The Power of Choice

IMG_1183

Good evening,

While I would desperately like to be sleeping right now, my mind is racing. I hope hoping the clearing of my mind through my fingertips will result in my getting to sleep, but I guess it was actually creating a list of the myriad of things I need to accomplish in the 28 days before fall semester. How in the world did this happen? It seems way too little time has passed since I was at an Art Garfunkel concert and the last academic year was only a week or two past. Melissa drove her car into the yard and we unloaded things into her room for the summer. Now in a couple weeks she returns home and we will load the car for a return trip.

The weekend was an interesting lesson about choices. About four months ago I made some significant changes in my life. I changed what I eat and what I drink and how much of those foods or beverages I will consume. I also began to teach myself Spanish. In the terms of diet, vitamins and such, the result has been substantial weight loss (over 30 pounds). I was not obese or even overly “engordo“. The weight loss has created a number of positive changes. On the other hand, what amounted to simple choices and, in this case, poor choices had profound consequences today. The consumption of two beverages (both primarily coffee) resulted in my being pretty violently ill. For someone who has lived on coffee for the last 19 years such a change is life-altering. I must admit I got both the infamous look and a stern admonishment for that poor behavior, for which I was not particularly receptive. Furthermore, I have to admit she (and her brother) was (were) right and I was wrong. It also elicited a promise of “no more coffee.” This will be difficult, but a promise is a promise. More importantly, it is about my survival. I am not being melodramatic here, just honest .

However, it brings me to the idea of choice? What are choices? Merely options? Merely a fork in the road? Merely something to ponder? What does it mean to make a choice? What sort of power do we actually have over our choices? Certainly we could go down the path of free will and all of that, but that is not really about what I am concerned in this post. Perhaps what I am trying to determine is the particular process we might use when making our choices. I do think personality and circumstances have some effect on our decisions (e.g. choices). I think our experiences, or more specifically, past experiences, also affect what we might decide. But ultimately, our choices are exactly that “ours”. We do what we do. No one hops into our head and decides or directs our choices. It might be nice if that were the case because then we could blame someone. Lord knows, we need no help in blaming, we are more than ready to blame others. We have created a society of blamers, from one individual to another to the political climate in this country to the entire “el mundo de loco“. Read the headlines of any news source today and reflect honestly on all the finger-pointing. It is outrageous. And then we wonder why so many things are so screwed up? As one of my childhood friends always said, “I am the rocket scientist you don’t need.” To which I can only reply, NO SHIT? I do not curse in my blog as a general rule, but I cannot come up with a more emphatic way to write it at the moment.

Over the weekend, I was provided the profound opportunity to experience a family gathering. I learned so much by observing. I learned again about choices and consequences. I abhor stereo-types. I have spoken to students regularly about the problems that occur when we employ these stereotypes. First of all, let me state simply; “all stereotypes are negative”; even when, on the surface,they might seem to be employed in a positive manner. They are negative because they limit or they marginalize. On the other hand, stereotypes exist because there is a modicum of truth in them somewhere. However, it is precisely because the image is based on only a kernel and often not much more that we need to realize the problem with using them.

That being said, it is much more telling when the person using the stereotype to describe a group or situation is part of that group or situation. Much like a black person employing a particular term. It is viewed very differently. I think of some of the things Bill Cosby has lamented the past few years. He had some credibility not merely because he is Bill Cosby, but rather he spoke as an insider. I would also note his income and stature could also work against him. Again, we have a choice on how we might listen to him. The point is that we always have a choice. Even when things are decided for us, we have a choice in how we will respond. I think people are too ready to abdicate their choices. Is it because they are not willing to do some critical thinking or thorough analysis? It is simply because we feel too busy or harried? Being too busy is a cop-out; if we are going to be honest about that option. We have the time to do whatever we choose to do . . . choices again. It is really about what we value.

