Observing Responses to Greatness and Humility

Good Saturday evening,

I am back in my office needing to work on a multitude of things, but my mind cannot get the images of so many who attended the funeral of the Honorable Late Senator John S. McCain III and the resounding tribute about a human being who epitomized the serving of a cause greater than one’s self. During the past week, that refrain, that mantra was spoken again and again. What was impressive in what was noted about this hero, patriot, and generational statesperson was also the litany of words that noted his imperfections, his humanity, his integrity, and his unceasing character and energy to champion the country he loved so deeply. It is for those reasons (and others much deeper) that I take some time to write about him before I turn to the tasks that demand my time.

In February of 2000 I was married with three step-daughters, working for Gateway Computers, living in Oakland County, Michigan, as well as trying to finish my Ph.D. I had worked late and stopped at a McDonalds to grab something unhealthy to eat. Little did I know I would become the basis for an article in the conservative publication, The Christian Science Monitor, but as I sat alone, I was approached by a reporter who was covering the Michigan State Primary before the 2000 fall Presidential election. I was asked who I might vote for in the primaries as I remember, and though a registered Democrat, Michigan had open primaries. I was seriously considering voting for Senator McCain, who was still in a pretty close contest with the eventual nominee, George W. Bush and that is what I noted to my investigative reporter (here is the article URL for you: https://www.csmonitor.com/2000/0217/p1s2.html). Referred to as a “bespectacled computer salesman,” the writer noted that I supported McCain for his maverick qualities, but also his ability to reform. In addition, I noted that I respected what he had endured and that I believed he would make people “accountable” (McLaughlin). There was more personal to this accountability issue than my reporter/questioner realized. Yes, John McCain intrigued me and I will not tell you what I ultimately did in that primary, but I can tell you that our country needs many more Senator McCains. I can respect, beyond any words I might add, the many tributes for this incredible, fiery, compassionate, and competitive (and another person I believe could be called a Lion of the Senate) gentleman from Arizona, who served his country all of his adult life. He was 17 years old when he entered the Naval Academy. Now certainly having two Admirals in the family probably made his entrance into the academy, which is highly competitive, a somewhat foregone conclusion, but nevertheless, he believed he was destined to serve.

As I listened to the service this morning, held in the National Cathedral, our nation’s church, the first bars of the Navy Hymn brought tears to my eyes as that hymn seems to do whenever I hear it. Listening to the music of “Danny Boy” and watching his widow put her head on her son’s shoulders as she broke down had tears streaming down my face. I watched the entire service out of respect and awe for a likes of a person I (nor our nation) will probably never again be fortunate enough to have in our United States Congress in my lifetime. That is not something I am happy to say. Far from it. I believe that former Senator Liebermann said it best today when he said believed that the week’s events might have pushed us to rise above the partisan politics and rancor that seems to epitomize our nation’s Capitol, the men and women who serve in the Congress, and perhaps even us as common citizens. This is my paraphrase of the former Senator’s words, but I believe they embody the intent of what he said. One of the things noted by Cokie Roberts in her commentary this morning is how fewer ex-military are presently serving in the United States Congress, but it was noted that in the current election, the number of ex-military on the ballot is as high as it has been in more than a generation. What I realized listening to that is the veterans of World War II are mostly fallen, the veterans of Korea are still too often forgotten, but now in their upper 70s or 80s, and those of the Vietnam era, like myself are pondering retirement. There is something important to note about the veterans since then. They were not drafted or compelled to serve, they were and are volunteers. They chose and choose to serve today, epitomizing the cause of which Senator McCain speaks so eloquently, the cause of country and patriotism. What does it honestly mean to put the other first?

I believe there are to profoundly complex parts to this statement. First, who is the other? The other is any other human being. The other is that person we might find discomforting; we might find alarming; we might find so different that we do not know what to do. The other might be someone who looks differently, speaks differently, worships differently, believes differently, loves differently. In fact, most often, I would argue that is the case. As of late (and it is longer than since November 2016, and it more profound than Republican or Democrat) we have lost the ability to listen and see difference as opportunity for growth. As of late we have lost the ability to listen and respond to difference with civility and decorum. As of late, we have been reduced to the foolishness of allowing the 140 or 280 character trash talking to characterize our politics and our common discourse. It needs to stop, but only our of respect for the generations of people who have served and worked to make America something to aspire to, but before we truly lose what waning ability we have to make a difference in the world.

This is not to say that other countries have no responsibility for our global situation. They do, and I will tell you from my travels that there are amazing and hard-working people, people who want something better for their country and their children just as we do. I can say with no hint of uncertainty that there are Irish, Polish, Hungarian, Austrian, British, Ukrainian, Russian, Nepali, Egyptian, Sudanese, Spanish, German, Finnish, Czech, Slovakian, Norwegian, Danes, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese, who care deeply about the world and our mutual problems. We have no corner on morality or civility, but we have a responsibility to care about the other because of our rich heritage that comes from many of these actual places. I also believe they have a responsibility to care about us. In this statement, I am not saying I support everything either our government or the other governments do in the world in which we live. We live on a complex and globalized planet that is made of selfish and self-centered humans and governments. To think otherwise is to be naïve at best and delusional as something a bit worse. I can understand the nationalism that seems to plague the world in which we live (and I mean world), but selfishness never works. In the poignant and defiant words of his daughter today, perhaps the most important thing she noted was her father was defined by love. That emotion, that connection to other humans is what sets us apart from the rest of creation. As the writer of John’s Gospel says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV). From the Hanoi Hilton to the countless trips and fights Senator McCain fought in the halls of our Capitol, he somehow never forgot that he was serving the other in humility and with a sense of calling and duty. What an amazing example he set for us.

