and involved in the lives of these three for almost 50 years now. That is incredible that all of this was happening almost a half century ago. What is more incredible to me (and perhaps more of a blessing than a curse) is that I never had my own children. Through the years, I have vacillated between being sad about that and wondering if God knew better than I. I have had people say to me that I would have been a good parent and I have certainly had a rather long line of what I call my surrogate sons and daughters, but when it all comes down to it, they have their own families. At the end of the day, I go home and I am there by myself. Again, the feelings about that are as varied as the events that can occur within a week, month or even year. Perhaps some of what overwhelmed me a week ago was this sense of missing out, but then feeling afraid that I would have been a failure at parenting. Certainly, I have learned more even in the surrogate-parenting than I ever imagined possible. I have learned that allowing a person to be their own person is not always an easy thing to do. To allow them to make mistakes and not impose your values or standards on them is another thing that is difficult.

I would imagine some of that is because I have not been with them from the beginning and as noted they have their own values, traditions, expectations, and things that were formed before they were around me. I sometimes imagine what I have done with some is sort of like begin a foster parent. In addition, I have learned, for better or worse, that I have incredibly high expectations, and perhaps ones that are not entirely realistic. I have learned that I am more set in my ways about how I like things and what I believe should happen than I sometimes realize. What has caused these emotions about the lack of being a parent to surface again? Certainly having my house full for the better part of the past academic year had the parenting thing happening to some extent., but these emotions have seemed to be exponentially closer to the surface since I have been here in Europe. The strange thing is that I have never really found little children that charming. I know that sounds terrible or rather callous, at best, but it seems that the individuals that have pulled at my proverbial heart strings of late are small children, like 3-6 years old. That is an entirely new occurrence for me. I have always had a sort of soft spot for middle school age, and I am not sure that has changed, but this recent appreciation for young post-toddler, but not yet 8-10 year olds has me a bit flummoxed. I have found myself asking parents if I may take a picture of their sons and daughters, and some of them I have posted. As I try to figure out this new aspect of appreciation, there are perhaps two things to which I can attribute its coming out of nowhere. I have a former student, whose wedding I was actually the officiant. She and her husband have a four year old that I have watched grow from infancy. She (the daughter) and I have this sort of grandfatherly relationship and whenever I am blessed to be around them, she loves to have me put her on my shoulders or she loves to sit by me in the restaurant, and her mother says when they go by the Starbucks we often meet at, the question of whether they will see me is immediately being asked. I think what this amazing little person and her mother have helped me do is to not be afraid that I had no way to appropriately relate to them. There is a second little one that is the daughter of a colleague and his wife. She is so smart that it is frightening. She remembers everything and she is like a sponge that soaks up everything that happens and can process it. It must be that mathematician DNA. The other reason I think there is a change is these little ones have a sort of grace and purity that gives me a sense of hope. They have not been spoiled by our stupidity yet. They are little human sponges, whose curiosity and hopefulness provides me that same sense. As I watch the love between that child and their parents, which goes both ways, I am reminded of the goodness that I believe all of us have.

It is that goodness that provides me a sense of wistfulness also. I wonder what I might have been like had I been able to be a parent and grow to see that person eventually grow, have their own children and move into that next stage. I remember the joy my father had when those nephews and nieces, who are at the outset of this post, would come to the house. He was so happy to see them and spend time with them. I have noted in other blog posts that my grandmother was accused by my adoptive mother of spoiling me, and that was not something that my adopted mother either appreciated or had a propensity for doing (as my recent post noted). I do not believe my grandmother spoiled me as I reconsider what she did. I think she wanted to make my life easier because of my mother, but she also believed in hard work and treating others with respect and decency. The worst thing she could have said to me was “I am disappointed in you.” I know that I disappointed her as I struggled to make sense of my world after returning from the service. She would not live much longer, but I had not idea that our time would be cut short so soon after my return. I think she wished she had been my sister’s and my parent for the remainder of her life when she and my grandfather first brought us to lived at 4547 as her sister always called it. I have noted in previous blogs, that was the house where I felt safe; it was the house in which I felt loved. It was the house in which I believed I mattered. It seems to me that is what parents do. They make their children feel safe and loved. They allow their children to learn both by success and failure, but love them just the same. They support their exploration of becoming individuals, but also provide a foundation upon which decisions (both good and bad) can be made. I think perhaps the hardest part of being a parent must be allowing a son or daughter to make a mistake, knowing it is going to happen. It seems that the one of the most difficult things must be allowing each person to be their own person. I think that is something my adopted father tried to do, allow me to figure it out. The picture above is of him in his uniform during the Second World War. The thing so typical of him in this picture is his smile.