What I have come to realize in a most profound or vast way is that we need to take control of our choices versus merely be subjected to them. I must note that while I have always known this, I am not sure I have lived it as well as I might. However, in observing a couple of specific individuals, I must say I have had a strong visual lesson in what it means to do so. I will be forever grateful for that learning opportunity. If we will slow down, ponder, question and consider our options or our responses maybe the outcomes will be more along the lines of what we might expect. Maybe our lives might be more fulfilled. Maybe we might finally understand ourselves . Maybe our world, whether it is that space we are immediately affected by or the larger and more indirectly affected, will seem less ridiculous. Maybe we will be fundamentally happier. Just my thoughts for the moment. Now it is time to sleep and begin to tackle the list in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Learning Experiences

Hello late afternoon from NYC,

I am waiting to meet someone and have dinner and thought I should be productive rather than merely sit and surf or do nothing. It also makes time pass more rapidly. This week had been full of activity. My close friends and former colleagues came for a visit and it was wonderful to see them and have them meet people I care about here. Last Sunday, when they arrived, I had a cookout at the house and invited the Deckers and the Galáns. Unfortunately as I took my cousin to the airport the previous Wednesday, it seems I was being actually with bacterial pneumonia. I am still trying to beat it. The primary malady, at the moment, is a persistent and annoying cough. When everyone arrived last Sunday, I was not doing particularly well. In fact, I was fading pretty quickly. However, everyone stepped up and things turned out every nicely. The learning moment for me was to “let go” and allow others to take over. Things can go well without me being in charge. Rationally, I certainly realize such things, but “letting go” is not something that comes naturally to or easily for me. I already know some who really know me are rolling their eyes and probably responding “really??” (The rhetorically correct version). It was actually a wonderful evening and I was pretty laid back during it.

There was an interesting turn of events at one point during the week. Simon had a rather normal 13 year old learning moment. It was also a learning moment for his parents. One that many have gone through, but one that catches one off guard nonetheless. It reminded me of when I was a parish pastor working with confirmation students and some of the things they did won’t little understanding of consequence. Thanks to the generosity of some adults, the difficulty was minimized on one hand. The long-term consequences could, however, be really positive for a number of people. I am hoping so. More to come. I meant to draft not publish. Off to my meeting.

So it is early on Monday morning now ( actually about 2:00 a.m., but I went to bed early and now I am awake. Much like the initial part of this post. If I am going to be awake, I might as well be productive. Another learning experience of the day happened when I managed to get a parking ticket for being a bit over a line. I got the ticket when I got back to my car (it is the most expensive parking ticket I have ever gotten-$115.00). Welcome to NYC. I also decided to catch up with a student over there, so by the time I got back to Bloomsburg on Saturday morning. I was 3:00 a.m., and I was still up before 8:00. Sometimes I wish I could sleep more. Saturday, Nate, another former student from WI and a person in his 18th year in the USCG , came to visit. He drove his new Beemer up and yesterday we spent a couple hours out riding. It was enjoyable. Yesterday morning, I did my best to imitate a Dominican “desayuno” for him . . . . I did not finish writing again, but I probably will mow. The last two weeks, I have been fighting pneumonia, and while I think I am making progress it is pitifully slow. Last night was brutal as far as a fever and tonight (this morning) seems even more so. It is not quite 2:30 and this is the second time I have been up. Everything is in the washing machine and I am lying in the recliner in the study. I will actually be going to the laundromat this morning to wash my comforter too. Oh well.

This week has been let another level of experience growth. On Monday I went to see a Certified Nutritional Counselor. I found out that most of what I am doing is good, in fact, outstanding, but she added a couple things, as well as heightened in degree or extreme some of the things I am already doing. I am also on more vitamins or supplements. In some ways, ironically, I think I am healthier than I have ever been.

