Fearing the Unknown

Good morning,

Is early morning as I begin to write this, it’s not quite 4:00 a.m. and I am sitting in Hazelton out in the street because I’m early and I do not want to get the Galáns up before they’re ready. I am headed to the airport to fly back to Wisconsin. This is actually the second time for this trip, I tried it yesterday. However as it seems to be the case most often flying into Newark, the flight was delayed and I would miss my connecting flight. So even though I had been dropped off at the airport, I had to have them come back and get me. Mr. Galán, in his usual graciousness, came back and got me. So now we are doing it again. Now at the airport and aboard a little prop plane to Newark and then the flight to Minneapolis. I should be in Menomonie by noon. That first flight would have had Jordan screaming. Amazing turbulence and the man next to me ending up being sick, needing a bag (two of them) and all. Quite a way to begin my morning.

As I write this I am at probably 30,000 feet and about not quite halfway to Minnesota. We are flying over an ocean of puffy-blanketed clouds that stretch as far as I can see. It is nice to be on top of them and see the sun. The sun has been noticeably lacking the past week. That might have been a positive for me because of the hours I needed to spend my end of the semester grading. As always, I had a flurry of requests to hand something in last minute. For my Foundations classes, I was accommodating for the most part. I have also gotten the first phone calls and emails asking for some justification on why I decided a particular grade. This conversation almost always stumps me because of the misperception, or more accurately the belief that I merely assign grades or that their assertion that they worked hard should automatically translate into an acceptable grade (most often their only acceptable is an A). What I think I will tell them is that in 5 1/2 years and almost 900 students, only about 80 students have earned an A in my classes. I would also note that approximately the same amount have failed a course or dropped it. The greatest number of students have received a B in my classes. I do think that will (and did) change this semester. I was not as benevolent in offering the benefit of the doubt. Simply put: do your work and follow directions. Following directions and thinking critically are two of the important skills one can develop and use. Speaking of critical thinking, the town council in Bloomsburg, where I live (I technically live out of town) voted 4-3 to NOT adopt a proposed ordinance that would keep businesses, landlords, or other public places from refusing service or refuse the offering of services to people based on their sexual preferences. The arguments that were offered by some of the council members themselves for the decision were almost ludicrous. One member (when probably actually referring to Laramie WY, though one can’t be sure) noted he did not want Bloomsburg to become another Columbine. The misguided belief that discrimination was legally supported by religious belief is so absurd; it is atrociously sad. Equality and Justice might be a religious issue and perhaps should be, but discrimination based on a group identity has led to some pretty horrific incidences throughout our history, be it in this country or in Europe. The ordinance would afford protection for a group of individuals, who have been, and still are, systematically disenfranchised because of fear or stereotypic stupidity. I am hoping to do some work next semester in my technical writing classes to work in response to the town’s failure to pass what I believe is a ordinance that promotes Justice and equality.

I am amazed how fear keeps us from doing the right thing or standing up for the right thing. I am amazed how powerful fear is as I realize it can keep people alive or cause them to die. Fear often paralyzes the human spirit. Fear of reprisal often keeps us from speaking out when what we have experienced is discourteous or hurtful. I know some of these things first-hand. The fear of being different often compels people to hide their true identity or feelings. The fear because of past experiences can reduce people to merely a shell, their inner abilities shriveled up and withered (this is really what I believe PTSD is). I must give the Galán family a great deal of credit for pushing me to stand up, even at times with, or more aptly against, them, when I have felt that some action was problematic. What I have realized is in doing so I am acting the very way they have modeled for me. At one time I would have been afraid that I would lose them. While I do not believe that is the case any longer, I do know that I changed “the rules” so to speak. What I have done is actually stand up and show that I have as much right to my thoughts and actions as any other. I am entitled to respond just as the next person has this entitlement. I should note that I am still learning about the love they have for me. I do not always understand its expression and especially when it is demonstrated in such a different manner than I have ever experienced. It is Mr. Galán who is most helpful through his consistency and respect. It is Mrs. Galán in her unbelievably consistent actions towards me that help me understand. Ironically, it is the child (not meant pejoratively) with whom I have (and have had) the least contact that I probably am most comfortable. Yet, it is Melissa and Jordan for whom I have experienced the greatest sense of love I have ever known who have forced me to look at myself and grow. That growth has not been without difficulty, but it has been significant. It has been important. All expressions of love or care have an inherent risk; something I have learned first hand this year, but in spite of my bumps and bruises, ultimately I am grateful. In this very blog I have argued and hollered out, and there are places I still disagree, but as they always tell me, the love for each other is the most important thing. I think they are correct.

It is that same love that takes me back to Wisconsin at this time. Since I wrote about Lydia in a recent blog, she continues to lose ground in the battle with dementia. In fact, it is not really a battle any longer. She has lost the battle and most of herself. As her brain continues what seems to be a free fall toward nothingness, the consequences of her deterioration are more deleterious. I used the word sinister this morning in a conversation. Dementia and other forms of this debilitating disease seem much more sinister than any battle I am presently fighting. It is love that pushes me to return to see her and try, with God’s intervention and help, that I will try to offer her the comprehension, the understanding, the confidence, that death does not need to be feared. It is okay to let this life go. I remember shortly before my father passed away 17 years ago later this month, he told my sister that the living room was full of his passed-on relatives beckoning him to let go and to not be afraid. He passed away about two days later. I am hoping in whatever language, English, more likely German, and perhaps most importantly the non-verbal language of presence, she will know it is safe to let this frail and agonizing body of hers go. I am hoping that her knowing or sensing that she is not alone will help her conquer what I believe is a fear of the beyond. I know that I am no longer afraid of dying. I think I once was, and I imagine that is pretty normal. I think my fear was more about feeling like I still had things to do or accomplish. I think this past year has taken care of most of that. I think the fact that I have been granted tenure is another substantive element in realizing I am okay.