There are some people I have watched parent and they epitomize what I believe being a good parent must be. The first couple was my first host family when I was on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. They have two children who have taken entirely different paths in life, but they love them both and support them. They take the time to visit them, which is no small task when one of them lives in Europe. The second couple have blessed me by allowing me such entre into their lives. They lived next door to me when I taught in Wisconsin and they have three amazing sons and daughter, who again are very different, but an interesting combination of both parents, which I believe to be normal. I think what impresses me most about them is they have supported and allowed each of them to follow their own paths, which are quite diverse. They again support and demonstrate that support and love in so many ways. I have told them before, and I will note it here; they give me a sense of hope because they are such incredibly good and faithful people, to their family, their faith family, and their community. I am so blessed to be allowed into their lives, and they have taught be such amazing board games to play too. Quite the bonus. It is ironic that they also introduced me to Lydia and she became a surrogate parent to me or I became the child she never had. Over the past month or six weeks I have had to step back again, considering this life and it has been both cathartic and instructive. Being a parent is consuming; it makes you both stronger and incredibly frail, it seems, simultaneously. It is so hard to walk a line between giving support and instruction, and yet making sure to not control. Sometimes, I think I missed out on so much, and to some degree, to use the words of Martin Luther, “this is most certainly true.” Sometimes, I realize I am able to offer more as the surrogate and I might even be listened to in ways the biological parent will not. What is most apparent to me as I write this is parenting in any form is both inspirational and humbling. I am conflicted by the fact that I did not experience this and what I feel I might have missed, but at the same time, I am blessed that I have other opportunities to make some difference in the lives of many more. I think the most difficult part of me is finding a balance between the two worlds when it comes to my own emotions and reflections. I am reminded of the song by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. Father and Son is an amazing song and it is here for your listening and pondering that relationship of parent and offspring.

Thank you again to all of you who take the time to read what I write, be it once or regularly.

Michael

 

Twenty-Five Years or so in the Making

Good morning from Kraków,

Let me offer a bit of a spoiler alert on this post: while I am pretty open or transparent in what I post, this blog will probably push that limit of openness as it will reveal to a greater degree than perhaps ever with how I struggle just being human. While we all have frailties, insecurities, and baggage, we are taught too often to stuff it and keep the proverbial stiff upper lip, to suck it up and manage, or quit feeling sorry for ourselves. I know how to do this so well because I have spent most of life trying to prove to others and, most importantly, to myself that I am worthy or that I deserve to be loved and cared for. Certainly, I know from where those demons come and I have been pretty honest about that origin both in this blog and through the therapy I have been involved in through much of my adult life. Undoubtedly, I know logically that my adoption and growing up with an abusive parent was not my own fault, but I also know too completely how it has created a struggle in how I view, and how I wish I might view, others. I give others the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them because I grew up with a person who refused to see the good in me, and only pretended to do so when it served her own purpose, which was to make her look like a loving parent. I try, sometimes desperately or unrealistically, to see the positive in another, ignoring the truth that is staring me in the face. As a result there is a different kind of abuse I am subjected to, that of being used or taken advantage of. This is particularly the case with younger people, probably because I never had my own children. I still logically understand their need to make mistakes and grow, but do I make ridiculous excuses in my own mind about their failings, again allowing them to escape accountability for their misdeeds? I think there is more truth to this than I often avow to. Yet there is a more difficult admission in this reality. I often allow it because I am afraid I will be discarded if I speak out.

I was abandoned, on some level, by parents, who believed my sister and I were not worth taking care of. That would necessitate living with grandparents. I do not remember that time (with my parents) in my life, but I do remember living at my grandparents’ house. Death, alcoholism, and managing a business would require a move for Kris, my sister, and me again. I was on my third home before I turned 5. While that move was ultimately needed at the time, it resulted in a different circumstance, one that produced extended pain for both my grandmother (she did the best she could at that time) as well as my sister and me. I believe with every fiber of my being that the abuse my sister endured led to a life of struggle and a death that occurred much too early. For me, it has resulted in trying to please or accept others regardless their actions, often to my own detriment. Generally I am able to manage the hurt and the inherent loneliness this has generated in my life, but as of late that ability has seemed to recede, to dissipate, sometimes to completely fail me, and the pain of that coping mechanism has bubbled up like the former well in my yard which has once again found the light of day.

