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)

Remembering a Wall that Went in the Right Direction

Hello from Fog and Flame,

It is Sunday and I need to have a productive day, in spite of grading a few hours or more for the last 5 days, sans yesterday, I need to put in significant time again today. As the end of the semester comes closer, moving rapidly toward a close, the number of house focused on this necessary evil will continue to occupy both my time and the temporal lobe of my students’ brains. Some of their struggle is based on a less than stellar usage of their frontal lobe thus far in the semester. Yet, as humans, it seems too often we fail to adequately use our frontal lobes. The consequences are legion and the complexity of that lack exponential.

This past week I must say that I have observed really outstanding work from a number of my students in a variety of classes. The realization of the conceptual walls they often face was some of my focus this week. On Wednesday, after the release of an offensive video from a student (and everyone in that video should be held accountable in my opinion) a week ago, hundreds of students on campus held a protest in the quad about our campus lack of diversity, lack of inclusion, and a seeming increase in fearing for safety. Let me note as an older faculty, I do not experience all they do; as a person who is male and white, I also experience things quite differently. Therefore, nothing in my statements above or meant to minimize their concerns or assertions. As I have been focusing some of my own reading, I have been examining the concept (and alarming reality) of white privilege. I would not be a person who believed how pervasive this is or the degree to which this affects us until recently. Again, I must give credit to my Dominican daughter as I refer to her for her popping that bubble almost 6 years ago.

The walls that many of my students confront, most in a sort of metaphorical, or non-physical, way are nonetheless real. When a student is noticed first for the color of their skin or their language than their ability, there is a wall they must manage. When a student does well and someone is surprised because of the color of their skin or their language, there is a wall they must manage. When a student comes from a particular location, a particular socio-economic class, or they are in a particular program and decision are made based on those attributes, there is a wall they must manage. The psychological, emotional barriers placed in front of students affect inclusion and their sense of safety. The issues of being first generation and unprepared or underprepared are walls, but these walls are much more difficult to scale. The falling to unprepared or underprepared is more than an intellectual thing; it is emotionally; it is about a level of maturity; and it is about what is expected of us as professors when we are already being stretched in so many other ways. As I write this I feel we are at points being asked to be their parent as well as their professor. I can already believe the response this will illicit, but we are being told both yes, do that and no, you shouldn’t. There is much more here I could write, but my initial intent was to write about a different wall.

In 1985, as a seminary student I was fortunate enough to study abroad. On that journey, I went to what was then the Demokratische Deutschland Republik (DDR) also known as East Germany and we went through Checkpoint Charley in Berlin. The Berlin Wall was formidable as a physical barrier, but it was as much so because of the emotional impact that area had on the residents of East Berlin. As we proceeded through the wall, the scrutiny of the East German military was intense. The examination our bus was subjected to was serious. A few days later, while in a flat in Kreuzburg, I had the opportunity to look into the area that was between the two walls on East and West (referred to as no-person’s land). It was a long 50 yard wide sandbox. Periodically and strategically placed were guard towers. As I stood on an outdoor balcony of the flat I looked through my camera at the guard tower. The guard in the tower was peer back at me with binoculars and he had an AK-47. I felt a bit outmatched with my 35mm camera. During that trip I met an East German seminary student who was married with children. Hans Jürgen and Maria where their names. I remember saying to him that I would write and hoped he would write back. He informed me it was not possible to write. The shock of that realization hit me like a right hook from Rocky. I was stunned and at a loss for words. He asked that I would write from time to time and that he would appreciate my words and prayers for his family. As commemorated this past weekend, it was three decades since the wall came down. Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell I received a letter from my German friend from a free Eastern city. In his letter he wrote about the profound change in his life and how the atmosphere of being walled in was now gone. Yet, there was something more profound in his letter. He wrote, “Someone will have to teach us or help us understand freedom.” I read and reread that sentence, and while I understood the words, comprehending the depth of his desire to learn about such a concept was beyond what I could wrap my head around. Freedom was not a concept for this white American citizen, it was my reality. It just was. For the first time, in such a personal way, I had an inkling of this incredible truth that was an untruth for him. For the first time I tried to comprehend that unparalleled element, that WASP privilege that wax how I had experienced life.