This morning I was asked if I wanted to live. My answer to that question was “yes”. I do want to live, but what I am realizing is I am comfortable with dying. It makes me wonder if the “fighting” I am doing is really necessary. I am wondering if all of this medical stuff, treatments, or other actions to fight against our demise is merely another part of the system that my friend argues so vociferously against. Even though what I am currently doing is pretty natural, and I imagine it has other positive results, if I am doing it to merely stay alive and really doing the very thing Lydia is doing.

I’m now I’m Menomonie and gone to see Lydia. While I was told she is the cat with nine lives and I said she’s on her 12th, the reality of the last couple weeks is significant. Even the caregivers who have known her from the beginning say that it is only a matter of time and the time is short. She did not really know who I was again today, but she seemed pleased that I was there. I guess that’s the best I can hope for now. I promised her that I would do what I could to take care of her. I’m doing the best I can to manage that promise. It hurts me deeply to see her this way. She’s not longer living she’s merely existing. I guess what I wrote earlier today makes sense. It is time to let her go; it is time for her to like go. I hope in the next few days I can help her get over her fear. I’m grateful for the people who care for her. I’m grateful she has a place to live where she is safe. I’m grateful for the staff and the administrator. Even though she doesn’t know it, she is blessed and so on am I.

As we enter this time of Christmas, my piety reminds me that it’s time to not be afraid. It’s time to except the reality that we have. It’s time to give thanks for what has happened in this past year. I am grateful for so much. For friends, for my Dominican family, for my biological family, and for a job that I am blessed to have. Fear not and be of good cheer. In each of our lives we have something for which to be grateful. Lydia, I love you; José, Maria, Mery, Melissa, and Jordan, para mis defectos, me perdone. Por el don de su amor carrera igualada, me siento muy honrado y agradecido. Te quiero todo. To all who have supported me in my ongoing battle, thank you. To the Deckers, Mark Gayle, Grace, Mary, Max , Caroline, and Rosie, I am beyond grateful that I ended up in Bloomsburg. Thank you for your love and making me me part of your family.

To the rest of you thank you for reading as always,

Michael

Endings, Beginnings, or Merely Carrying On?

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Good morning,

It is amazing to me that I’ve slept on the average of almost 9 hours a night over the last month. That is unheard of in my life; in fact, once when I was doing some medical testing I was asked last time I slept eight hours. And I asked, “Eight hours straight?” The response was, “Yes” and I again responded, “Thirty years ago.” Her somewhat surprised retort was, “I’m being serious.” And again I responded matter-of-factly, “so am I.” For decades I have survived on four, maybe five, hours of sleep. When I was a small boy living at my grandparents house, I was often up long before they were. Even though I was only two years old I would get up early get myself dressed and make my bed. At least as well as a two-year-old could. I would pitter-patter down the steps and sat there and wait till everyone else got up. So, now that it’s taken me almost 60 years to have what some consider normal sleep pattern, i’m trying to figure out what to do with it. I’m not sure I like it because I have too much work to do. The end of the semester is always a bittersweet time. I am generally ready to be done with my classes and finish things up. So as I noted in my last blog I will miss my Bible as literature class in particular. Then there is graduation; to say that the change in students from the time their freshman so they graduate is significant is an exponential understatement. I’m not sure there’s a more dramatic four year change in a person’s life.

After breakfast at the diner this morning it was back to my office and back to grading. Next it was to commencement see these very students walk across the stage and have their degrees conferred. There were three students in particular that were in my class for summers ago and I was honored when they ask to have a picture taken with me. All of them worked in the writing center. Is it always an honor to be introduced to parents at this time. It was interesting to be invited to lunch and listen to the family some more. As always I enjoyed that time. It reminded me of year ago when I went to eat with another family at the Old Forge brewery. Hard to believe that was already a year ago. The weather was a little kinder today. Last night I was invited out to eat with two colleagues which ended up being three colleagues at Rose Marie’s. I had the students after the afternoon graduation stop by my office also. The small world syndrome came into play once again. Nina was a student I had in class last year and ironically her great uncle was my senior pastor and co- pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. She was also the top honor graduate of the college of business. It was interesting to speak to you and listen to the students who are graduating. A combination of excitement mixed with a little fear at what will happen next was a common theme.