That being said, I could not help but cringe as his self scripted week-long remembrances have unfolded. The rancor that characterized the relationship he had with our sitting President was seldom far below the surface, and today, there was no room for doubt as it bubbled out in words and tears. While I cannot be deemed to be an ardent supporter of President Trump, I do respect the office and the need for civility. It is understandable, but sad that it seems we need to lose such a statesman to refocus the country on the need for bipartisanship or something as fundamental as exhibiting a sense of couth for all we meet. Politics should be about policy and not personality. Debate and argument is about reaching consensus rather than pouting and shouting when we disagree. The time for name calling and using language as a razor to go for the jugular when you disagree needs to end. Republicans and Democrats and American citizens (and those hoping to become one) need to return to the axiom of the words in John’s Gospel. Greater love is something we all need to strive for. Forgiveness is something we need to offer freely and profoundly to the other. It is one of the greatest powers we have. When I read about the fights that Senator McCain could have in the arena we call Washington, but then call that same person his friend, we have a glimpse of what forgiveness and love truly does. As I turn my focus back on the work at hand, I am reminded of the words of the poet and theologian, John Donne.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod
be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Eternal Rest to you, Honorable Senator McCain. Thank you most revered good and honorable servant. We are a more blessed nation and world because you were with us.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The Truth and Tragedy about Racism

Hello from back in PA,

As I spent the evening trying to catch up on the unending stream of craziness that seems to dominate the world, but what we call news, the irony of the day was as Starbucks closed its doors for a corporate training on what they euphemistically called implicit bias training while one of the top rated shows this season, the reboot of Rosanne was summarily canceled for a rather explicit bias and seemingly-untrainable tweet about Valerie Jarrett by Rosanne Barr herself. Earlier this evening I read a really thought provoking and painfully truth piece by Joy-Ann Reid, a political analyst, who today wrote, “Being black means constantly rendering yourself unthreatening to white people. [and she also states,] “To be white in America is to assume ownership of public spaces. To be black is to live under constant threat of removal” (NBC Think 29May18). Both of these statements will offend some; they will resonate with others; but regardless of how you respond, it is probably most important to search in your heart for the truth contained in them. As a 60-something while Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, there have been times where I wanted to argue the infamous reverse-discrimination card, but about four years ago, I wrote a blog about being confronted by a student and significant person about my privileged status. I remember feeling offended because I had worked hard to achieve what I had. I argued that no one gave me anything. Yes, while I had received help along the way, working as a GTI, managing a restaurant, and being a full-time doctoral student was no picnic and so I was not willing to be labeled as privileged. Certainly, I have received more help than some, but at least through school, I merely worked.

Now four years later, in a country where division and disrespect seems to be the rule rather than the exception, we have elected a President who seems to show little respect for anyone, anything, at anytime, and his election seems to be a direct consequence of the fact we had a black President preceding him. I also believe, in part, it was because the Democratic candidate was both female and named Hillary Clinton. I also believe those are all separate issues. President Trump’s remarks at Arlington National Cemetery were both discouraging and disgraceful. As I ponder the place we seem to stand as a society, as the melting pot created from the Grand Experiment, I am not sure I can give the founders of this country much credit for establishing a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included all people. Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln stood tall, literally and figuratively, in an attempt to create a more equitable country with both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, but until the quest of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s, there was not concerted effort to really accept the true racism of separate, but equal doctrine that was a fundamental element of our mid-20th Century America. I believe I was as naive as the next who somehow believed the election of Barack Obama signaled we have turned a corner for real. Finally, as a country, I thought we realized the racial inequality that held our country in our own collective stocks and put our democracy up for sale to the highest bidder. When President Obama used his office to ask us to thoughtfully reflect on the killing of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, I again hoped his being a Black President might help us see the difficulty of what young black, Hispanic, Asian, or other non-white males endure daily. Unfortunately , after some initial reflection, it seems it accomplished little, or I might even go as far as to say it was probably counter-productive. I would add this was little fault of the President, but rather because we have such an untruthful and chicken-shit racist underbelly to our country that few are willing to honestly and thoughtfully call to task.

I have stated this before, but I think I write it with more emotion than I have in the past. If you see someone who looks, acts, speaks, worships, or loves differently than you and that is how you first view them, or you consider that to be the most distinguishable quality about them, you are mostly likely acting in a discriminatory manner. The person who can honestly say in their heart they do not notice or even consider the difference is a rare individual. For the great majority of us, we are more likely to be that implicit racially biased person, and that is if we are lucky. The present atmosphere in the country, where disagreement makes the other the enemy, means most of us have probably moved beyond the implicit to the explicit. When we hear about daily incidences of rancor, disrespect, and downright hatefulness from the White House to the neighbor, can there be any surprise that corporations are requiring an entire workforce to receive training about their innate (but actually taught) prejudices or a company that is part of the Magic Kingdom of Disney cancels one of its two most popular shows. What does it say when one of the most popular sit-com people of a generation can refer to the senior advisor of a President as the cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes? Not only has what she tweeted reprehensible, the fact that such stereotypes are still promulgated is tragic beyond compare. It is those very stereotypes, the jokes, the whispered humor (which is anything but) that we allow to go unchallenged that keeps such bigotry alive. It is the stares seared into the psyche of our minority students in the small Pennsylvania town or warnings given when the monster truck show comes to the fairgrounds admonishing our black or biracial students to not be alone on the street that illustrates how pathetic our thoughts, words, or actions can be. It is when a avowed Nazi can run for Congress unopposed in Illinois, ironically both the Land of Lincoln and Obama, that should cause us pause as ask, what the hell are we thinking? . . .

It is now 24 hours since I was writing here and pretty well every news source has pontificated on the situation. SHS, who boggles me beyond compare, went on her own rant of why other forms of racism have not been called out to the same degree. I guess the positive is they did not support the egregious comments, but, as usual, deflected to argue something else was as terrible. I am continually stunned by the rhetorical strategy of the White House. Some will argue there is no strategy, but I will disagree. It is like being consistently inconsistent. The President calls our values, morals, and standards into question daily through his seemingly off-the-cuff tweets. Make no mistake, his questioning of all standards, standards which generally support a status quo as well as offering support for some sense of equality and justice, allows some of those who have been supposedly marginalized by this same status quo to believe a President listens to them and speaks their language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The scripture of notes even the dogs get the scraps from the master’s table comes to mind. . . . Another day and another version of America or the global community doing a collective smh. If you do not know this acronym, which I did not until perhaps a year ago, it means shaking my head. The unprofessional or completely void of decorum comments about an ally or Prime Minister of our closest ally as well as showing up late (twice) as well as leaving early from something that affects every citizen in our country. Issues of trade, cooperation, national security, and most everything that requires international give-and-take seems to have been ignored by our President. Where is the line between “America First,” the established Trump Doctrine, and America as a global leader? Between withdrawing from international agreements and the suggesting the re-inclusion of Russia in the G-7+1, what has the President actually done? The global order is changing, and the move to globalization itself has created an interesting backlash. This is also an interesting sort of discrimination. The global identity has often been those who have (the United States, Canada, the EU, and, yes, Russia) and those who do not (third world countries-most of Africa or Latin America, still developing countries from the former Central or Eastern Europe, and other geopolitical places left behind for whatever reason), but that might not be the most significant malevolent consequence of globalization, nor the most complex.