In the decades since, the concept of freedom has certainly been an ebb and flow thing in our world. I believe that the role of personal freedom is intrinsic in democracy, but I also believe that John Locke was correct in his Second Treatise on Civil Government when he asserted

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all [humanity], who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in [their] life, health, liberty or possessions . . . (and) when [their] own preservation comes not in competition, ought [they], as much as [they] can, to preserve the rest of [humanity], and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another (Locke)

He also noted in the social contract that when the government did not fulfill its duty to the people or become untrustworthy or a breach of obligation by the obfuscation of its moral duty or responsibility to its citizens, they forfeit their right as a government to rule. It seems to me more than I would have ever believed possible that we are at a place where we need to question what those who fail to hold someone accountable are doing? While I am not a supportive of the actions of Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky, and I am not supportive of his lying to Congress, he was impeached for both moral impropriety and lying. Certainly, in spite of the denial of our current President of the multiple accusations of sexual impropriety and what seems to be lying about payments are quite parallel to what impeached Clinton. Second, the entire Ukraine affair and what seems to be an incredible number of things (e.g. the Helsinki Statement, the accounting issues with his Foundation, the emoluments that seem to be many and often, and the list could continue) would seem to be more than enough if we use the Clinton yardstick to move him to impeachment. I have listened to about 98% of the testimony. Even in the last 24 hours he has castigated one of the aides to his Vice President because she disagreed with him.

Amazing how the Southern Wall has somewhat disappeared from view, but the walls that have been created within our government, between our political parties, and amongst the public, which not physical generally, are much more enduring and insidious. I am continually dismayed by the things I read on both sides of the political divide. I wonder where I stand at times, not because I do not know what I think, but because I believe we have lost our moral compass as a country. One of my academic mentors noted in his own Facebook post today how there seems to be a disconnect between the morals of what  conservative Christians profess and their support of this President. Let me note, I am not perfect, and I am certainly guilty of some bad choices earlier in my life, but the other day one of my students said to me that what makes me a great mentor is the things I profess I live. That was an incredible compliment. Again, I am not perfect by any means, but I do try to be consistent and what I say I do and vice versa. As I work on this, I think about some of the things that are happening and try to look at them from the academic rhetorical lens that is what I seem to put most things through. I am not as partisan as some think. I think I am more like my father than I might have thought. I believe the Democratic party stands for certain things, and socially, I probably follow in my father’s footsteps. In terms of fiscal policy, I am probably more in line with the Republican stance, but that would be the classic stance, not where I see many mainstream Republicans of today.

So where does that leave me? Probably more in the realm of disillusioned, disheartened, and concerned. We need to step back and think about the importance of truth. Truth is not a partisan issue it is a moral and fundamentally human need. We need to step back and tear down the walls of mistrust and bigotry. When we build walls because of ignorance and fear, we miss out on amazing possibilities to learn and grow. When we see anyone different as “the other,” we fail to see them as gifted, as helpful, as equals. The walls keep us from progress and from the possibilities of new learning and growth. It is time to accept people in the glory of their humanity. I realize not everyone is good, but again, if we treat the other with respect, we are most often going to receive respect in return. I think that is just a better way to live. Here is a song addressing my thoughts today. Once upon a time, America was a beacon of hope; it seems we have lost that. Styx sang about that in the 1970s.

Thank you 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.

Dlaczego niektóre rzeczy sprawiają, że zastanawiam się

Dzień Dobry, i wiłam z Poleski,

I am not sure there is a reasonable translation for what I wanted the title of this blog to be in Polish, but what I am trying to get across is  there are things that cause me to turn my head and wonder, did that just happen? What this says, sort of, is “things that give me pause,” or things that seem so counter intuitive to common sense that I can only wonder something along the text acronym world, a sort of inappropriate and nonetheless necessary, WTF? This startling exclamation has become a rather daily mantra as I walk the streets of Poland 🇵🇱, but, but simultaneously, try to understand the brokenness that seems to characterize the country from where or which I come, a country that has been a beacon of hope (and in spite of all, somehow remains so), a country whose government of checks-and-balances has been the hallmark of regulating ourselves when common sense seems to disappear. Each day as I am here in Europe, I take the time to check the news and see what is happening at home, but I am at the point that it so frightens me, I am not sure I want to know. The daily, seemingly-never-ending, shit-show we call our national Capitol becomes more embarrassing by the day. The latest fight between “the Squad” and the President continuing to stoop lower than I imagined possible only furthers my concern. As I am six hours ahead of you, therefore, I am finishing a day, but not see that the President wants to assert, arguing that he was not supportive of the chants at his North Carolina rally. Agreed, he did not join in, but the smug and appreciative smile on his face says more than enough. What did he expect to hear as a response to what he said about the Representative from Minnesota? Does no one see the irony in what is happening here? He argues that the Squad, and please know I do not agree with everything they say or do either,  should go back to where they came from. Three of the four of them were born in the United States, so where does that say they should go? His comment about their ethnic background puts him into a discriminatory situation, plain and simple. The point is: when they say something that he believes problematic, he says they need to go back from where they came (and all the problems with that statement are a post in an of itself). So if they say something from their place in Congress or wherever, it is inappropriate, but as he wraps himself in the flag (which he has literally done) and tries to argue patriotism, he said because he is being patriotic and supporting the country he cannot be racist, regardless what he says. Bull . . .  I say. That is his basic argument. Most certainly, I do not think he has used that specific logic or stated it, but I am not sure he is the most logical President we have had in the Oval Office. In fact, I might go as far as to argue he is on the other end of that spectrum. Now he argues because he tried to speak, he was cutting off the chant. If he spoke, that would have stopped it. Period.  His rallies from the previous election cycle are certainly demonstrative of his using incendiary language and even supporting some of the violence at his event (e.g. get him out of here. Knock the hell out of him). Now he wants to feign that he would not do such things. Incredible.