It is now Monday and the weekend is done. It was a busy weekend . . . one filled with events, grading, and trying to figure out my schedule for the coming week and beyond. Another couple of bags of fluids in the mix, but I am in my office today and trying to manage the grading. While I have made good progress, there is still significant work to do. Today I am realizing the consequence of my penchant for losing keys. I have lost a set of car keys, which have to be in the house somewhere, but the renovations have my house in a shambles, so I am not sure where I might have lain them. I have lost my office keys and entire key ring again for the second time in about two weeks and I thought I had extra keys for the house, but I cannot find them either. So . . .  it is pretty much a disaster. I hope hoping to be out of town by today, but that has not happened. I am hoping to be out by mid-morning tomorrow, but it might take an all-nighter and then trying to drive on top of that might be a bit difficult, but it is what I have to do. The semester is over and I think I have a handle on what went well and on what things I might improve, but that is always the case for me. At this point I am in my office eating hard boiled eggs and drinking water. It works protein and hydration. Tonight I am going to take a break and go to a middle school orchestra concert. Over the weekend I heard Mary sing at the Jubilation Concert at the church. It was amazing. She has a tremendous voice and she is so intelligent and insightful. As I am grading, it seems, as always, to be The Tale of Two Cities. I am always astounded at how poorly so many people follow directions. I am always first concerned that I, perhaps, did not make myself clear enough, but when four or five of the best students do it correctly every time, then I realize there is another issue. I had three students who were actually high school juniors. They were some of the best students in the class. They were attentive, hard working, and unbelievably polite. It was a joy to have them in class. I know a number of people who might take lessons from them.

The beginning of this blog as a title that talks about endings, beginnings, or merely . . . . I think there is really very little that actually ends. There is very little that is a new beginning, so finally it is merely carrying on. We can change places; we can leave and begin somewhere new; we can even “finish” with some things and move beyond them, but I do not believe we actually change or start new. We are an accumulation of our experiences and we are a vessel if you will (thanks Julie Petry for that image), one that continues to take in more and more content. That content is in a continual process of being mixed and through that mixing there might be a different appearance, attitude, or primary process, but the things that we have done or experienced never go away. To believe that they do would be a bit naive I think. Over the weekend when working with another person on some things, she told me of her vision of me chopping wood and I am able to give her a picture of what she saw, and that picture is from almost 30 years ago. Then she described another thing she saw and when she described a bit more, a concrete experience from the last couple weeks made more sense to me. I think it is always interesting what our past experiences do to color or influence who we are and what we value. What I am more aware of as I consider and ponder how my life works is it is a process. This does not astound me, and, in fact, I find it a bit comforting because it does mean that things are more logical and connected than we might originally believe. I am to the point that I do not believe in something ending or something else beginning. It is merely carrying on. “Carry on” was (and I am sure still is) a saying that comes from the military. If you were doing something and there was an interruption, the commissioned officer or some other superior person might say, “Carry on.” which meant to keep going about your business. I think that is much more what life is about. It is about going about our business. I think the idea of business is also something that needs to be considered. In the movie, The Cider House Rules, one of the questions asked is “Do you know what your business is?” I think too often we lose sight of our business and we get sidetracked. Too often for me I allow others to influence me, believing that their lives are important to mine. What I have learned is I need to keep on about my business and not get caught up in theirs. Too often their needs are merely that “theirs”. That has been an important lesson for me to ponder and try to figure out. I am not sure I have it all figured out, but that is part of my carrying on and doing what I must do.

Over the next week or so, I will be back in WI to carry on with things that are important to me there. Thanks to all of you who commented on that last posting about dignity. Then there is getting ready for the next semester and managing what I need to do for the next weeks and months. Break is certainly an oxymoron for me this year, but that too is carrying on and doing what I must. All in all, I think I have a pretty clear sense of what needs to be accomplished and how to do it. Hopefully on the other end, which is coming regardless of what I am doing to manage things, I will be okay. That is a much bigger question and one that I still am trying to ponder. I still think there is some of what I have heard that resonates with me, but then there are some of those things that I still believe are not possible. All I know is that I want to have as much to say about how I manage my time as I can. Regardless, in the meanwhile, I will carry on . . . . now back to work.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Ending Life (or anything else) with Dignity

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Good evening,

If you are wondering who that person is with the dog, it is me when I was about 25 years younger. That was a cocker spaniel purchased when I lived in Pennsylvania the first time. As a Lutheran pastor at the time, I named him Luther, so his name was Luther Martin. Sad, I know, but I did it. While I need to grade I cannot concentrate and I feel it is not possible for me to give students reasonable feedback at the moment. For the third time in 4 days I have received a call from Wisconsin about Lydia. She is fading and her doctor actually told me that I should be prepared for that phone call. While I am sure that is what she would wish for herself at this point if she were cognizant of what has become of her 90 years, and it is truly want I want for her, I am realizing how hard it is to let her go. While I am not her son, I have become the son she never had. I have noted this before and I believe it to be true with all of my heart. I wish I could have a conversation with her that would tell her how much I love her and appreciate who she is and what she has accomplished in her life. I wish I could see those sparkling eyes once again brimming with all she knew and understood. I wish I could see the radiant smile that she had once again, in spite of the fact she never thought she took a good picture. I learned so much merely watching her and sharing time with her. It is hard to believe I have been part of her life and she mine for more than 10 years.