What about a disappearing middle class in the haves and a much less likely possibility for those in the countries of the have nots? I believe many citizens in a number of countries of the EU or in parts of the United States have joined the bandwagon of the rising nationalism because they believe nationalistic philosophy somehow gives them voice. While there might be some truth to this, I do not believe in the long run, nationalism serves any one country. Furthermore, when nationalism becomes the rule rather than the exception, those who have power will have more power and the ideal of democracy becomes more difficult to maintain. While Hitler was elected as chancellor in 1933, his consolidation of power and what he did from 1933 until the outbreak of WWII upon his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 is well documented. Perhaps it is time many read. When power is consolidated, those on the outside become powerless. When countries are so busy working to protect themselves, everyone else becomes the other. Certainly what has been demonstrated lately is being the other is not a good place or position to hold. It still stuns me that the number of Latinos/as, blacks, LGBTQA, Muslim, dis/abled individuals, (and there are people in each of these groups) still believe that the policies put in place recently will not hurt them, from trade, to tariffs, to taxes.

Issues like the #MeToo movement,the #BlackLivesMatter , the #OscarsSoWhite, #RapeCulture, or #NationalAnthem all  demonstrate that we are on a verge of a very substantial paradigm shift, but to where are we shifting? What is positive in the conversation and what is not? This is part of the struggle. There is so much more that we need to ponder and understand. From where did some of the actions, the attitudes, and the practices we now find so abhorrent originate. I listen to a number of veterans most mornings. They are a good group of people, but I am quite sure that I am the only person who did not vote for our current President in that table of 10 or 15 people. Some of the things said will shock me from time to time, but what I realize more and more is that I am pretty liberal in a very conservative area. I am not liberal in my own practices, but more so in my attitudes. What I know is while I might not agree with them, I still respect them and their opinions. I can see beyond some of the differences, and I can still sit and even disagree at times. Most of my disagreements are posed and what about another possibility. I believe we have lost the ability to speak about the other whether it has to do with race, politics, religion, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity or any other thing that might create a difference. Rather than seeing difference as an opportunity for growth, our nationalistic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, or any other ism that elevates difference, we see the other as the enemy, something to discount, disavow, disrespect, discharge, and, somehow hope they will disappear. The resulting fragmentation of who we are as people is certainly not what I believe our heritage has been most held up to be. The words on the statue of Lady Liberty seem to have been ignored. The problem is very basic in understanding what it is, but incredibly complex when it comes to changing it. Most of us are afraid to admit, or too ignorant to realize just how racist most of us are. Until that changes, we are relegated to hashtags and outrage.

With that in mind, I offer this video and thank you all for reading.

Michael (the summer person who is not teaching for once)

Ancestry and Adoption, and Life

Hello from almost four months later since the post below was started.

It has been a busy week and one that has been varied beyond my imagination. While I have not been a “jet-lag” suffering sort of person, particularly on the trip to Europe, this time did some serious kicking. The second night we were here, I do not believe I slept during the entire night. When my alarm went off at 5:45, I was still awake. This was after walking about 9 miles during that day and ending up with a serious leg cramp toward the end of that little walk. I have tried to get ahead of the double-ear infection that was diagnosed literally hours before leaving, and while I think I have perhaps maintained, it is not gone and it seems to now be in my sinuses. I have napped as much as possible, including earlier today, and as it is New Year’s Eve, I am going to go out with the other faculty leaders for a bit, but I am pretty sure that I will be in bed before midnight this year, and I am not sure I see Dobry Kumpel in the cards for the first time in about four years. I will be in there in spirit, I guess. While our “little” group of students is not so little here in Poland this year, they seem to be a pretty amazing group of students. Some, as is to be expected, work harder than others, but I must say that is a pretty significant group this year. Today a little over half of them took the trip to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, here in Krakow. The weather was certainly more accommodating than last year, and Dr. Orla-Bukowska was her usual fabulous self in explaining so many details about this important historical area. It always humbles me to walk in this area where so many brilliant people lived and worked, but who were systematically killed by the Nazis. To walk silently in the Jewish Cemeteries and to see history that was promulgated in such an atrocious manner still stuns me and leaves me speechless. As I noted with my students as they looked at their research on related topics this past fall, what is it in humans that makes us simultaneously so loving and lethal?

Happy New Year from Poland! While I am up and in my room and thinking of this day that creates both memories and hopes, my thoughts turn once again to Lydia. It is hard to fathom that you left this world three years ago. So much has happened, but so much pulls me back to that little apartment I was in here in Krakow when I got that phone call. Expected: Yes; prepared: yes, but never prepared. You accomplished so much in your life and you impacted so many. And yes, you sort of adopted me, but there was so much more . . .  you changed my life and my perspective on life. You changed my understanding of the very things I am walking through for a fourth year in a row. Like most Americans, we read about the Holocaust (more accurately Shoah (שואה)), but we do not really understand the extreme hatred and overwhelming fear that must have permeated everyday life for the Jewish people. I wonder if there is any word that can adequately describe the consequence of the Final Solution? While I had heard the stories before and I saw the walls with the broken gravestones, what sort of hatred (even if you want to give some sense of pragmatism to the decision, which I do not) would compel the Germans to use gravestones and break them up to make sidewalks, roadways, or other things to create thoroughfares? What sort of contempt would oblige a nation to so totally defile every elements of the other’s faith, a faith that was neither nor threatening (and I do understand that the concept of threat is often from the other’s viewpoint)? Lydia, while you were in another place, you lived under the annexation of this same political system, and as an Austrian, you even shared a nationality with the leader of this, but I know from what little you did say, what sort of problems it caused your family. I know you refused to talk about these things, but I wish I knew as much then as I do now and that we might have been able to talk. As you know, I would have wanted to ask questions, as I always do. I know that your parents were educated and intelligent; probably more well to do than most would know, but understated as you yourself were. They knew they needed to get you sent away to family in Vienna, but again, you never really spoke about that. I still remember the night you told me what happened to your parents and how your eyes filled with tears. I was again speechless. What you witnessed as a young person and into your twenties seems to be more than most people bear in a lifetime.

