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

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

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Verstehen, Comprender, Understand

Hello from the acre,

I want to get a few lines written before I fall over from both mental and physical exhaustion. I should note that those two things probably affect my ability to manage the word that makes up the title of this post – all the same word; just different languages . . . . After an hour or two of sleep . . . The English word means “to know the meaning or something” (Cambridge) or “to know how a person feels or behaves in a particular way (Cambridge). In Spanish one has a bit of a different sense. One might use the two words “hacerse entender” and in German one might use the phrase “sich verstehen auf “. Not surprisingly to me both the Spanish and the German seem to get at the root of what it really means to understand something. I do not believe understanding is purely a intellectual function. One can ponder, mull over something, but true comprehension is based on the reflection upon both thought and experience. Someone often says to me “at no time did I say a particular thing” and then will assert that because it was not said that either something is assumed or that he or she has no effect on that determination. If life were only that simple. If that were the case that we could only be connected to our words and not our actions (and I already know this will be argued). Yet, since so many people have a tendency to communicate poorly the consequence would be a general failure of any possibility of “verstandlich“. We would be in quite the predicament. And that does not even begin to cover the issue of speaking falsely or perhaps less egregious, but equally difficult, stating something, but not being able to follow through. That, of course, gets into the work of Sisela Bok and her amazing books, one titled Lying and the other titled Secrets. I had to read both of them for my comprehensive exams in narrative ethics. The issue of intention is certainly part of this. The problem there is we cannot always get at intention either readily or easily.

I think the important thing to realize about the ability to come to an understanding is that it takes time and it takes experience, but it is, at times, also clouded by emotion. I am reminded of Luther’s explanation of the third article of “The Apostles’ Creed”. He said, ” I cannot by my own effort or understanding . . . ” I am aware that the issue Luther is addressing here is quite different, but his words are helpful for my post. I do not believe we ever come to even our own imperfect, less-than-total comprehension of something without a careful consideration of both language (words spoken, written or heard) and a cadre of experience with that speaker. And yet, unfortunately even those two things together can be trumped by the reality of the contextual circumstances of any given moment. Those circumstances and all the pieces that create that specific instance can forever be overshadowed by a myriad of external factors and what results is an estrangement between two (or more) people) honestly trying to understand the other. This is a different context of “the other”, but ironically the consequence creates that same “other”. One feels marginalized or misunderstood. One somehow believes that something is stacked against him or her. Even as a white person, I know that feeling (Again, any extended parenthetical here has been added because I am trying to either provide a revision that is an attempt to provide a better rendering of what the context and my hearing of something was and is. Second, as my blog I realize I am writing, as I have from the outset, both what I find important and significant to me as a person who wants to understand both things in close proximity as well as their connection to this world I inhabit.).

What I have come to realize this past week is that I am more like someone or more accurately he or she is more like me ( I am older) than previously determined. Going on autopilot, doing what is easiest or almost out of necessity managing only what is essential becomes the rule. I remember feeling that sense of the tail wagging the dog, but that is why I try to organize and plan. I know even when I do it well there are things that certainly will create chaos. An extra meeting, a forgotten appointment, a loss, yet again, of my keys (I could do an entire post on this), and then my own desire to do everything well – and hating when I fail. You get the picture. What I know, in spite of falling into the trap, at the end of the day what happens is we only have so much time and so much energy. If we have done the best we can, we cannot get down on ourselves, even when we have a propensity to do so. We cannot fail to reach out and demonstrate to another what or who actually matters. This week the number of people who were kind enough to remember me was staggering. I am so blessed. Being taken to lunch by one of my best friends. In spite of the stress, one taking me to dinner and, in spite of limited resources buying me a present, means more than any words can express. For another to share a birthday with me when it was their golden birthday, and to have time in their crazy day with all that happens and then to purchase something for my well-being is a gift beyond words. For three people to drive thirty miles to bring me a birthday cake and share time with me was such a wonderful way to complete my day. I had over 200 people contact me. I am blessed beyond words and humbled that I have so many people in my life.