From the time when I was a parish pastor, not all that far from where I now live, I remember that I probably did more funerals around the holidays than any other time of the year. I wonder if she realizes it is almost Christmas. Lydia did not really like Christmas or any holiday for that matter. I am not sure why that was. I think it was probably because it is a time we remember family and the way in which she lost her family was pretty horrific and so I imagine it was related to those connective experiences. She did like Good Friday. That was the one time she asked to go to church and she lit her candles and said her prayers publicly. I also remember that trying to buy a present for her was pretty difficult. The only thing she would not take back was crystal. I learned that she liked it and she was happy to receive it. I once tried to purchase a new wrist watch for her. She had me take it back three times before we could find something she deemed acceptable. Once I bought her a birthday present and she took it back and I did not even realize I had a significant credit at that place for months. She was so eccentric in that way. During the past months (and actually years considering her situation), I have pondered if it is worse to become a shell, merely existing and having your mind disappear or is it worse to have control of your faculties and some other sort of disease ravages your body and you are aware of your demise. I have watched Lydia for over three and a half years at Comforts of Home and the person she was when she first began her residency there and the person she is now does not resemble the person she was then, either physically or mentally. It is actually tragic. I am quite sure that I have a different feeling about the young woman who decided to end her life on her terms. At one point, both the pastor and the human part of me would have regarded such a path with disdain. I lived in the Detroit area when Jack Kevorkian was on his mission to help people end their lives and I remember being really conflicted with what was happening. He seemed ghoulish to me. As I have watched Lydia progress and lose so much of who she was, it is unbelievably challenging to watch and see the person she has become. Let me note that the care she receives is outstanding for the most part, and the administrator of her particular COH is a phenomenal young woman who cares deeply about the people in that facility. That does make Lydia’s situation more tolerable for me, especially when I am 1,000 miles away.

It is Thursday of finals week and things are drawing to a close. It is always an interesting time to observe everyone, students and faculty alike. As students it is amazing to see how they step up to the plate and try to put on a game-face, if you will. Some have done their work throughout the semester and you can see they have a clear sense of purpose and trying to finish up, ending the semester in as strong of a manner as humanly possible. There are the other students who have been less than stellar at claiming the opportunities of the semester and the last week and a half is their desperate attempt to make up for their sins of omission. One student in particular stopped by the office today wondering where his grade was headed. I can honestly say (as I did) that I did not know. While I think I did some outstanding teaching this semester, I think the place I fell down was in my grading in a timely way. I am paying for that now, and it is why I will stay up  as late as my somewhat weakened body will allow. I have been in bed earlier over the past month than I have probably since I was in elementary or middle school. The number of nights I have been in bed before 10 would shock most of you who have known me in the past 35 years. The days of 3 or 4 hours of sleep do not happen any longer. It frustrates me to no end, but it is my reality. Another student said that he or she hoped their hard work now would at least get them passing grades. That is a very sad statement, for a number of reasons, but the one I am going to note is an economic one. To merely be average, which is what I tell students from the very first day of my Foundations class (FYC) is not a good plan. Especially when there are 15 million college students between the ages of 18-23 in college at the moment. The competition for a reasonably well paying position, particularly after spending 100K (on the low end) for a bachelors degree, has never been greater. While I try to relay that message from the get-go to my students, there are many who simply do not pay close attention to it. Some end up leaving with an unbelievable debt and not much to show for it; some think transferring to another school will take care of it (one stopped by my office today and is actually transferring back). The only thing that takes care of the things needed to succeed in college is hard work (discipline to do hard work, perhaps more succinctly). I must say, this semester I think I have had some of the most insightful students I have had in a long time. This morning as I gave my Bible as Literature Final, it was gratifying to see that group of students and the sort of family they have become in that class. I referred to them as the Faithful Remnant. They are an extraordinary group. I will miss them greatly. I think there might need to be a sort of gathering at a 40 day mark of something . . . sounds Biblical enough. Yet, I had quite a similar experience in my capstone class, Writing in the Professions. They worked terrifically hard on two major projects during the semester and they created strong and professional work. Experiential learning  is such a different sort of process when you are working for actual clients and you are responsible to each other as well as to a professional situation outside the class. I am always stunned at what they accomplish and what they learn ( I am not surprised that they do the work, but rather at some of unexpected learning moments along the way) . In that class there was also the sense of a small company or a group of people who cared deeply about the other people, about their colleagues. It is so enjoyable to experience. It is fun to see the lights turn on and they get excited about real positions or internships and moving beyond the classroom.

I think about Lydia in the classroom and I have tried to imagine what she must have been like. I know there were times when we would be out and people would come up to her and recognize her and say, “Professor Rutkowski . . . .” She was always shocked and she would say to me in her Austrian accent, “Michael, I do not know how they recognize me.” It was always so cute because she was so befuddled. My response was simple. “I have no problem understanding why they recognize you.” She was not pleased by that response, but it was what it was. If I posted a series of Lydia pictures here, you would understand completely why I might respond as I did. I have actually taken the time to look at some of her notes. She was meticulous in her preparation for class, and to say she had command of her subject matter would be a gross understatement. There are local people in Menomonie who had her in class and they say she was unbelievably tough, but they learned so much from her. I think she and I have some similarities. I have been told similar things. Yet, like her, I am not nearly as tough as people think. That is one of my downfalls, however; I have been too willing to give. I have learned that lesson the hard way and it is one of the things I am working on changing. While I do not want to be a hard-ass, I have learned that giving to people unconditionally can lead to a lot of hurt and difficulties. One of the things I know is that I have spent a lot less money eating out the last three or four months than I did the previously. There are a couple of reasons for that, but I have certainly noticed the difference. In addition, I have learned the hard way once again, in more than one situation, that others best intentions are generally not more than that.