What needs to happen is the Congress (and please note I did not denote a specific party) needs to do the work they have been elected to do and serve the American people. Then let the chips fall where they may . . . or will.  As we are into debates already . . . those running for the Democratic Party nomination need to explain what they will do to better serve the American people and the world should they be elected president. Lay out a strategy that demonstrates that you care about all of America . . . that the policies will do something to support the wealthy, but also give care to those who were not able to get a million dollar loan from their father. When and if you get the nomination, do not play his game of insult and detract. If you get in the mud puddle with the pig, you are going to get dirty and pigs love the mud. They are used to it. That is my thoughts about dealing with the hush-money paying, genital grabbing, bully with a 4th grade rhetorical level, the one, whom we somehow elected in 2016. He is arguing the economy is humming and certainly the stock market has been hitting records, but about 50 percent of people, who have the money to invest in the market do not (2016 Gallup Poll). That does not count the people who do not have the disposable income to begin with. Therefore, for whom is the economy humming? If it is only for those connected to the Dow and S&P, which is what is being touted by the White House, there is an issue. Then there is an example of our illustrious legislatures at the national level, who are there to serve the people. My second example of just how low they stoop or out of touch they seem to be is with former doctor (M.D.) and Senator. In a typical example of supposed fiscal responsibility, Senator Rand Paul objected to a unanimous consensus vote to support the 9/11 Fund, something that Senator McConnell noted to the recently deceased NYPD detective he would make sure a vote was accomplished. My issue with the Kentucky Senator is an issue of ethics and reality. He noted that the 10+ million dollars this would cost should be offset by other spending. Okay, but wait! This is the same Senator who voted for the Tax Reform Bill that has added a trillion dollars to our national deficit. I am not an economist, and math is not my strong suit (and it also seems that Polish is not over the last few days), but give me about a 99% break . . . because 10,000,000.00 is one percent of 1,000,000,000.00. I think more than your ribs must have been broken by your neighbor, Senator Paul. You are also reprehensible for this stoppage. This brings me to the other side of things for a moment. I think Speaker Pelosi has so much more on the ball than many think. While I am supportive of much of what AOC and other freshman Representatives are questioning, I do believe there is a way to manage both sides. I think the Madam Speaker is an astute and worthy balance to the Senator Majority leader, who I will address before this blog is complete.

My rhetorical background comes into play. While the President speaks of a 4th grade rhetorical level, his rhetorical strategy is more acute and calculating than many believe. This is where some of you might find what I write difficult, but there are two things to remember before you judge my words as they come from some careful thought and significant struggle. First, I was a history major in college (and I have loved history since middle school) and second I wrote my dissertation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was the German Lutheran pastor involved in the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. After watching what Hitler had done in Germany from 1933 when he became chancellor, the group of well-placed individuals involved in the plot to remove him turned to their pastor and co-conspirator as they struggled with the reality of their actions. Hoping he might provide some absolution for their deeds on the Christmas holidays of 1942-43, they asked him to reflect on their situation. Absolution is not quite what they received; he wrote to them: “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; . . .” While I do not believe the American public has been silent either before or since the President was elected, the silence of the Republican party on so many actions or words used, which are below the Office of the President, is shocking. The disregard for the judicial system, the intelligence community, the DOJ, pre-Attorney General Barr, or the granting of security clearances in a nepotistic manner (against the advice of those who had the right to advise) provides my reason for pause. Yet, the list could go on and the incredible disdain for our democracy is, once again, beyond words. I know some will ask the question if I am insinuating (or jump to the conclusion) that our President is evil? For me, that is an honestly difficult question. Is bullying evil? I believe it can be to those being bullied. Is arrogance evil? When the consequence of that arrogance is to create discord, mistrust, and fear, which I do believe is a fundamental strategy of Mr. Trump, one can argue for some sense of evil in that. Certainly, I believe the Republican Party and those who have fallen somewhat lock-step (and the similarity  or image of that term with a military is not unnoticed) with him can certainly have their actions be regarded as equivocation. Particularly when those who have not supported him are called out, ostracized, and labeled more vile things that the deplorable term (remember the election) ever indicated. The President’s response this past week for former Speaker Ryan is a good case in point. I think Ryan’s rather pathetic argument for what he tried to do to “manage” the President is another example of equivocation and pretense, and all under the guise of patriotism or democracy at work.