To return to the idea of experiences. I wonder if experience provides or instills wisdom in us as humans or it merely offers opportunities for wisdom to develop or grow? Or is it a combination of the two? For instance, what is occurring, or perhaps notoccurring, when a person continues to make decisions that seem contrary to common sense or doing the prudent thing? I would understand that free will is part of that process. It matters not the circumstance because generally there is a choice made somewhere along the line and there is a subsequent consequence. Where does the learning come in? Is wisdom a consequence? It it the by-product of reflection or something we all have and some merely fail to use it? It is sort of like a muscle and the more we use or employ it the stronger it becomes or the more it grows? I am pretty sure some have thoughts about this. You are welcome to write a response, or if you see me in person, on a semi-daily basis, perhaps we might chat in person. It sounds like garlic peeling conversation. This is one of those mornings, it is probably good that someone is close by. I feel like I am fading a bit, but perhaps it is a combination of humidity and still trying to kick this stupid pneumonia.

One of most favorite experiences is merely conversing with another person who makes me think. I mean really think, a conversation that pulls me out of my comfort zone and forces me to reconsider that which I have held as something fundamental or core to my understanding. I only know a couple people who seem to have that power or ability. It is interesting to me that generally he or she is a peer at least in terms of age. Then there is the one who continually amazes me. Perhaps not completely human? Certainly not typically human. I can already here the question, “what is typical?” I guess you will have to come up with your own definition. The point here is, I merely like thinks that force me to think or ponder. I think, as I passing the 3:00 a.m. time marker, that is part of the reason language is so important to me. Thinking and pondering require words . . . and to begin to understand another more completely, you need to be able to understand what he or she thinks. What I have learned in the past 6 months is culture affects our thought processes more than we might realize. What we take for granted or what we find suspect is heavily influenced by our cultural mores too. I think I have known this, but I am not experiencing it in a more complete way.

I, more than most, I believe look at my own country with a pretty decent balance of gratitude and concern. Both because of age and experience, I have found that reflecting on both our practices and course identity as a country is a good thing to do. I spoke of this experience with Nate over the weekend. One of the very few times I have gotten in someone’s face was when he (who had dual citizenship) was bashing the United States both unrealistic ally and quite vulgarly. Long story, short: I told him rather emphatically he should pack and go to his other country and quit receiving financial aid or attending American universities. I do realize the cost of the university is exorbitant, but people still attend, and I will say foolishly because they have swallowed lock, stock, and barrel the myth that it will fix everything or give one everything. Simply, not true. While I do not mind the questioning of the country or even a certain skepticism, what I do find difficult is when someone seems to have a fundamental disdain for the country, but is willing to use it’s opportunities. I guess that is how my patriotism now manifests itself. I have probably opened up all sorts of thoughts because of this. What I think I am tying to get at this moment is there is no Valhalla (except in Rasmussen Hall-those who understand this reference veritas vicit.). I am both more universalist in my faith and my acceptance of culture than I was when I walked the bluffs of Blair, Nebraska.

Again, it gets back to experience. I am grateful for every experience that has provided learning – that would be all of them. It would be my life. It is your life too. Embrace it! Experience it.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

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

Freedom . . . from what? for whom?

Scan 679

Good early afternoon (on the day after the 4th of July),

The fourth of July brings back many memories for me. The earliest, and reoccurring, memoryis that of going to McCook Lake, SD with the Goedes, our family’s closest friends (both of our parents were perhaps major amigos). The other reason we went to South Dakota, which was only 5 minutes away from where I grew up in Iowa, is they had much laxer fireworks laws. However, every 4th for many years were spent at the Izzak Walton Club on the lake, swimming, grilling out, and shooting off fireworks most of the day. That is one of my favorite memories as a child. As I write this I am thinking of my best life-long friend, who is also part of that same Goede family as he struggles with ALS. Hard to believe in our 50s so much as changed. Here is a picture of when I actually had color besides gray on my head and in my beard.