Last week I wrote about privilege. What I know is that I am passionate about learning; I am passionate about justice; I am passionate when someone I love seems or appears at times to be hurt by a system, by people, that or who seems to differentiate because of language or ethnic background. Yet, one cannot throw away a system. Nihilism was argued as an option at one point, but it does not work. Meaningless creates a sadness that cannot be overcome and destroys our human spirit. One can determine a system is flawed; one can work to fight back against a system; one can work within the system to make small changes. I am reminded of the prayer of St, Francis. Perhaps it is apropos here. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” I do wish to demonstrate that not all of America is bad, that there could be worse things than being an American citizen or living in this country (and I know they know this, but we have spoken about the why I perceive this). The very education received and the scholarships earned are part of that that same system. I do wish to demonstrate that not all white people marginalize the other. Some of us hope to make a difference. It was the reason I voted as I did the last two elections. All is not lost. It is possible to understand if we listen, if we take time to care. If and when we let people into our lives we really do begin to understand them; we can make the difference so we find that place to accomplish “entender “, to “sich verstehen auf

Me disculpo por no ver o entender el estrés. Por dificultades comprender sus necesidades, perdóname. Gracias por su presencia en mi vida. Trataré de ser más consciente y más comprensivos.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Wondering what she really thinks?

IMG_0060Good morning from the study of my house,

It is a beautiful morning and I am here in the quietness and the solitude with the sun shining in the windows. I do hope to get some things accomplished today. I want to finish moving my office. I got a lot done yesterday and should finish most everything today. I was fortunate to have a couple people help yesterday so I did not have to move everything down the hall by myself. I do appreciate when people are willing to help out of the goodness of their hearts and not out of some sense of obligation. That actually gets back to my last post about freedom.

I have promised that I would write an entry to my mother. I thought about waiting until the first week of August, but I think I will do it today. It is hard to believe that she passed away 25 years ago on that early August day. What I do remember about that day most vividly is that my father signed the necessary documents to remove her from life-support (she had been on a ventilator for about 48 hours) and I remember thinking he had spent 2/3s of his life with her. He could not stand to watch her struggle after that removal, so we left the room for a cup of coffee. My younger sister chose to stay with her. When we returned in 10 or 15 minutes, she had passed away. It also makes me wonder about the reality of being the only one of that family still alive. Not what I expected, not that I know what I expected to be honest, but I am pretty sure it was not where everything is at this moment.

For many years, to be honest, I either feared or despised my mother. She was not a happy person, for many understandable reasons, but it made life difficult. That relationship has also caused me to mistrust women in general. That is a hard admission for me to make and one that I have realized from time to time, but probably never really deal with. That is why I probably struggle with some situations now. I have learned that it is easiest to be around females with whom there is no chance for a relationship. It is safer. The trust issue really raised its head last night through a particular situation and I am still not sure what I am thinking or feeling. However, I do know now, in terms of my mother, I am not angry or bitter at her. If I feel something, and when I dig deep, I know I do feel, I think I am mostly sad or melancholy. However, I did promise to write this blog, so here is my honest and somewhat-frightened attempt.

Mom,

I wonder what you would think of where I am now? I wonder if we would even be speaking since the last three years of your life we tolerated each other at best? I wonder if you would still believe I came to your house at the amazing age of 4 to cause you trouble and pain? I wonder if you struggle with the fact that the last words you uttered were angry words at the person who spent 2/3s of his life with you? I understand he was not perfect in this situation either, but I think he struggled with how to love you when you were so angry all of the time.

If you are able to watch, did you see my response to the conversation I had with Mr. Galán, which ironically occurred on Father’s Day, and what he said God had told him about you and how you hurt and why you hurt? He actually made me think about and look at you in a new light. As you know, we both cried that morning. I do know that growing up I think we were pretty strapped and you did most of what you did as a single parent. I did not realize how hard that must have been, particularly, if dad worked out of town because he had spoken up to the union BA. You were collateral damage and so were we. All I knew is that it was frightening to be there with you alone because you were not happy. I am sorry I could not see your side of things.