Bonhoeffer would go on to write: ” . . . experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.” To  say we have become suspicious of others in a profound understatement in our present national climate. We have come to the point where disagreement with someone makes them the enemy. There is no democracy in that. There is no freedom in that. Those are profound statements, but important ones. We unfriend people; we no longer speak with them; we have become afraid to question or stand up for what we believe because it is termed unpatriotic, socialist, and something worse. Sending someone home or arguing they should go back to their shithole country is how our President finds it reasonable to speak about or to those with whom he disagrees or when they disagree with him.  He tweets his disdain on Sunday mornings almost liturgy. He name calls and again, uses his bully pulpit as the incredible bully he is. He argues for a strict interpretation of the constitution when it serves him (or more accurately his base or those who might support him) and yet he cares little about constitutional rights. His attack on checks and balances is a basic affront to the constitution. Recently, he worked to figure out a way to side-step the SCOTUS  on the census(though at the last minute someone must have gotten through to him). He argues the Bill of Rights and freedom of speech when it serves his purposes, and yet in his own actions he will block people on Twitter with whom he disagrees again (which the Federal Appeals Court just told him that is not okay). Certainly I do believe we are worn down from going on three years of continual fighting and bad-mouthing. This is not one-sided – it is the one thing about which we are truly bipartisan. Most of the public has thrown up their hands; it a national issue and it is a serious one. Certainly there is a cynicism that has become part of who we are. It is my hope, again as noted above, that someone, or some-ones, will step up and demonstrate they can argue for policy and country and not get into the garbage slinging, something the President seems incapable of doing. He calls it the “art of the deal.” I call it the epitome of being an ass. Can we return to substantive talk about the country and the things that matter versus becoming a continual us against them? That is where the cynicism is most apparent. I am not sure anyone believes we can.

This past weekend, I ended up in more back and forth that I am usually comfortable doing. The topics: immigration, health care, and a few other things that are central to our public debate. What astounds me is how so many really good people, and those who call themselves Christians, can support this person who has equivocated himself arguing for the sanctity of life, but then disrespects almost everything that is fundamental to our humanity and everyone, particularly women. Behind this Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate has flooded our judiciary with judges who will rule against woman, immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQA, or anyone who does not seem to believe as they do. I am smiling as I think of those whom Jesus chose as disciples. I am not sure any of them would fall into our category of who’s who in terms of wanting them as friends or role models. As I have noted in many of my previous blogs, I did not grow up in a particularly diverse area, but I did learn about respect for the other. Certainly my entry into the Marine Corps taught me things about people and the world that NW Iowa could not. Certainly my work beyond as a pastor and eventually as a professor has reminded me of how fortunate we are to have the diversity of opinion that I find in my classes (and is something I try to foster).  Contrary to what some accused me of this past weekend (not personally, but as they argued against the left-wing, liberal conspiracy of the academy) of indoctrinating my students. As I tell my students every semester when they ask me what I want, my response is always the same: I want to you think; I want to you to analyze; I want you to be able to make the connections, to be able to synthesize the things you learn with the world in which you live. As that former pastor, I am just enough of a smart ass to say, “I believe God gave you a brain to do more than hold your ears apart.” So the question becomes as Bonhoeffer noted so importantly: “Are we still of any use?” As I have noted in other blogs, I know what this discrimination does to people; I know what it did to my sister. There is significant time until November 2020, but there is a lot of national soul searching that needs to happen. We need to as a people stand up against all forms of discrimination and speak out when our government does things that are not true to the morals and principles that promote respect and dignity. Discourse is important; disagreement and the ability to do so in a civil manner is as important now as ever. When people are bullied into silence; when people are rounded up and treated as subhuman; when we separate families and cage children (I have been to Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz); when those we elect cannot conduct themselves in a manner befitting the office to which they are elected, we have a problem and a serious one. Are we of any use? Yes, and further more, hell, yes. It is time to read; it is time to listen and research the issues; it is time to consider who we are and how we want to conduct ourselves as individuals and as a nation. It is time to use our power at the ballot box. If we believe we want a country that finds racism and bullying in the White House as acceptable, we will re-elect this monster. If that is who we have become, I fear where we are headed. The image at the outset of this blog is of Flossenburg, the camp in which Bonhoeffer was hanged and cremated shortly before its liberation. He was hanged in April 1945. It is not again unrealized to me that I am only kilometers away from Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious of the death camps in the Second World War.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

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