As you who read know, I have been distracted and I am now just finishing my blog posting. Today is a day to get a number of tasks completed and I will try to get back to the initial intentions for this blog, the idea of freedom from what? or for whom? On the 4th I actually drove to Philadelphia and picked up my cousin, Diane, who has come to visit for a few days. It was probably the easiest trip I have ever made to Philly as the traffic was almost non-existent. On Saturday we went on a pretty long ride on the Harley and it was a beautiful day to do that. Sunday included a trip to NYC and a venue called Small’s Jazz Club, where we had the opportunity to listen to some amazing music and a participate in a colleague’s book signing. Some amazing food, a ferry ride, and a really long walk would describe the day, but it was a good day. Monday and yesterday were spent just enjoying time together and listening and sharing. I might have created a dilemma for myself in allowing two of the most important people in my life the opportunity to compare notes, but that is a chance one takes I guess.

It is actually about 2:30 in the morning (on the 9th) and I have been awake for about an hour, so I figured I should be productive. I started to move offices yesterday and I hoped to have that completed by week’s end. They are finishing some work on the little house today, and I sat down yesterday and mapped out the remainder of my summer. It is time for me to get back to work. I have actually taken quite of bit of time to relax this summer. That is a first in many years. I do have colleagues from WI here next week. I am hoping to acquaint them with the group I am putting together to help me manage what is to come. Diane asked me a number of times, “who takes care of you?” Well, I think after meeting Deckers last night, she is feeling better. Last night we got a dancing demonstration from Carolyn and Rosie. It was quite amazing and endearing beyond words. I am cognizant of a reality that I have let people into my life in ways I haven’t for a long time, if ever. There are times I am glad, but there are consequences too. It has made me more vulnerable, and I find that more disconcerting than one might think. It forces me to give up some control of my existence, or at least it seems so. That does not make me entirely comfortable. However, going back to work will help me manage some of that.

I guess that brings me to the posting title? What is freedom? Is it something individual? Certainly, it is. Is it corporate? John Locke actually addressed this in his “Second Treatise on Civil Government”. Indeed, when we are a society, whether that be a small group, a few like-minded-people or a larger entity, we give up things by the fact that we “bind” ourselves together. I cannot help but see Mel Gibson in the movie, Braveheart screaming out “freedom!!” as his last word. A bit melodramatic, but profound. What really provides a sense of freedom? Is it knowing what is to come? It is accepting what is to come? Is it the realization of knowing in an individual way what ultimately matters? What I am beginning to believe is that it is more than merely acceptance, but it is a belief and a comfort in the phrase “well-done, good and faithful servant”. But to what or whom are we in service? I believe that the term “serve” is often misunderstood. I think it is in serving or caring for others we actually begin to understand freedom. It frees us from selfishness. It frees us from always wanting more. A server has more power when she or he is serving than realized. She or he has much more influence on the circumstances than one might believe. I have the ability, the power if you will, to make some difference in another’s life when I care for them. It certainly has some other more difficult attributes or characteristics, but I think the positive far outweighs the negative. As I eluded, I am quite sure this specific element of my being was scrutinized the other afternoon. I understand my propensity for this more than might be realized. I also realize that fear hampers the very freedom I have been pondering. I can name that fear. I could before the conversations of the last few days, but Diane’s visit has validated some of the things I have puzzled upon for many years of my life. My biggest fear is a simple word, but a profound concept in my life. It is abandonment. It can have other synonyms, but that is the most accurate and comprehensive of the options.

To be abandoned is to be given the message that you are unimportant, irrelevant, discardable. What I have realized is if I move, walk-away, hide before someone can do it to me, I keep from being hurt. If I give versus being given-to, I protect myself on one level, but I expose myself on another. Being exposed is frightening; it is something that has often crested pain. It might be that unexpected problem of taking a chance and allowing another into your life or space. To be given away or ignored has been a safety net at times, but then again, it has been hurtful at others. Am I in the midst of walking away in a more profound way in this present circumstance? What happens when we are required to move, perhaps like when I left Wisconsin? What happens when other things force us to prepare for the other? Have I lost my freedom or have I gained it? It is 3:40 and I have to drive to Philadelphia and back today, perhaps a bit more sleep is in order. As an afterthought, I did go back to sleep, but was up at out of the house by 5:50. Perhaps a nap later will be in order also.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Imagining the Other