The more important question is what to do? Yesterday was excruciating for me. It was a day unlike anything I have experienced for over 20 years. It was a day that I questioned the reason I have lived this long. It was a day that being in Poland probably saved my life. The conflict of my most basic existence caused me to consider buying a ticket, leaving Poland, and flying home two days before my class; the overwhelming emotion of my being alone in Poland, and honestly in a place I usually love, caused more tears than I have cried since I was a small boy. Yet, from where did it all come? I do not have a good or complete answer for my own question, but I know it was the consequence of feeling incapable or stupid. I know it was the result of wishing for a different life while being conscious of the many blessings I have. So was or am I conflicted? Undoubtedly, I am. It was reflecting on all the things I have going on both professionally and personally and hearing a mother’s voice that I am undeserving and that I will never amount to anything, and logically disagreeing while emotionally accepting her edict of doom. It is coming to terms with these two little people inside of me that are connected to and simultaneously detest the other. Somehow the concept of doctor heal thyself rings in my ears. Too often I subscribe to this adage and even the very writing of this blog merely contributes to it. I was asked to consider that very issue in a conversation yesterday. Ultimately, through text and conversation I was able to smile and see beyond the incredible storm of the day.

In addition to the extended conversation and video, others responded. A person, whom I have known for over 15 years, reached out yesterday and was incredibly accurate in their assessment of my current struggle. Their questions and concern were one of the things that made yesterday manageable. As noted a series of FB messages and an eventual Facebook video was also of profound and extreme importance. The simple messages from others, including those from one end of the states to the other, reminded me that I am not alone. To all of you, thank you. More importantly, what to do next? What are the changes or things I might do to better protect myself as well as to face my life-long nemesis, that of believing my mother?

First, I believe I must come to terms with the breadth and the extreme of the ramifications her proclamation has had. Thinking of that is quite frightening for me. I probably have a better understanding of some aspects of this than I care to admit. It is another way I find indescribable irony in my growing up Lutheran and how Luther’s dialectic of paradox so parallels my life. It is a comprehension of the phrase Simul Justus et Peccator that goes beyond what I wish possible. It is both loving and hating my feelings toward something(s) or someone(s) – which might be more accurately somebody – but suffice it to say it is grammatically what it is in this context. It is wanting to be around others and afraid of such, to the point it is easier to push them away. Sometimes I inadvertently do so without realizing or intending it.

My need to control my life out of my own fear of failure creates a disparity that I sometimes cannot manage and as a consequence I lose the very control I so try to maintain. Yesterday was such a day, and for the first time in decades it crushed me. For the first time in eons, I had no where to hide. The struggle with wanting a level of health, both physically and emotionally, was beyond what I could figure out and my ability to cope failed me. Tears flowed in ways I did not anticipate. I was not angry, like sometimes happens; I was forlorn, despondent, and perhaps even broken-hearted. The rejection or perceived rejection of a variety of individuals, which is one is my most extreme frailties, was in every direction, from relatives to seemingly ordinary individuals, from people from my early life to people even here in Poland (or those Polish). Again this rejection or perceived rejection can paralyze me. Why? It is because I believe it simply proves what my mother prophesied, and makes it true. It is me accepting blame for things that are probably not my fault (there is that word again). I know that I am certainly more fragile to some than others, but I wish I could get rid of this fear of rejection across the board. It occurs regardless of the age of the person, the position of the person and perhaps, most profoundly, the gender of the person. The latter of these being the most problematic. Maybe that is exacerbated by age at this point, but it is unfortunately once again the repercussions of my mother. I know my grandmother, as noted, bore the guilt of not being able to care for us to her dying day. I know the pain she felt because she believed her actions were to blame for our abuse. As I have noted on a blog posted almost 5 years ago, I do not blame my mother, nor am I angry, but I continue to struggle with the fallout of her actions. If I could overcome this how different my life night be.

Yet, I do not write out of a sense of needing pity. We all have our demons, and we struggle to improve our own life as well as the lives of those around us. To those I have pushed away, offended, or mistreated, it was probably done out of fear, and my own inability to do the best I could in the given situation. To those I have failed or hurt out of my own anger, forgive me for not doing better. I do not wish to mistreat nor do I wish to create a sense of disregard. I am flawed and frail at times, and while I might seem to seldom get upset or worried, it is a facade I have worked on since I was small. I am simply another fragile human trying to make my way. Thanks to my niece, whom I admire and appreciate beyond words, for the initial image in this blog posting.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