I wish I was walking through some of this with both you and George. In spite of the fact, I never met him, he had to be an incredible person. I have done some initial searching on some things and I found your steerage tickets to the United States from London. There are so many things I would like to learn about your ancestry and what was in that background before you were the only child. From the stories you told of yourself as a small child that steely resolve and determination was innate in you from early on. I wonder how it was meeting George in Trafalgar Square led to a marriage? I wonder what happened to all of the property of your parents in the Sudetenland? I imagine it was similar to what happened to all the Jews in Kazimierz and other places . . . the state just took it. As I write this I am again confronted with what governments do at times under the guise of protecting the people, when too often it is about consolidating their own selfish power. There is so much I wished I might of asked, but I am pretty sure you would have answered as you often did after you revealed something of your past. “I do not want to talk about it anymore.” You knew so much, and you understood so much more. You understood how the world worked economically and I often told you that you should be writing for The Wall Street Journal. As I walk around the streets of Krakow again, I try to imagine what Poland must have felt like for George as, from at least what I know, he probably had some significant idea of what was coming? I know that things in the Warsaw Ghetto were much more profound with the uprising (and once again, if I have my facts clear), and from what you have told me, he was a pretty significant player in all of that.

I know you traveled extensively at one point. This coming weekend we are going to Lviv, Ukraine. It is my first time in the Ukraine, and I do not believe we will see a lot of difference because it is not that far across the border from Poland, however, I have heard the border could prove interesting. I am always excited to learn something new, and to travel to something that is up to now unseen. I will be in Slovakia before all is said and done this trip also. I do believe that my preference is to come back this summer and take an intensive Polish class. It is about four or five hours a day for a month. My head will be spinning. As always there will be some substantive planning to do before that happens. We will be in Wien once again, but only as a stop. It is still very expensive. I want to come back someday and figure out where you lived and what sort of things were common to your family. What I know is you understood the world well and you were able to accomplish anything you set your mind toward doing. One of the things I have pondered now is the difference between Central and Western Europe as well as Central and Eastern Europe. It is interesting that Austria is considered Western Europe, but the Czech Republic, which a great deal of it is further West than Austria would be considered Central.

So you have read what was written and it is interesting for me to look back and see both what has changed as well as see what stands this short test of time. At the time I wrote this, I heard something that was significant to the person who called me in those few days after Christmas. Their world had just be turned upside down for real. In the time since, I have been blessed to become a friend, a confidant, and trusted to give without expectation. It is something I try to do with most every person I meet. What I have learned the hard way is too many people are willing to take, and take some more. I have learned that too many people who have been either former youth of when I was a pastor, a student in one of my classes, or even a parent of said student were willing to ask for money or other help. What I have had to learn was I gave the aid requested, expecting something in return (at least repayment), but that has not happened in more cases than I have fingers (indeed all of them). What it has taken to manage this is to put it away . . . and the fact I am writing about it could be argued I have not done so, but  . . . I have. If not so, I would have taken about 8 different people to court. I am not going to provide a total amount, but it is substantial. If I had it all, most of my debt would be gone, or the travel business I am trying to figure out how to manage would be in better shape.

It is Easter, and I posted a blog already today, but there is so much more in my head. I was fortunate enough to speak with two people who provide such wise counsel and are so insightful earlier today. At this point, I am in my office and working on a variety of things, but it is my hope to have more. As I sit here in the quiet of the office and the building, I am listening to a playlist of Barbara Streisand. Her voice reminds me of the movie Evergreen, which was an amazing movie, released about the time by older brother died. I remember watching it with my sister-in-law at the time and how much we believed it reminded us of him. At time same time, my Easter dinner is peanut butter and celery, which reminds me of my father. It forces me to consider family, which is often what holidays are about. I do love my niece, her family, and my other nephews and nieces, some with family and some without. Yet, there are some moments like today where I feel much like the island that supposedly we are not. I am, and sometimes, I let people in, but then too often I do not what to do with them being there. It scares me. I run up and then run away, much like a small child who has meet a dog for the first time. I am curious and want to see what it is about, but then I turn and run away. The consequence of that is I am for the most part alone. I lament it and yet run toward it. I am reminded of Bonhoeffer, my dissertation topic; he once wrote, ” It is finitely easier to suffer in obedience to the human or than in the freedom of one’s own personal responsible deed . . . it is infinitely easier to suffer through  the engagement of one’s physical being than through the spirit” (Bonhoeffer).

I am not sad as I wrote, I do not wallow in the sadness of my fate or of my life. I am blessed to have things or people who make such a profound difference. From that first person I loved, who is still in my life, though it be across the entire country to friends I have been blessed to have throughout my life. What I know in each of those instances, I have learned something, and most importantly I am a better person for it. At this point in my life, I am trying to figure out my next steps and those are important steps because they are how I am trying to figure out what I need to do to make some sense of life after regular work. What are my options? What do I want those options to be? I know there is so much to figure out, but I am not doing it alone. As I work with a dear and amazingly brilliant friend and colleague, I am reminded of how blessings come into our lives. The best kind is the unexpected kind. There is no plan or preconceived notion. What I am aware of is how simple things like a sidewalk meeting and the introductions of “a DHT” can provide such gifts. God indeed works in and through mysterious ways. In the meanwhile, I think I will get back to work and try to enter into tomorrow on top of everything needed. As I write I am listening to the tune “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough.” For too long, I have believed this. Enough is such difficult word. It has such power over us, but only if we let it. I refuse to let it be that anymore. I am good enough, smart enough, capable enough. Regardless what I hear from the other, it matters what I believe.