20140530-043633-16593534.jpg  Good Morning,

I am often amazed at the body’s ability to rejuvenate itself. By the time I went to sleep last night, I think I was both brain-dead and physically exhausted. I did not wake up the entire night and I think it was around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. , but I woke at 5:20 and I was up and on the road before 6:00. I am sitting at the Bloomsburg Diner counter on the “group w” stool (for those who get the reference, awesome).

It was an interesting week, but a good one. I have made it three nights without a fever. That is only the second time since the middle of May. It astounds me how our perspective on what matters and what can make us happy changes as our life situation changes. As I have gotten to know my Dominican family, and they have so graciously included me in their family, I have learned some valuable things by observing and listening to them. It is very interesting to see how families interact and manage their lives (and that includes their individual actions as well as their corporate actions). Both from having Melissa as a summer guest and from listening to each of them, I have learned how another family, and in this case (and I do believe it is both) another culture communicates. It was last night that a number of pieces seemed to fall into place in my mind.

Earlier this week, their version of “the family meeting” occurred at Martin’s Acre. While it might not have held a candle as far as duration, I do believe it was as productive as one occurring on Peace Street. I just realized another irony as I noted the street name. Hmmmmm. After my last posting, and while some of it related in a singular manner, more of it was about my frailties or habits, the conversation that ensued was perhaps one of the more productive to which I have ever been a party. The consequence was a renewed faith in what two people can accomplish if there is honest and open communication. A second consequence was a significantly lowered stress level.

I did not plan to be gone last night, but the remainder of the weekend should be pretty low key. I actually appreciate that quietness and that is certainly a difference from earlier in my life. On the other hand, the coming week will be anything, but quiet. Between birthdays, a really long day of driving Tuesday and a trip to the Philadelphia airport on Friday, the beginning of two very hectic weeks is upon me. I still want to go to Spain and I am not sure how to manage that. However, it does appear that a trip to the Dominican Republic in August is beginning to become more likely. Though a small conversation with Jordan and his mother causes me some pause because I feel badly about a larger more significant issue. Sometimes not knowing enough gets us in trouble; on the other hand, knowing too much can also be troublesome. I am still working studiously on my Spanish, but I feel like I am not progressing as quickly as I was. I want to listen and comprehend, but I feel like a pain if I ask for clarification. I just wish I knew more yesterday. There is my struggle with patience. Today, I need to just do some significant time with Rosetta Stone and with vocabulary cards. I think that is a way to manage the drive on Tuesday also. I think I will be keeping Jordan busy as he navigates.

It is now 24 hours later; I am still writing. I began the morning by cleaning up the kitchen, which I actually left unfinished last night. That is not typical, but I was tired. This morning I am cleaning and stripping beds and painting and mopping and all the other things needed. I actually enjoy most of it because I feel better when it is all completed. I am amazed how dusty things can get in only a day or two. I also have some things to pick up and get managed before I have people in the house this week. Melissa has been scanning almost 40 years worth the photographs for me to digitize them. I have also realized I have another project for her along the same line, but I have to go back to Wisconsin to get it all. I think that could keep her busy for the entire next year she is here, that is assuming she will want to do it.