The next year I will deal with things very differently across the board. I do want to end what I have been doing with a sense of dignity, however. That is not to say I won’t help people, or I will, in political terms, become isolationist, I have spoken with a couple of people about a particular mutual situation, but as I did once this past year (and most of my life), I will not be as understanding when their word is not kept. I have never really been a person to push the other, but I have learned this past year to do some of that. In fact, as I had a colleague over for dinner tonight, the person I put into the legal system (or more accurately, she put herself there) stopped by with another payment. I anticipate it is going to happen again (probably more than once). I will try my best to not be rude; I will merely stand up for myself. If people think I am being harsh or unreasonable, I guess that is what will happen. On the other hand, I need to continue to work on some things both professionally and personally. I will be focusing on three things this coming semester: my teaching, directing the program and shepherding the revision process, and writing for publication. Having gotten one of the hurdles cleared this week, I can focus. The second thing is to work on my personal life. There are a couple of important components, but I hope to continue to make progress in the one battle. The second component is working with a situation that is important to me in a number of ways and I hope to do some of that initial work during the break. Finally it is to make sure that I take care of myself across the board and end my own issues with dignity. It is possible and important for me to do so.

Well, I am going to go back to my grading. My mind is clearer and I am ready to focus. As always, thanks for reading.

Michael (and in the grading realm, Dr. Martin)

Enjoying the New and Remembering the Old

Good evening from the study in my house,

It is not quite 9:00 and I am completely spent. I think part of that was not getting home from the Mannheim Steamroller concert until almost 1:00 a.m. and being up and out before 8:00 this morning. Once upon a time I managed those hours and more on a daily basis. I think those days are long gone. The classes for the semester are completed and it has been a bizarre semester, at least from my perspective. It has gone by with amazing speed, but on the other hand, it seems like an eternity since we began in August. I also think part of that is also the changes that have occurred in my life since the end of the summer.

While there is always an evolution of sorts – indeed, you cannot step in the same river twice – some of those changes were more drastic than I expected, in spite of warnings or admonishments to the contrary. Probably the greatest change is in me; I am feeling content with the situation and the armor that was penetrated has been retooled and is probably stronger because of the experience. It is interesting that one wrote me that this year was destined to be a good year. Ultimately, I think that might end up to be an accurate prophetic statement, but for very different reasons. Without a doubt I am certainly grateful for the gift of a surrogate family, one which has provided me so many fortunate experiences, but also an unequalled wealth of cultural awareness from language to food to an intimate understanding of a family. Never in my life have I been so blessed to experience and learn so much so quickly or completely. It has changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined. It is also interesting to me what I have learned about each person and how my understanding and perception of each family member has been transformed from this cumulative empirical experience, both together as well as individually. Regardless the consequence, I have been a very fortunate person because of their presence.

On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to experience some things that have brought back some really amazing and significant recollections of my earlier life. Visits from some of the most beloved people in my life were unbelievable gifts this past summer. Those visits blessed me, overwhelmed me, and even frightened me. I am sure that I was stunned, and even unprepared, at times by the care that was extended to me. Of course, that goes for most every area or place from which I experienced such care. It is hard for me to manage that care because I feel unworthy. While I know it was given genuinely, or unencumbered, I know when I trusted it, I have found it to be less certain than I believed. When I put less hope in it, it was more unconditional than I anticipated. In either case, it was my interpretation that affected it in some manner. I guess as I look back at it, there were just more things and experiences by which I have been compelled to learn still new things.

It is now Saturday evening and I am hiding away in Jim Thorpe both enjoying the ambiance of a Victorian setting and grading away. During the morning I prepared a leisurely breakfast and graded. I did some small item shopping and graded some more. This afternoon I attended the Bach and Handel Chorale concert and this evening I had a very nice dinner at Moyà, another great find for culinary experiences in Jim Thorpe. To spend the time with two of my surrogate daughters, Becca and Cassey, was delightful and I think they enjoyed their time also. Today was a day that I pondered the various elements that have created the tapestry I call my life. When I speak with people, I often hear the phrase “you have crammed so much into your life.” and yet I seldom have that extraordinary feeling about my life. Being almost 60 I have had a long life, so having a lot of things does not seem that amazing. I also know that 59 is not that old in the larger scheme of things, but with one sibling passing at 26 and the other at 51, I am the old man, as Melissa has called me, in a less than endearing tone. I have certainly been through a lot of changes, but again, at this age, I cannot see why that is so extraordinary. Perhaps if anything is a bit outside the average experience it is the variety of places or skills. I have been able to live in so many different locales or to accumulate such an extreme repertoire of requisite capabilities. Perhaps most importantly, it has required that I keep thinking and learning.