On this Easter, I offer this. It is hard to believe that it was 40 years ago I was traveling with four others and first heard this amazing song.

Thank you for reading my thoughts as always.

Michael (the wandering and searching man)

 

 

 

The More I Learn . . .

Hello from the house,

Sometimes, it seems just as I think I begin to figure things out, I realize how little it is I seem to know; and more profoundly, or even more frighteningly so, the miniscule number of items or circumstances  I can actually control. This past week has reminded me once again of the intricate way the negative feedback systems and the various elements of our body are so interdependent. Over the past 96 hours, I have felt more vulnerable and more overwhelmed than at most any time in my life. Even in spite of some of the dire diagnoses and battles I have faced in the last two or three years, I have thought that my life and its existence to be more tenuous than ever before. Doctors’ appointments, prescriptions and the regiment of vitamins have seemed to overtake my life. To be frank, I don’t like it. The vulnerability I have felt since December is both beyond scope and severity than with any other battle I have faced up to this time. Well, on a positive note, I do believe my doctors are in good communication with one anothe. Furthermore, logically,, it appears there’s a reasonable path forward; some of the symptoms this past week honestly had me wondering if I wake up in the morning. That has been disconcerting, at the very least and then other times I have been damn  well frightened. I know these past months helped me understand my disease as well as the complexities and consequences of it more completely than I ever have. And perhaps it’s my age and what seems to be somewhat diminished strength to fight it that has me feeling more compromised than I have ever have. Perhaps it’s because it seems to be affecting a significant number of major organs none of which you do without. Perhaps it’s because two people I know well spending years around them have  either finished their days or seem to be nearly there. Mortality has hit me in a way that I cannot escape.

It’s also reminded me that there are things to do, pieces to finish up, and realizing that I probably will never get it all done. I’ve tried to reach out to certain people and they promised to get back, but busy lives get in the way and you realize where you  lie on the priority scale. Lest one think of oneself more highly than they ought, words or promises broken can remind us that we are not as important that we might want to believe. It might seem that one wants to wallow in self-pity, but that’s not the case. Is it more my willingness to give up some idealism, something I’ve held onto my whole life, which in this case might allow me to more easily let go of things that I do not often let go of. In some cases it’s things and in some cases it’s people. I learned long ago it is easy to let go of things. Two divorces and losing most of the worldly  possessions had taught me that things don’t really matter. In fact, I’ve accumulated way too many things again. It might be easier just jettison and dispose of some of them. People, on the other hand, are something quite different. One of the things that I’ve tried to maintain in my life, but not always perfectly, is to remain loyal and to reach out to people again and again. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, or once again maybe the stark reality of seeing life for what it is, I’m ready to let go of some things. Yet, I know myself, and even when I push away, most often I feel guilty. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to minimize the hurt, but releasing someone for letting go can also hurt them. If I focus on my own heart, my own hurt, am I being selfish, or merely attempting self preservation? I’m never quite sure. I certainly know there are persons to or from whom I’ve closed myself off, but they are few and there was surely some time between one incident (or person) and the event (or the relationship) that seems to have precipitated that distance. So I certainly know this is a two-way street, and to claim otherwise will be disingenuous. I also realize that some of this is busyness, if you will, but again on both sides that only goes so far. It is just a matter of priorities and intentions. For me, at times, it is a matter of fear, which creates a sort of paralysis. It’s a matter of embarrassment and trying to overcome a path or circumstance that was created as a consequence of my failure. I remember in seminary coming home one day and quite literally crying because I had been blown off, or so it seemed, by a classmate I considered to be a dear friend. This was no average person;  this is a person who is stood up at my wedding. It was one of those times that Susan, my first wife, provided me with a stunning insight. She said, simply, “You have a sense of loyalty to others and you expect the same from them. But not everyone is like you and you can’t expect him to be so.” The second sentence is probably a bit of a paraphrase, and more grammatically correct than initially spoken, but that’s my own quirk, which, by the way, is ironic as I am going through and editing this mistake-filled posting. This editing indicated I am feeling better and can focus a bit for the first time in a week. However, what I have realized in the many years since, she was correct. While many say I am still loyal, and perhaps to a fault, I’m not sure I still deserve such a moniker. Sometimes I believe it’s just my own insecurity or fragility that gets me in trouble.

I need only look at my own current situation and realize how focused I have become and the day-to-day tasks of managing my health and the necessities at school every day, feeling that there’s always more things on the list than the things I’ve accomplished. I’m quite sure that other people’s lives are the same. But there is still questioning priorities and for some reason I’ve always attempted to make people who have blessed me or caused a profound change my life to maintain a high enough priority to stay in touch with them. Much as Susan said, I cannot expect other people to do the same thing. I know this logically.  but emotionally I struggle. And when I take pause, the reason for such a struggle is not difficult to understand. It is that need to belong  and to matter. It is fundamental to we are as humans. Even the most introverted person needs community. We need to know that somehow we matter, we make a difference, and that what we have done was not done in vain. Yes, if we depend on other people for such validation, we create quite the dilemma for ourselves. In the past couple days, it would’ve been my father’s 102nd birthday. For anyone who has read my blog for a while, you’re aware of how profoundly he has influenced my life and many of my traits come from him, in spite of the fact that he adopted me. I remember speaking at his funeral, and noting that his three families were there: his home family, his work family, and his church family. Those were the significant elements of my father’s life. He always had something to say about the conditions of the world and the world around him. That was, in part, I think because he grew up in the depression and five children slept a little two bedroom house. He took little for granted and promoted hard work and keeping one’s word. While he lived his life somewhat simply, he understood the complexity of this world. Again I would imagine that was because he had been in the service and served in the European theater in World War II. It is hard to believe this year will be 20 years that he’s been gone. . . and as I’ve said before, I will repeat, he keeps getting smarter. He never stopped reading; he never stopped listening; he never stop learning. Certainly,  the Mike and the Mechanics song that I posted in my last blog would work for him today. I still smile when I think about him singing in church. He had a terrible voice, but he loved to sing. I smile when I think of our Saturday ritual of washing cars and shining shoes. I smile when I think of how often he worked in his yard and wanted it to be perfect.