The last three days or maybe four, I have felt pretty good. I am learning to appreciate those times, and I know I cannot take anything for granted, not that any of us really can. When I was in graduate school I took a class called “Rhetoric of Alterity”. It was a wonderful class taught by Dieter Adolphs and it considered the group of intellectuals that left Germany in the 20s and 30s as Germany was reeling under the weight of the war reparations and as Hitler came to power. As I was writing my dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this made a lot of sense to me and it was profoundly interesting. While this might be a stretch for some of you to see how I get from that to what comes next, please bear with me. I wonder if when we are fighting within our bodies with an auto-immune syndrome if we are in someways similar to the refugees who chose to leave Germany in the 30s and struggled to understand who they were or where they belonged. When our body becomes the other, who are we? Where do we belong? These earthy shells in which we reside are amazing, complex, and miraculous, but they are merely a shell. As I noted a few posts ago, I have been doing some reading and I have also done some listening. I am sad I had other engagements and missed an event last night that would have addressed some of this again. I am still not comfortable with the idea that we are inside God. I think it sets up a situation where we have the ability to blame or shirk responsibility for that which we do, not necessarily  to the other person, but certainly to God. I believe if we are all deities, we have merely taken on a different form of pantheism and that is a problem for me. There is, of course, the other extreme that there is no God and then we are merely walking about in our temporal way until we become compost. Perhaps, in reference to my last post, that would be safer. When I was speaking with Melissa’s father about his next event, he showed me a few of his slides. He noted that God is experimenting. He asked me what I thought about such a statement, and I asked what he meant by “experimenting”? He said Melissa needed to be around to help with translation. That will have to be another event in an of itself because my immediate reaction to being experimented upon is not a positive one, and if it is God doing it, I am really not happy. Again, my immediate response is this makes “God capricious”. I want no part of such a God, but it would certainly make present circumstances easier to explain. Where in the midst of God experimenting does free will fit, and is it really free or merely a guise of freedom? If we are inside God, as argued, then are we merely in a bubble like a hamster? I do not write this to be smug or simplistic, but if God is not outside of us, there is no real compass or direction in which we are actually aware or required to go, it is all temporal. It really does not matter in the big picture. There is no “other”.  It reminds me of another one of Melissa’s writing characteristics. First let me say that she (and Jordan) are outstanding writers. Much better than most any student I have ever met, but she, almost always, writes “God” with a lower-case “g”. I am wondering now if this is intentional and part of her religious position or belief? Hmmmmm. As you can see my brain is spinning around inside my head as if often does. So am I spinning around inside or outside of God? This is my question and the thought of being inside of God still is not something I find easily digestible. Of course, with my Crohn’s there are lots of things I do not digest well.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Unexpected – Safe Harbors

IMG_1264

Good early morning,

I began this last night on my iPad, but it seems that each device has something unique to it and until I put together a post on it and figure out some things, I will invariably erase what I have written. Fortunately last night it was only a paragraph or so. I think it was a good paragraph, but nonetheless, it has been transformed into anti-matter and I must begin again. I do know that what I began with last night was “I must not listen as attentively as I think I do or that my comprehension skills are certainly much less adept that I realized.” I came to realize that I made a serious mistake in the use of my hermeneutical abilities or perhaps much like things can be reassessed or reconsidered, there has been a change in plans or intentions. It is always interesting in how we come to perceive a particular situation and then there is the “really understanding it”. What I know about myself is that I have this, perhaps unfortunate, problem of believing that other people’s intentions are honorable or admirable. In spite of being proven wrong time and time again, I seem to fall into that trap.

I think it is because I did not want to live my life suspicious and unhappy. I did not want to believe that everything had a price tag and that nothing was ever done without some ulterior motive. I grew up around that and it was toxic. I believe it is toxic. When we spend our entire lives making sure no one gets the best of us, that is precisely what happens. No one ever sees what is best in us because we hide it away afraid to show it because of the potential hurt. As a consequence we miss opportunities to really shine and we allow the real goodness in us to be swept away or shoved into a closet never to be found, until like some dusty artifact or remembrance, someone stumbles across it. However, much like a corroded penny in a junk drawer, there is no luster and it appears to be less valuable than it really is.