During the past week it was, not surprising music that caused me to ponder the past as I anticipate the future. At the Mannheim Steamroller concert on.Wednesday, they played a group of pieces from their early Fresh Aire albums. I was transported almost instantly back to hallways of Holling and Rasmussen Halls and my first experiences with the albums. That music was 40 years old. As they played music from the first Christmas album, I could not help but sense the irony that I had used that music in my first Christmas Eve monologue when I was a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, which was barely an hour away from where I was listening to the concert. I could not help but consider that the venue i was in had been the steel mill where some of those same parishioners worked. Indeed that first Christmas album was released 30 years ago. As I attended the concert with my former colleague and good friend, Nicole, it was fun to tell her about some of those memories with the MS music. I can remember, as if it were only weeks ago, the first sounds of “Toccata”, the opening track of Fresh Aire Iii waifing through the hallways my first week at Dana College and the sense of needing to know what this music was and who had created it. That was 35 fall seasons ago.

What is it about music that transports us to those former times? This past year I have been provided new musical experiences. Some I appreciated more than others, but I am not the person to instantly discard the new. There are thee things that come to the fore musically for me this past year. First, probably John Legend and the way that both Jordan and Melissa were enamored with his music. He is certainly talented and I do appreciate this music, but not to the degree they do. I am glad they got to see him in concert. Also, while I do like so,e of Coldplay’s music, again it does not cause me to see stars. Second, I think the entire move to DJs and remixing has intrigued me. One of the most revelational conversations I had all year was at the table with Melissa about the Electric Daisy Concert (EDC). And what all of that meant for issues of composing, intellectual property and such. That conversation stunned me in terms of understanding music and culture. That was the reason I wanted to hear more from her in a later conversation. I had, and still have, so many questions. Perhaps that might happen some day yet. Third, the most significant musical memory of this year was merely listening to various songs from a variety of artists when Melissa would be either playing music in the house or in the car and she would sing along. Perhaps the greatest musical memory of the year is remembering her amazingly beautiful and talented voice. It is what I miss about having her around more than anything. Her singing brought a joy into the spaces whenever her voice filled the aire (spelling intended). She was my current fresh aire.

Music has always been and will always be a major component in my life. I think it is because of its ability to permeate our existence to the most elemental spaces of who we are; yes, to the core of our being. Luther once said, “Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” I think he was right. Keep listening and thanks for reading. Back to grading.

Dr. Martin

Realities

UP Snow Meter Good early morning, It is about 2:30 a.m. and I am awake and thinking. I received a message today(technically yesterday) that a former teaching colleague, and co-Vietnam veteran, passed away. He was only a couple years older than me and we actually served in Vietnam at a similar time. However, he was in the bush where I was in the city. He was affected by his exposure to Agent Orange, and was receiving some level of disability from the government for that because the cancer he developed was traced back to that exposure. I will be thinking of his wife and family later this morning as they lay him to his final resting place. Tonight my students in the Writing in the Professions class did their final presentations and had their clients present with them on their projects. I am always amazed by the strong work and the reflections that come out of these presentations. I am not amazed that they do such strong work because there are some phenomenal students. It is their work experientially as well as collaboratively that always provides some of the surprises because I have an opportunity to see how they put theory into practice. They learn valuable lessons about time management, the importance of seeing how their specific role fits into a team situation, and how to communicate in a professional manner with real-life clients. Following their presentations, I spoke with them about what I saw in their client-based projects. Because they had two such projects this semester, they did not have the time to move beyond a particular scope. This was part of their learning process. In many cases (in fact, in every case) their work has created a strong foundation for some follow-up work. Again there were clients both in town and within the university. I am always grateful for clients who are willing to work with my students to help provide these opportunities for experiential learning. Following their presentations, the class went to Turkey Hill and we met together for appetizers and socializing. The realty of another semester coming to a close and that some of my students in the minor are graduating is also an important piece of my thought-processes. There are three students in that class graduating in merely 12 days. I know for some of them that is frightening. I do not remember feeling anxious about my undergraduate graduation even though we were in a similar job market. That was because my reality was that I had been accepted to graduate school and was headed towards my first masters degree. I do remember when I left my first position as a campus pastor and instructor, I had for all practical purposes been fired. I refused to work with the restrictions they wanted to place on the position and they said they would not renew a contract. The reality was I was a person with eight years of college and two degrees, and I was bartending and waiting tables again. I remember being told I was probably the most educated server Perkins ever employed in Houghton, Michigan. Yet it was the next serving job at The Library (now called The Library and Brew Pub) that put me in contact with Dr. Carol Berkenkotter and a conversation led me to the Rhetoric and Technical Communication program at Michigan Tech. Waiting on her one night provided a second opportunity to apply (hence reapply) with some direction and I was accepted into that RTC program. The reality here is one never knows how a chance meeting with someone or how a particular consequence might create a new pathway.