Perhaps the best part of writing and thinking about my father is it has improved my mood. While my health is still a struggle this morning and breathing without congestion or wheezing seems to be out of the question, at least for the time being, it is a beautiful day and for the moment I am sitting on my porch staring at the traffic and wondering how I missed the person with whom I was to go to dinner. I have emailed him saying please come back, but he’s not the easiest person with whom to stay in contact. So I’m not sure what will happen. But sitting and relaxing looking at the trees just beginning to bud and things finally starting to green up, has done wonders to help my spirit. For the most part, it’s a good day. It is certainly my hope, that I can see notable progress in my current health situation. I hope the end of the semester goes smoothly and productively. There is still much to do, but I need to keep plugging away. I need to thank my traveling nurse for her continued help and willingness to offer her insight and wisdom. The help means more than words can express.

It is an Easter Day shortly after noon, so I will finish and hopefully get enlightened and inspired for the coming week. If you’re with family and friends,  I hope you have a wonderful day. If you’re alone, I hope you will know that you make a difference, even in your solitude. To my father, thank you for all you did in my life and for what you taught me. I still love you. This video is for you. You loved his music. I offer this to you and others who have somehow seen me as unforgettable.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

Critically Thinking in a Surface-Oriented World

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Hello from Bydgoska 19C,

My brain is whirling,  but my body is tired, so I might sleep a bit and come back . . . we’ll see what happens. Well . . . the typical happened; much like when I make a road trip and need a break, the power nap works very well. Though this was about twice the length of what I call the optimal nap (45 minutes or so), I am awake. Brushing my teeth and a little face washing always seems to do the trick. Today we continued to attend classes and some of the students are struggling with finding their bearings and as such, did a scenic walking tour around City Center Krakow today. The sociological view of Jewish emigration and identity is a very interesting class. It is also quite interesting that in my reading I have found a number of things I can use. We went to a second class today, which is a film studies class. We will watch a number of films in 9 different languages over the next three weeks. We watched on in class today, which was a bit bizarre and I watched the second assigned film this evening back here at the dorm on the computer. While I have watched foreign films before, I am analyzing then a bit differently. My immediate reaction to both of these films is they are not your typical American Rom-Com and you would not go to the movies to feel good or escape life for a while. It is not your typical American entertainment. There is an article accompanying these first two films assigned and that is going to hopefully help me see where the professor is headed. He is a very young and rather amusing person in the class. In addition it is evident he knows his craft and there is much more to what is going on than merely a surface sort of analysis.

It is the sort of surface analysis that is really the point of this posting. I remember back to high school when Mr. Littlejohn (I know it sounds rather Sherwood-ish in nature, but let me assure you there was nothing easy for the taking here), my chemistry teacher failed me for attempting to merely get by. I can still see him when he would get angry and pound the lab table with his fist and explain, “You have no drive! You must produce!” If there is anyone who when to Riverside Junior/Senior High School who had chemistry or physics and reads this blog, I am sure they can remember him. He was perhaps the first person who really pushed me to consider the option (really the need) to do more than phone things in, as my colleague, Dr. Decker, calls it. I think I actually had a string of teachers in that realm. I remember my 7th grade geography teacher giving me a C at midterm and telling me I should never have grades as low as that. I remember being embarrassed when she said that to me. In college, probably because I had already failed out of Iowa State University, when I got to Dana College, I knew I had to get to work. What I knew more keenly, however, was the simple fact that I had never really tried very hard. Even in the service when I got accused of cheating in Communications and Electronics School because I had a 100% average after three weeks, I had not really tried that hard. I merely memorized and did my work. Perhaps it was the Delvin Huttons in the world, my Greek and Religion professor at Dana, who first challenged me. Yet even then, with a C in a couple of his classes, I did not feel challenged I felt put upon. How dare he??!! Perhaps it was more telling when he said to me that I was not smart enough to take a summer Greek class that someone really pushed me to prove to them, but more importantly myself that I was capable. It was the Donald Juels, who wrote on a paper that he “hope[d] that I learned more in the class than was exhibited by my paper.” that finally pushed me in a manner that forced me to look at myself honestly and figure it out. There was someone at each level. When I was working on my doctoral degree it was Patty Sotirin, a person for whom I still have the utmost respect and admiration. As late a year ago she was still disagreeing with me and pushing me to consider other options on a paper. Her insight and accuracy into any given situation is unparalleled. What all of this says to me is pretty simple, without challenge, at least for me, I too am content to merely do enough, but who is my challenger now? Honestly, it has to be myself. I have to be willing to work harder, see clearer (more clearly), think profounder (more profoundly) . . .  (yes, I know there is grammatical structure issues, but I was working on the parallelism of the list — I can’t help it).

What are the consequences of not doing this? What are the consequences personally and beyond? The consequence personally becomes a lack of initiative. It becomes a loss of truly dreaming. It becomes a lack of curiosity and ultimately hope. Dr. Donald Juel, my New Testament professor, wrote in my PhD recommendation, which I was allowed to see after I graduated, that he did not know my best work yet, and probably neither did I still had not done it or something to that effect. He did say that I had a tenaciousness that he had seldom seen and that I was willing to work harder than most anyone. He did believe that I would see it. To this day, I am not sure I have. I do believe I work hard, but I have too many things going on all the time, and that is of my own doing. I claim to be the victim of my circumstance, but I am not sure that is as true as I would like to make it. I need to do more succinctly what I tell my students, prioritize and then have the discipline to follow those things. I think I go through phases where I do this well and then other times not so much. I wish I knew more about more things that is the problem, and while I know that seems to be a generalized statement, there is more specificity to it than appears. If you really know me, you know that I have this insatiable desire to learn and to learn about most anything. I am more of a cultural inquisitor than I realized. I want to understand the connections and that is why this current history class the students are taking (and I get to lurk in for free) is so fascinating to me. The question that creates a foundation to this course is why is it that a stateless minority has been able to maintain its existence and prominence in world history? She is referring to the Jewish people. What she has already forced upon me is an appreciation for their tenacity and a connecting between scripture and history that goes beyond anything I had previously considered. She did that in less than two hours and she did it simply and thoughtfully. There have been moments I have felt like an undergraduate student again, wishing I might have taken the opportunity to study abroad and work on issues of culture and language. I wish I would have not given up my Goethe Scholarship to study German in Bremen before moving to Pennsylvania the first time. I do hope to figure out how to manage coming back to Poland next summer and studying Polish for 6 weeks or so intensively. I would need to do some other work in the Spring to prepare, but it would allow me to do some other traveling and learning also. I have said on more than one occasion that if I would do my life again, at least educationally, I would want to learn five or six languages fluently and then study linguistics. There is a student on the trip who hopes to work as an interpreter at the United Nations. When she told me this, she almost apologized for her dream, and I told her to not ever apologize for having a dream. She is a strong and thoughtful young woman and that is what the world needs.