It is even more amazing to see how that sort of mindset robs us of our potential and keeps us from accomplishing that of which we might actually be capable. I might go as far as to say I am stunned as I ponder how, in spite of this fundamental lack of trust, one appears to manage things with such a sense of grace, decorum, and beauty. I wonder if there is any limit to what one is capable when such giftedness seems to be merely common place for them. I want to believe the good intentions, but my logical side scream out for me to remember the humanness in all of us, that we are not altruistic; we are certainly not unconditional. Is being safe selfish? Probably not . . . at least when one is trying to maintain safety out of fear. But when being safe is a conscious mindset or lifestyle does it become selfish? Again, perhaps not, but the consequences of it can most assuredly seem selfish or appear so. When words are measured and ambiguity under the guise of trying to be fair or see both sides happens, it seems what we have created is a convenient way out of any situation. I am reminded of a quote by William G.T. Shedd. He said, A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” It is such a true statement, but we as humans are so frightened to take chances, or important chances. We will take chances on foolish things or spur of the moment things, but when it comes to something of substance or importance, we shy away. In fact, perhaps we run away.

I just had a great chat with my niece in Iowa. She is such an insightful and enjoyable person. She also has some first hand knowledge of the situation so it was helpful to hear her perspective on my last 18 hours. She helped me see it from a different perspective. It is a perspective that I know and, to some extent, I understand, but it is getting caught off guard by it. I think that is what overwhelms me at moments. I would like to believe that I am intelligent and insightful, but then moments like this last day occur and I find myself questioning if I understand or know anything. One of the things I have gotten better at it to write and wait a bit before I hit send. I wrote a pretty lengthy, what has become “ein typisch schrift”, but I will ponder it. The other thing I have learned is to become more protective of myself. While I am still not where my mother was, I think I am a bit more careful. In speaking with my niece, she reminded me of a number of things, but she sees it everyday in her own life, so it is commonplace for her. My being alone for so long has isolated me from some of that and my lack of experience in certain realms is certainly apparent to me, but I guess I cannot instinctively know everything about everything, but I sure wish I could. I noted in my last posting that some of the relatives and colleagues are coming to visit. When I wrote the last post, I did not have dates. Now I do. It seems July just got a lot busier. It will be nice to have them here.

I wonder how I was perceived when I was twenty-something? I do remember my older brother really laying into me one day when I had not done somethings I should have done around the house (I was just out of the service) and I had to be 20 or almost 21 because my brother was still alive and it was late summer. My father was out mowing the yard in the heat and humidity and I should have been doing it. I was taking my father for granted in a way, most likely without realizing it, but it was because I was pretty self-centered at the time. I had my agenda and I did not really consider how my actions affected the others around me. Unfortunately, if I am to be really honest in my assessment of myself then, I am not sure I really worried too much about it. On the other hand, later in my life, I think I worried too much about it. Now I am trying to moderate and find that happy medium. I am not sure I accomplish that as well as I would like, but I am making small steps.

What makes us safe? What keeps us safe? These are questions I will ponder for the next couple of days. Perhaps I might find an answer and write about it soon. The next blog will be to do what I promised Sr. Galán I would do. That one will take some thought and some soul-searching, but a promise is a promise.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Wondering How and When

Scan 418

Good morning,

While I woke up at my usual early time, I did not get up as soon after awakening as I often do. I finished on night out on my porch and must have fallen asleep in one of the rocking chairs. It seems I must be one of the more elderly members of The Walton’s . When I came in I just crawled into bed and went to sleep. I was hoping for a restful night, but it seems my body had different plans. Between another round of fevers and an unhappy digestive system, it was not one of my more pleasant beginnings to a day. I am still quite sure that I detest vomiting (sorry) more than most anything.

Last weekend was one of the nicest three day periods I have had in a very long time. To celebrate the day in another way with the gifts offered by all of the Galán’s meant more than any words could begin to express. The PowerPoint created by Jordan and Melissa was both hilarious and meaningful; the wine-themed gifts for the house are awesome; and the simple, but profound words, both in speech and writing, still create a lump in my throat. I am blessed.