Well, the bedding is out of the dryer and it is about 4:15, so I am going to make the bed and try to crawl back in it for an hour or two. Back at school and meeting with colleagues and students as well as trying to get things prepared for my 2:00 class. This morning I had a chance to finally catch up with an education colleague. She is one of the most amazing professors, from what I hear as I have never actually observed her, but I could not imagine anything different. More than that she is simply a wonderful colleague and one I am blessed to have in my circle of significant people. My reality the next few weeks it there is no downtime. Until the semester is completed and all the grading is in, there is no break. I also plan to drive back to Wisconsin on the 13th or 14th of December for a bit more than a week. There is always the reality of weather during this time of the year and while that does not frighten me, I am much more realistic about it than I was once upon a time. Another example of what I would like to call wisdom. Sometimes that wisdom seems to escape me, but I do believe I am improving. Yesterday was a reminder of another reality in my life. It was an anniversary of sorts (it was also my mother’s birthday, so happy birthday. She would have been 94 years old.). It was on that date in 1986 I had my first abdominal surgery for Crohn’s Disease. It is hard to believe that since then I have had 9 surgeries and other complications, but I am still going. I am fortunate. I have had amazing medical care for the most part and there have been a number of people who have been there to support me. Again, the reality is I am blessed. I have spent most of my life believing that we always have two simple choices. We can quit or we can pick ourselves up and keep going. I have spent most of my life doing the latter and I do not plan to change that pattern. During the past 6 months there have been some struggles, but they are manageable just as everything else has been. When I think of the battles that Crohn’s and I have waged over three decades, there has been an ebb and flow of which of us seemed to be ahead, if you will. Most of the time, I am going to assert that I have been more in control of it than it has been of me. There were times in the mid to late 80s where I must admit it controlled me more than I controlled it. There seems to be a pattern where about every 5 or 6 years it seems to want to reassert its power, but I have been able to beat it back. So it is again, I am pretty sure the latest battle is a consequence of the Crohn’s though the events of the last couple days have forced me to consider another option, that option being that I was also in Vietnam around the same time as my departed former colleague.

This morning I spoke with another special person in my life. She is a graduate student at Michigan Tech now and was an undergraduate all those years ago when I was there. She has been through a lot, but she has persevered and she is doing well. I am so proud of her. She is fabulous and brilliant. I am going to spend a couple days in Houghton during the break also. It will be wonderful to be up there again. I love that place. When I spoke with her today, we actually “FaceTimed” for the first time. There was a lot more snow there than here, but that should not be surprising for a place that gets an unbelievable amount of snow. I love the beauty of the winter there, however; it was actually much colder in Wisconsin than it generally is in Houghton. The reality of that place is the lake provides a respite from the bitter cold, but also creates more snow than anyplace I have ever lived. Quite amazing. Last January when I was up there, they had already received more than 180 inches of snow. It was still beautiful. I smile when my Dominican friends shiver at a little snow and cold in comparison. However, the same can be said for most Pennsylvanians. Again, the reality is you deal with wherever you are placed and whatever nature deals you. I will admit I am not sure what I would have done had I lived in Buffalo a week or two ago. If you have ever driven between Houghton and Copper Harbor, the picture you are seeing should look familiar. As you can tell, the snow is an important part of the culture there. They even have this meter to “celebrate” that snow.

Well, my latest reality is that I have an enormous amount of work to do, but this writing actually focuses me and helps me move forward. So now I am back to the work at hand. On Thursday I am delivering a presentation at the Communication Studies day about some of my research, so I have some work to do for that. If I am not grading that will be my focus. The other reality is phase three of managing my almost leaking bathroom pipes is being attended to, so when I get home today some of my house will again be torn apart. I am hoping this is the last of all of that.

Thanks for the good thoughts that so many have been sending and I wish you all blessings in return.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

Investments

Scan

Good morning from the diner,

Today will be a day of grading and preparing for the end of the semester and beyond. It is also a day to catch up on some household items. Finally, it is also the first Sunday and the beginning of the Advent season. In the liturgical year, it is actually my favorite time. Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. It is also considered a season of hope. Hope is an entirely different topic, one on which I could probably do an entire posting. Nevertheless, it is a season that provides both memories and, for me, a sense of goodness in a world that at times seems irreparably broken. It is that sense of goodness that offers at least a glimmer of hope. While I believe we should (and I try to) give to others throughout the year, again, at least we pay attention to the needs of others a bit more intentionally. While there are more than enough stories about why this time is stressful, particularly within families, it also seems that generally attempts to remediate issues might occur at this time (in spite of some of my own experiences to the contrary). It is a time when we actually think carefully about what we have done in the past year and how those events have continued to shape who we are or move us toward some growth we hope to accomplish.

Those events in the past year are an investment of sorts. They signify the things or people on or in which we believed there was value. The question is always whether or not the investment was wise or sound. Not really that different from one’s portfolio, one looks and tried to determine the performance of those investments and then decides to either continue that position or change it. However, there is a difference when you are analyzing things or people and stocks or bonds. Investing in things or inanimate objects is more about what one values or deems important. The item itself is the passive or non-acting agent, and yet, is considered to have value (i.e. a house, a college degree-the piece of paper, one’s electronic gadgets). Investments in people are a bit more tricky. As something not inanimate, people are neither passive nor inactive. While some might seem as such and others certainly not, the decision to invest time or energy into another person (i.e. a spouse, a student, a family member, a friend or acquaintance) always has an inherent risk. Who people seem to be and knowing who they actually are is an imperfect science at best. Likewise, time and experience changes people, but I think those changes are more drastic the younger the person is. I see that everyday when observing my students. The differences one sees between freshmen and seniors is beyond extreme. The difference one can experience from semester to semester or week to week can be much more dramatic than one might ever imagine. I have, again, witnessed this first hand, even in the past few days.