Too many people are willing to merely scratch the surface, and too many educators, bosses, or others are willing to let them. What does it mean to really strive for something? Most of our students have a better conceptual understanding of this than they might admit. Anyone who has participated in a sport or learning some art form (music, art, dance) and really put in their practice time to excel does understand reaching for more than merely going through the motions. This is where the practice of everyone needing to succeed has its problems. Some are merely better and some work to be better, but we need to be honest. This does not mean we need to be brutal or uncaring, but going to far to the side of needing everyone to win or embarrassing or hurting people through nasty demeaning behavior on the other is not what competition needs to be. The consequence of these extremes is exactly what has occurred and why should be surprised. If you encourage those who need the improvement to actually work to do it, most will step up to the plate. If you help them over the elevated bar, two things happen. They will put in more effort and they will appreciate that you helped them improve. I am often told you have to work hard to fail my course. I do not let people merely fall between the cracks, but as my ACT 101 students from the fall found out, and should have known from the summer, I do expect you to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to be successful.

What are the consequences societally? We get people like Donald Trump bullying people and an absolutely horrendous number of people supporting his boorish behavior. Bullying is not thought-provoking, it is merely provoking. Insulting takes little intelligence, it requires an unbelievable amount of fear and arrogance. It allows assholes with power to merely scream, “You’re fired!” So why is it that so many are paying attention and following this sad excuse? Because his lack of decorum on the public stage is how many of them act in their personal lives. He gives them license to continue their own sad behavior. Xenophobia, or any phobia for that matter, comes from fear and ignorance of the actual facts. It is exactly what Dr. Orla-Buskowska has been showing us in her class the last couple of days. This license for a lack of decorum has other consequences. If such behavior is tolerated, and in the case of Donald Trump’s example, encouraged, no one is required to examine or analyze the issues. Difficult problems are not managed or understood, they are merely rolled over. The extreme of that behavior will be witnessed by the students first hand when they visit Auschwitz in a couple of days. And for those of you who want to say that I am comparing Trump to Auschwitz, I do not believe he has gone to that level, but a more logical extension of the extreme than one wants to consider would allow for such things. How does Trump’s call against Latinos/as or Muslims differ from what was done in the United States against the blacks (and too often still is) in the pre-Civil Rights time? How does it differ from what we did to the Japanese post-Pearl Harbor? These are the consequences of not looking deeper or analyzing more carefully. These are the consequences when we fail to really study and understand the complexity of the world in which we live. I for one do not want to live where we should once again create places where the last words one sees on the gate is Arbeit Macht Frei. The picture at the beginning of the post is of my father in WWII. He came to Europe in that war to fight the consequence of not thinking more carefully and being willing to merely accept what was being espoused.

Well, it is about 6:30 a.m. and I have been up for about an hour or more, but I have other work to do.

Thanks for reading, as always,

Dr. Martin

Meine Mutter

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Hello from Kraków and my little apartment,

It is about 1:30 a.m. and while I was originally in bed before 9:00, I have awakened and decided to write something if I going to lay here awake. It has been almost 24 hours since I got Nate’s initial text telling me that Lydia’s unbelievably strong battle to hold on to her life had finally ended. Over the previous 24 hours I had told people here she might wait him out also. She went 12 days without eating and I think she probably drank less than 10 ounces of water during that time. In that time either Nate, Carissa, a staff member of COH or I was with her. The smiles she gave and the hugs or pats on the head she doled out as those of us who watched her (probably not a single person could see her and not have tears at some point) was, and is, quite phenomenal. As I sat in her room (she is the only person to have occupied that room up until now) at the end of the hall, she seemed to let each person somehow see that incredible heart she possessed. She seemed, while never completely losing her ability to illustrate what she wanted or did not want, to try to genuinely show each and every person that she was grateful for the care they were providing.

I should note something about that care and all the wonderful people who have offered their care to Lydia during the last 3 1/2 years. First, they are not paid nearly enough for the extreme circumstances and difficult positions they endure each day. There are some incredible caregivers who try to help these men and women maintain their dignity as their minds disappear and their lives regress into the abyss of nothingness. When Lydia was first at COH, those individuals who were already where she would eventually be, petrified her. The actions of people, those who were once hard working and blessed with extraordinary intelligence, is unpredictable and often outlandish. They can be both physically and verbally abusive and that takes an emotional toll on the caregiver. Yet, I have observed first-hand care that was second to none from some of these employees. Yes, they are employed, but they are so much more than an employee of this company that has dozens of these facilities. There are individuals who are angels in human- form. As Lydia was blessed by their care and compassion, I too have received the precious gift of their love and concern. I would try when I was back to get them something from Caribou (the Midwest Starbucks for those unfamiliar) or I would fix dinner for everyone as a small token of my appreciation for all they did. While I do not want to point out any particular people, I did note during my recent visit that the present staff was probably the best overall staff I experienced during the entire time I had been coming to COH. I also know that such a staff is only possible when they are phenomenal people to begin with and the particular building management supports them in their care. I am grateful to those who are there full-time also. The atmosphere of genuine decency and expected respect for both the residents and family was so apparent. The corporate office in Minnesota is richly blessed to have the administrator, nurse, and activities person they do in Menomonie. In my opinion, they probably do not realize how fortunate they are. The individual acts of care and kindness you have given to Lydia and me will never be forgotten.