I know you worked hard to hold things together. Between coupons and sewing our clothes, from making sure we had private music lessons to allowing us to participate in Sioux City Community Theatre and the Sioux City Children’s Choir, we had opportunities that not every child had, and for that I am forever grateful. As you know, I do know my real mother, but that has not been a positive experience either, and I have little to do with my real siblings. I wonder where the second sister might be. Maybe that is something I should work on pretty soon.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be a single parent with an infant when you first had Sharon Kay and then tragically lost her, regardless the truth of whatever happened, as you know, there were stories. I cannot imagine losing a second child and then, at 25, being told you would never have children, especially in the middle of the baby-boomer generation. I do know that you worked hard to make sure things around the home were neat and taken care of, and I know that we were all part of that with our daily chores. I know that as I grew you struggled with my relationship with Grandma and I know that you probably feared her because she had been Kris’s and my mother at one point. She was an amazing lady;?perhaps the only one I have ever completely trusted. I do think she hoped good things for all of us, and would include you. I know she understood out situation well and she hurt because of it.

Much like a 5th step, let me offer some things that really caused me hurt and influenced how I reacted and responded to you. I remember being sick and at home on the couch (this was actually in the 900 LaPlante House) and I had an accident because of the flu. You whipped me for that, probably because I was afraid to tell you about the accident and I might have lied when you asked. I had welts from that whipping. Is this too much to tell in a blog, I am not sure? I remember when Dad had the heart attack and I was staying at Grandma’s house that summer because I worked two jobs. You called her and told her to keep me because you did not want me (at least that is how it was relayed to me) and then when I found out about the heart attack and Dad being in the hospital, you told me it was all my fault. I was 16 and that frightened me beyond words. It also hurt me. I remember coming home from college and, indeed, my hair was long and I had a beard. You told me, in front of people at church, that I was ugly. I was embarrassed and hurt. That created a confrontation at lunch that day and I lost my temper. I am sorry for that. In fact, you were the only person on whom I ever lost my temper growing up. Again, I am sorry. I responded out of hurt and what I know is while I do not lose my temper often now, it is usually because I have been hurt by someone, and that someone, whoever it is, is someone for whom I have great care. I remember the scene after Susan was hurt by your actions and I stuck up for her. Again, I apologize for my not handling it better. Perhaps the thing I remember most was your telling me that you believed that Kris and I came to your house to only create trouble. We were 3 and 4 years old. As I said then, and would even now, we did not understand why we had to come to a new house. We did not understand the new rules or expectations. I am sure you did not anticipate the difference having two new people in the house would create or that you would be doing it most of the time on your own. I think it must have been really tough and overwhelming. What I want you to know about the things I have just mentioned is that I forgive you. I hope from wherever you are you might forgive me.

I wish that circumstances would have been better for you. I wish you might have had a situation where you knew you were loved and cared for. I think that Dad loved you, but he did not like you very much. I have thought about that often because I never really saw any signs of real affection for you. In fact, I have said at times, I think he was abusive in a sort of neglectful way. Sure, he worked hard and you had money to pay the bills, but I do not think you had a partner in that marriage. That had to be terrifically difficult. You were also put in the place of having to always be the disciplinarian, and face it, that is neither enjoyable or appreciated from those receiving the discipline. What I have been pushed to realize is that you wanted people to love you and care for you, but no one really did. I am so sorry for that. If I could offer anything to you now it is simply this. Thank you for all you did to try to parent us. Thank you for the opportunities you gave us, often going without yourself. Thank you for never really giving up on us. Please forgive me for the times I hurt you, ignored you, and mistreated you. I wonder what you would tell me now? I wonder what you have told Bob or Dad or Kris? Do you see them wherever you all are? Are you waiting for the last one of the family to get there? I am trying to write through the tears at this point. Please know that I am still glad I grew up in the Martin house. Please know that I forgive you and I am not angry for anything. I am working through those difficulties yet today. Sometimes I do pretty well and sometimes I do not.

As you know I have two somewhat surrogate children now. It has been a growing experience and I am learning every day. I just want to do it well. No, more accurately, I want to do it perfectly. I know that is not reasonable, but they are both such amazing people. Jordan is kind and caring. He is handsome and loves his family deeply. I have learned so much from the Galán family in that way. Melissa is fiercely independent, to the point of my consternation at times, but she too is compassionate and caring. She is as beautiful as Jordan is handsome. I have learned so much from watching the two of them. As you can probably tell, I love them both deeply. In someways, I am like you, never allowed to have my own children (in my case, at all), did you worry about being a parent? I was afraid I would fail as a parent. I guess I do even as a surrogate, but I pick myself up and I keep trying.