May Day . . . then and now

Hello on a Wednesday afternoon from my office,

When I was growing up as a child in Northwest Iowa, May 1st was a celebratory day. We had a May festival at school and we practiced dances and we had bleacher set up at my school yard and parents came to watch their sons and daughters perform. The May pole was a great thing and I remember hoping I might somehow get to dance with the prettiest girl in my class (which, somehow never happened; perhaps because I was smaller, had incredibly large ears, and was not the most coordinated kid in the class). As a festival of Celtic origin, there was an appropriateness for this small Northwest Iowa boy who can trace some of his ethnic heritage to County Cork, but as an elementary boy who was beyond shy around girls it was a chance to be able to speak with them without having to have a pretense. Certainly I was unaware of the symbolism of the May Pole and the interweaving of the dance and the ribbons. The flowers in May baskets was another part of that celebration. Perhaps that is where my appreciation for flowers, which is a significant part of my life today, began. It was the beginning of considering the summer and being away from school, of being able to play and ride my bike as we all did. We tore up the sidewalks and alleys with all our riding, which we could do for hours. As I look back now, I thought my life was complicated because of being an adopted child and some of the difficulties that went with that (much of it discussed in previous blog posts), but what I realize now it life was quite simple. Everything I actually realized as a need was supplied. There were other things that probably should have happened, but that is for another time.

Having two Russian (well, one technically Moldovan) students this year, I am aware of the May 1st holiday in the former Soviet Union as a celebration of International Workers’ Day. Certainly, it is still acknowledged in the Russian Federation and is a national holiday. It reminds me of a perchance conversation that occurred in a Georgian Restaurant in Poland. It was a conversation about growing up during the Cold War for two of us, and for the other two growing up in the Soviet era or in the current Russian Federation and how we understood or perceived the other. As a small child, I did not realize the difference in how those on the other side of the world celebrated May Day and how their practice on that day was so different from what I did at Riverview Elementary School. We were taught to fear the Soviets and hide under our desks in case of an air raid. The Soviet Union was the big bad boogie man, so to speak. My Polish traveling colleague, who was born during the time of the CCCP, speaks about weekly requirements they had to research and understand the United States and to present what they learned to their classmates. What a much more reasonable way to understand the other than what I did as an elementary school child. The one student (both are students of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation – Финансовый университет при Правительстве Российской Федерации) takes all her classes in English in spite of the fact she is a Russian studying in Russia. That blows my mind. I am trying to imagine myself trying to take classes in German (which is the foreign language I know most proficiently of the several I have acquaintance with) as a student at an American University. Holy Buckets!!

Yesterday in my Rhetoric class I asked my students to define civility and then have a conversation about why and how it is we have become such an uncivilized people. Pondering the variety of comments and the way the conversation proceeded, it was interesting how one student noted that we have so much different from others, but I countered, perhaps we have more in common than we have different. Be that as it may, the fact that he noted the difference before the similarity speaks volumes. While this is a bit simplistic, I am quite sure that most parents work at an early age to teach their children manners, to be appropriate, to treat the other with respect. Those actions have a lot to basic civility and yet we seem to have lost those childhood lessons. I have noted previously that when I was about eight years old my grandmother said to me one day, “Michael, always be a gentleman.” She said it in a tone that was both caring and serious. She had little tolerance for disrespect or rudeness. At the amazing age of eight (or third grade for me) I thought she meant it was important to say please and thank you. Thinking back now, I think it might have been because I had gotten in trouble on the playground for retaliating when someone had hit or hurt me. I was smaller than most of my classmates and what I know now is I was bullied more than I realized. I called it negative teasing at one point, but now I realize my small stature and my fear of those bigger than I led to more difficulties in daily life than I knew. I learned to stay away from those who were mean and also learned to keep a smile on my face regardless the situation. There was more to managing my life at that point, but those lessons of being civil in what were sometime uncivil treatment perhaps prepared me for life as an adult. As I generally try to do, I must admit there are times I have failed to be a gentleman or to be civil, but generally I work hard to do both. It is that being human, and sometimes it vexes me more than I wish it did.

What are the reasons for our lack of civility? I think that is a question we must individually ask ourselves and then follow up with pondering the consequence of the propensity of our present world to act with little to no tolerance. The consequence is what I noted in my last blog. I know that I was taught to act differently. I was taught to have respect and address elders respectfully. It was more than a teaching, it was an expectation, and to do less than would result in a reprimand that caused me to rethink forgetting to ask appropriately in the future. I remember failing a quarter of chemistry when I was a junior in high school. That evening when I had no reasonable answer for my failure, my father called my chemistry teacher. He would get to the bottom of things. After speaking with my chemistry teacher, he did not blame the teacher for my failure nor did he question why the teacher did not do more to help me pass. He simply informed me that I was grounded for 9 weeks, and when I smarted off – not a wise move on my part – I was grounded to my room for 9 weeks. There was no discussion; there was no bargaining. The punishment was imposed and it stood. I could have tried to argue, but that would have created only a deeper hole, and I was already deeply embedded and any more protestation would result in added sinking on my part. I needed to understand the consequences of my failure and when my father was the person to impose said consequence, I knew I had overstepped the boundary. There was no blaming the other. It was mine and I had to own it.