It has been a day of relief on one hand and tears on the other. I understand this dichotomous response and am willing to just let it happen. I do struggle with the fact that I handed off the physical presence of being in Room 23 to Nathan and I am grateful to him for choosing to come back even when I said it was probably okay to let her go because I think it is what she wanted. I do believe she held out much longer than anyone believed either humanly or medically possible because she did not want me ( or perhaps anyone) to be there. I am grateful that Carissa came in on a New Year’s Day and spent three hours on her day off with her. Lydia came to love Carissa and it was evident in the way Lydia looked at her and by the way Lydia’s entire affect changed when Carissa would come near. What I know for sure in my heart is that Lydia came to trust the people at COH and for that to happen, it took amazing individuals doing miraculous things. More importantly, you can be sure those who provide that outstanding care do it because they are outstanding in their own right because none of them are, nor could they be, paid enough. That being said, they should certainly be compensated much better than they are. I have learned much about elder care and, in particular, care for the memory impaired.

It is now Saturday morning and I did hear from Nate on some things and he did seem to get the immediate things that needed to be managed yesterday done. It is interesting to me that his need to be in Menomonie in the future and my need will now be quite different. He will have significant issues to manage there and I will not. Theresa and he will have substantive interest in Park Circle now and I will not. That is not to say that I will not go back, but I will no longer have a place to stay and in the next weeks I will have to probably go back and clean out my things from the Upper Sanctum and collect all the books and things that have been there since I left Menomonie. I know that what will happen in the next weeks is a process, but Lydia was amazing and she had it all figured out. I am fortunate to still have some amazing friends and former colleagues there, so there are ways that Menomonie will always have a sense of place for me or feel like home. However, the main reason that I have gone back in the past 5 1/2 years is now a guardian angel for me and someone who has profoundly changed my life.

I cannot get the image and the experience out of my head of the moment that last night when I told her I loved her and she had become my mother, the parent I no longer had and she simply whispered, “I know.” As I moved down the hall from her room, I cried and trembled as I tried to walk away from this person. I remember Lexie and Brianna both tearing up and hugging me as I got to the common room. I think as I reflect on my own year of attempting to be a parent, for better or worse, perhaps most of what I know of parenting actually came from Lydia. I am not sure I realized that until just now. That might be something to ponder in another post. As I type this, again the sun is out and shining brightly into my windows, though if it is like that past couple days, it is fleeting. I guess that is apropos at this point. The fleeting nature of our experiences and what they offer to our lives is something to be considered. I have known for a long time that Lydia would come to this day and I would have to figure out how to manage it. It is life and I do not mean that in either a cliché or an uncaring way. Life is profound; it is a gift, but one that often burdens us or one we might too often take for granted. In the past days as people have reached out, I am once again shown how blessed I am. Those who took the time to send their words through text, FB, Whatsapp, or even phone calls have done so much to support me. I am grateful for those who have taken time to connect in whatever small way they have (they are not small).

It is now the evening of the 3rd and I am back in my little abode. I enjoy this little studio apartment and I appreciate the solitude. Today I was actually on my own as Robert dropped me off at the Wieliczka Kopalni Soli (The Wieliczka Salt Mine) to tour it. This mine is gargantuan (and that is an understatement). It has 9 levels, but we only saw three. It no longer mines salt, but still produces 150,000 tons through desalination. The tour was almost three hours long (if you want to see pictures and follow me on Facebook, I have posted some there).  The picture at the top of this post is of Pope John Paul II and is carved entirely from salt. It was created in 1999. The mine has been in operation for hundreds of years and during WWII the Nazis actually moved a factory into the mine. Some of the salt pockets that have been mined are almost a hundred meters deep and the length and the width of the some of the rooms are astounding. There is a huge chapel (there are actually 20 of them throughout the mine’s rooms and tunnels) and three men carved some of the most amazing Biblical scenes into the walls. The floors, the ceilings, the walls, everything is made of salt. It is not really describable through words. Over a half million people visit it a year, and there is no doubt in my mind why. I think it ranks up with the Seven Wonders of the World. This is my fourth time to Europe and I have seen beautiful and stunning things, but I think the last two days are right at the top of the list for beauty and awe.

As noted, I am back in my room and I want to work on my syllabi for a moment and some other reading, but I cannot stop thinking about Lydia and coming to grips with the reality that she is no long present in my life in a physical form. I understand death, both from losing family members and as a former pastor, but this passing has hit me probably like the loss of my grandmother did. While I am keeping busy, there were three times today that my eyes welled up in tears and I did not even realize I was thinking about, or emoting because of, her. Last night when I tried to read to Robert and Katarzyna what I had written about her, I began to cry. Again, what I realize is I have lost yet another parent. Perhaps it is because she is, was, and will be, the best mother I have had. If you have read my blog during the past year (again see Wondering What She Really Thinks) you know that I have struggled with those maternal relationships. What I know about Lydia is that she could really get to me in a number of ways and produce a myriad of emotions, but when it was all pushed down to the basics, I think I loved her more than anyone, with the exception of my grandmother. I think I might have even loved her more than my adopted father, and that is saying something pretty profound. Is it because I am older and I understand the frailty of life more poignantly? Is it because she so affected my life in the last 10 years? Is it because we realized what we both gave and received from the other? I think it is some of all of these things. While my biological mother is still alive, I have no desire to reach out to her and that is for a number of reasons. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but I think other experiences have taught me that I do not need to make everyone happy, and there are some I do not need in my life. In fact, it has been a hard lesson, but what I am realizing is there is no promise from anyone that he or she will remain in your life. While I do not mean this to be selfish in anyway, it has become abundantly clear to me that believing in the one’s self might be the only guarantee we have, and not even that is sure because sometimes we can be pretty flaky, even to ourselves.

What I know as I am going to call it a night in Poland (tomorrow is my last complete day here), I have lost yet another special and incredible person. While she owed me nothing, she has offered and given me much. While she was could be aloof, she was as down to earth as anyone I have ever met. While she might have appeared to many as hard or unapproachable, she welcomed me and loved me as few ever have. While she had no children, sie wurde die Mutter, die ich nicht hatte, und ich werde geehrt und demütigt, um einfach und liebevoll zu ihr zu sagen: ‘Lydia, ich liebe dich und du bist immer meine Mutter sein.’

As always, thanks for reading. When I post again, I will probably be back in the states.

Michael