I guess I hope you know that I am grateful and I hope you know that I really hope that you have found some sense of peace.

Thank you for listening to me and I do love you.

To everyone else, thanks for reading.

Michael

Winter needs to melt Away

Good evening from my office,

I am working on grading and my own writing, but realized I have not posted for a few days. I had get ideas of getting more done today and felt like most of the time I was hanging on by my rather short fingernails. I often find myself proclaiming, “they are no long, but they are strong.” That is what they feel like tonight. I am back in my office after working on a variety of things today. I began my morning at the car dealer to get my car inspected and take care of a couple of recalls. I also got my oil changed and tires rotated. The cost of all of that: $0.00. I was stunned, but one happy camper.

When I got back to school, there was a number of things to do. I met with a few students who need to work harder this last part of the semester. It was good to see them take some accountability for their situation and, at least, for the moment say they need to turn it around. Now, merely to do it. I am always excited when the light seems to go on. That is what needs to happen. Students, and really all of us, need to realize that most things that are accomplished come through hard work. They do not just happen. They do not merely fall into our laps. It would be nice, but my father did tell me rather emphatically, there are no free lunches. He had a way of getting to the heart of things. I still appreciate that trait of his.

This afternoon, I was trying to revise the program documents again and I will be with Mark yet again tomorrow to get them explained and examined once again. I have decided that having a number of writing people looking at your writing is like going to the dentist every day for about a month. This afternoon, I was working on my flash cards. I have a great tutor, who as a native speaker and will help me with my pronunciation. I really struggled with some of the vocab this afternoon. I hit that proverbial wall and it seemed I got more ridiculously unskilled by the second. It was a bit disconcerting. I do not have those moments often, but I certainly had a moment (or twenty) today.

A few weeks ago I made a decision to get rid of processed sugar, or certainly to severely curtail my intake of it. In addition, I have cut gluten out of my diet. The result is an 18 pound drop in weight in three weeks. Almost a pound a day and that is without exercise. I do know that I will probably hit a bit of a plateau soon, so I have to add the exercise component again. That is not a bad thing. There is also another issue on the horizon in May, which I just remembered. I am having a gum surgery done called LANAP. It is a laser surgery for my gums versus a cutting and suturing surgery. All of this is actually a consequence of my Crohn’s, and so managing this will have a number of positive consequences. It does mean there is a two week period in May when I will be on liquids and soft food. I imagine that will have some consequences too.

Tomorrow, I need to be focused again and make my list. I am looking forward to the weekend as I am going to Swan Lake on Saturday. I will have attended to amazing performances in two weeks. That is exciting also. I was reminded again in a conversation today about how our circumstances and our environment has such significance for what we hold important. It is hard to believe that it is soon another year anniversary of my sister’s passing. I remember the difference between elements of my family from time to time and her funeral was one of those times. It was a rather strange and sad situation. I am reminded that my own upbringing was a rather interesting dichotomous pairings of cultural awareness and total lack thereof, or at the very least a rather apparent of appreciation for some of those things. It is an issue of culture and understanding the culture in which and from which one came. I do not think we consider those issues nearly enough, but then again, we claim we are inclusive. There is so much we could do more completely when it comes to culture(s). That is only one of the reasons I am working on Spanish. What I am finding as I work on it is I am forced to again consider my own language or cultural choices.

Culture is such a profound part of our identity, and too often we do not really take the time to understand it. If I am correct, then, by extension does it mean we do not really do enough to know ourselves? I would like to say this takes things a bit too far, but I am afraid the consequence is exactly what can be implied here. First we cannot even know ourselves in this situation, let alone know others. I could push the conversation or paragraph and say that social networking and our willingness to merely dash things off versus take the time to really think and ponder exacerbates the circumstances even more. I find learning about another culture to be terrifically interesting and invigorating. It changes one’s life because it forces him or her to think outside of themselves. That is always a good thing. To do this means you have to quit looking inward to search outside of yourself. I do not believe we can seriously enter into this process and not be fundamentally changed. While I appreciate my culture and this country, for instance, the world is so much more complex and diverse. That is what makes it interesting.

There is so much more I could say, but I think I will sign off for the moment and study my vocabulary cards one more time before calling it a night.

Gracias,

Miguelito