As we move into the last couple days of classes and toward finals, students are coming to terms with what they have or have not done during the past 14 weeks. I am always a bit stunned when I hear students lament how difficult college is. I do not say this to sound uncaring because I am keenly aware of the myriad of difficulties that face students from increasing costs to food insecurity, from family issues that distract to being a first generation college student, but in terms of what is required here, things are generally laid out quite well. If one considers the process for a moment, here is what first year students have: a place to live; utilities paid for them; food cooked for them; a schedule created for them telling them where to go and when to go there; and in a syllabus they have what they must do and when for each class. I wish people would help me in so many ways on a daily basis, and yet, we hear regularly that it is so difficult. How does that happen? I am feeling a bit curmudgeonly at the moment, but how is it that so many 18-19 year olds find that so arduous? It is not merely entitlement. We seem to want to blame everything on that, but I think it is more complex. Undoubtedly it is about learning to manage what is on one’s plate, but perhaps it is something as simple as discipline. Unquestionably, it is learning accountability for what one does, but how do we teach accountability? When should we teach it? Whose job is it? The other day in my rhetoric class, we considered the issue of food insecurity on campuses. What is that you might ask? It means that students do not have either have the monetary resources, the physical access or sustainable possibilities to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet. The result is more than merely being hungry. What I asked after helping them realize what this is, I asked whose responsibility it was to manage this? I got a variety of answers. Not surprisingly, some argued it was the university’s responsibility. Undeniably, I believe the university needs to have resources to help students, but I think the university has the responsibility at the admissions level to help students and parents understand all the costs. When they are in the dorm that is one thing, but when they are in apartments, either on or off campus, the way that is managed is something quite different.

I did not know until the last year that the only thing our brain uses is carbohydrates. I think I noted that recently, and about 1,300 grams of carbs a day is what your brain needs to function optimally. If you want to know about eating on a budget and with some modicum of nutrition, this is what my students have been working on in my technical writing courses the last couple of years. If you look at the following: https://www.huskieshelpinghuskies.com/, you will find some options. It is continually updated at the end of the semesters. One of the things I am most proud of is my students came up with the idea to put this on line and to get alumni to donate through the Foundation. This is a great example of students looking beyond themselves. Certainly not a sense of entitlement on their part. This is part of the complexity that is being a student today. It is an element of all the ways students work to understand this complex world they are moving toward “adulting” in. One of the most amazing things about being a professor today (and probably so when I was a student) was how one becomes an academic mentor, but also the professor. I am reminded of Dr. John W. Nielsen, one of my two advisors, noting that being a professor is exactly that: it is professing by both word and action. That is not that difficult, but it takes thought; it requires me to stop and think and ponder, but that has been part of who I am since I was small.

I was never content knowing the why; I wanted to know the why about the why, and perhaps even more about a third why. I am now old enough that I do not sleep through the night and I am often awake at 2:15 a.m. If you have read my blog with any regularity, you know that sometimes that is when these missives begin. It is also the time I try to make sense of this crazy (and growing more so) world that we find around us. Each day this week I have been stunned by the events in a country that was built on such profound democratic principles. Certainly, democracy was at work this week, but there are a variety of understanding on how that should work. The very discord we have is democracy at work, but it is also important to consider what is under the discord and how that affects our checks and balances. It is an unbelievable time to be in the country (or in the world for that matter). I wonder if it was similar in the 1850s and 1860s. It seems to me, and I was a history major and took a class specifically on the Civil War one interim, that the struggle over slavery had the same potential to destroy our country much like some of the chaos today. Each day seems to create a new craziness. Life was so much simpler when I only had a May Day Dance to worry about. Certainly those days were much more about living each day and having fun, and by doing whatever the day required. Requirements were decided by parents, other adults, and our teachers. It was not complicated. There are times I wish it were that simple again. The picture above is of a May Day in Russia. You can see the Kremlin in the background. I will get to see these amazing buildings soon. We all have a voice of our history that calls on us to remember the lessons of our past and realize that we can learn from those times. It is a voice of years and seasons and a voice that can provide comfort and hope for the future.

Thank you as always for reading. I wish you a beautiful and hopeful May and beyond.

Dr. Martin