I think a morning earlier this week might be a preview of what is to come, but I am trying to figure out the balance. Balance is such an important thing and something to which we often pay too little heed. What gives one a sense of balance is ever-changing and for that reason it might be something that is all that more fleeting or hard to accomplish. In addition, I think it is even harder to maintain. I want to manage that balance the best I can in the given situation and that means trying to merely go on doing what I do, but it seems that my body and I are a odds. I am reminded of the Ghost of Christmas Future in The Christmas Carol when Scrooge exclaims, I fear you more than any specter I have yet seen.” I do not think it is the end of which I am afraid, it is more the not knowing exactly how and when. I imagine we all struggle with that idea.

This past week I have had the opportunity to speak with my cousin and I think she is coming to visit. That will be a wonderful thing. I am not sure on the dates, but I am sure that it might be sooner rather than later. That makes me happy. My former colleague, her husband, and son are supposed to come soon also. Though I have not heard the exact dates. There is a lot occurring in the next couple weeks between visits (hoped for) and yearly celebrations, I think there is a lot to prepare for. I think that might serve me well. I am also excited that all the Deckers will be back in town this coming week. I have missed all of them more than words might express. As is often the case, I might not really understand the depth of my missing of them all until they are here and I have a chance to catch up with them. I am still supposed to consider a trip to Spain, but I am not sure because of the larger picture how to manage that. Today is a day where I feel I could sleep most of the day, but that is not how I want to spend my days.

I do have some things I want to get accomplished today, including cleaning the house, cleaning the refrigerator, and I need to go over to the other house and do a little work. I think it is again a question of balance. I need to get somethings done and while I have probably been the most laid-back I have been in years for the last month, I also struggle with that sense of guilt for being lazy. Again, it is always interesting how the head and the heart are not always on the same page (for me it seems they are seldom there). I have so much I still want to accomplish yet this summer, but how much of it will make a difference in the long term? That is always a question for me: what ultimately makes a difference for another person? What might profoundly affect him or her in a manner that their life is significantly (and hopefully positively) changed? I was reflecting on the conversation I had with Sr. Galán yesterday and what he shared about his life and what he thinks about life at this point. It is always interesting to listen to another perspective (and particularly when the person has such passion about life and truth). He has so much to consider. I feel like my life is pretty simple. I merely have to go about my work and my life. Sure, others are affected by me, but not in the same way. Much like when I left Wisconsin, there was one person in particular whose life was profoundly affected, but otherwise, that town is not really any different. I think it is the reality be ultimately being a single person and a person who never had children. While I am sure that a few people might lament my absence, in the long-term or the larger picture, life will continue and I am not so arrogant or prideful to believe that other’s lives will be profoundly altered by my presence or absence. Perhaps that is the most important gift that I or anyone can offer in a profound way. I merely hope that people can go on with their lives.

There is one person in particular that I wonder what it might have been like had she lived longer and that is my grandmother, Louise. I wonder what we might have thought of each other later in life of how we might have interacted. What I do know is that I did not visit her the last time I promised to do so. I remember calling her from a phone booth on Highway 71 (I think that is the highway going into Atlantic, IA). It was next to a Hardee’s Fast Food Restaurant and I called an apologized for not coming to see her. That was the last time I actually ever spoke with her I think. I still have a sweater that she bought me the last Christmas she was alive. I have never been able to part with it. What I know is that I loved her as much as I have ever loved someone, a relative and someone who actually made a profound difference in my life. I wish I still had all the letters she wrote to me in the service. I remember one in particular where she apologized for having to give my sister and me up for adoption. She knew of the abuse we endured and she felt terrifically guilty for subjecting us to that. I am not sure I have ever said this, but Grandma, I forgive you. I love you. What I know now and this is through a pretty amazing conversation I had last week, that I need to forgive more and try to understand more. That will be in a forthcoming post.

While there is certainly more on this version of a “convoluted mind”, I think I will pause.

Thanks for reading.

Michael