Last night I had two experiences that epitomize the extremes of what I am noting. A former, and now graduating student, and her father came over for dinner last night. It was the first time I have met the father, but I was referred to as the “God-parent” (Bóg-rodzic). That was a compliment and it has been fun to watch Marysia grow over the years. I have been invited to travel to Poland and spend the New Year’s holiday with them. I am excited because it will be my first trip to Eastern Europe. On the other hand, I have tried to understand the philosophy of another and it is apparent that it is not as much a philosophy as it is simple selfishness. As I noted in a previous blog, I have to learn to see things for what they are and quit making excuses for others. I had the opportunity to speak with another last evening, a person I have helped with school issues and with housing. Their attempt to make it on their own is admirable, even though there are stumbles. It was insightful to read and observe their behaviors and listen carefully to what was said. The wisdom that I observed in that conversation was quite astounding. I know the importance of the investment I have made in the other, but that investment needs to be reconsidered not from what I get, but rather from what it has taught me about myself. I think that is the difference between investing in things that are passive or inanimate and things that are active or not inanimate. When we invest in the inanimate, the consequence is much more understandable, perhaps predictable. People, on the other hand, are seldom understandable and so we cannot see what we might receive from them as the investment. What I am sure of lately if we could only evaluate on what we might receive from the other, I would be bankrupt. What I believe we must see in our investment in others is what we learn about ourselves and how we might better ourselves from those experiences. It is similar in my teaching. While I invest a great deal of time, I cannot make a student learn; I cannot make him or her want to succeed. What I must realize is my investment is in my profession and in my own learning to do what I do better.

As we head into the last week of classes, I know it is a stressful time. Some people manage stress well and others (as I have watched this entire semester) do not. I am not consistent with how I manage stress if I am going to be honest. Sometimes I can take it in stride and manage quite well. Other times it can almost paralyze me. I think about some of the moments I had last spring as I tried to manage things here and in Wisconsin and it was overwhelming to me. I must say, in spite of some things I am currently trying to navigate this semester, I am doing pretty well. I did have another fever last night (or early morning), but they are certainly not as frequent as they were last summer. I also know it is much less stressful having come to the conclusion I have during the break and what I need to do during the next semester. I had a chat with one of the people I visited over the break and there was a question about why I feel the need to publish or move forward in my rankings. It was a fair question from the perspective of not being in the position of needing to publish, teach, or serve. It was a fair question to ask if that ranking was merely about salary. My desiring to publish and to advance is about demonstrating expertise in my field and demonstrating that what I do in my classroom has substance and credibility. I am not upset with the questions, particularly when the questions were asked out of concern for me in a bigger picture. It is nice to have someone who is contemporary ask questions. I must admit the questions and concerns are genuine and the treatment has always been respectful. I guess that is what being 50-something will do versus being 20-something. I see late-teens and 20-somethings everyday because of my job, and even if one seems older at times, he or she is still only 20 and their narcissistic behaviors are much more likely to be intact and functional than later in life. I think the difficulty is their feeble attempts to justify their behaviors, but again that is an issue of maturity. It is not the first time I have had to face that reality though this time might be a bit more difficult to swallow than other previous experiences. Again, this is where I have to come to terms with my understanding of what I hope to get or receive as an investment. If my investment is dependent on another person’s behavior than the investment is flawed or, at the very least, pretty damn risky. If I consider what I have invested as something merely meant to benefit the other and not myself – if I can be more unconditional in my expectations – then I cannot lose. Unfortunately, I expected something better and that is my own mistake. Some of that expectation was based on experience, but the experience has certainly changed and I think the true nature has become rather clear. That is not the fault of the other, it is my fault for believing that there was a capability to do what seems to be reasonable or honorable. I also understand that I am imposing my standard of reasonable or honorable, but I have come to those understandings based on almost 60 years of life and a lot more experience than many. It would be nice if things were free or we were as free to do as we’d like, but that is a misguided notion. It is merely a choice to act that way. However, I must remember my own phrase, one I once wrote: “prepare to pay”. Again, the cost of the investment has been high, but it was my decision to take the chance. While I probably did not see it as much of a chance as it has turned out to be, any time you put energy or care, love or commitment into another person on any level, it is taking a chance. I cannot blame anyone for my decisions and/or my stupidity in this case. Much as I had the choice to invest, I have the ability to divest. While it takes a lot for me to walk away, I am capable of doing so.

Yet, if I see it as only as a misguided decision or simple stupidity, then every good thing I have done would have been undertaken foolishly or somewhat idealistic. Ultimately, that is not how I see it. Giving of one’s self, of one’s time, of one’s dedication, and love to another is never to be considered foolish or wasted. I do not regret what I have done and for the help I have given, even when needed without their realizing it or unappreciated. I feel pretty decent. I took some chances and I learned. That is the investment. It is the learning. It is standing back and considering all the data and then realizing the true nature of someone. What is significantly more important is the learning I did about myself and how that might help me in the future. I know that I could have been a pretty reasonable parent. I know that I can see bigger picture and I also know my frailties when dealing with someone for whom I care deeply. All of those lessons have been valuable and will help me as I move on and forward. Finally, it is good to invest both in things and in people. If we do not do so, I believe we live a life devoid of hope, devoid of promise, devoid of possibilities. While I am learning that we only have some much time, that is the reality we all live with. Sometimes we are more cognizant of that limitation.

It is the season of Advent, a time for preparation and I am preparing to move on. I have learned in life that there is no constant and as I was reminded the other night when speaking with my 50+ contemporary, I only have so much life left. This Advent will be a special Advent for me and I do want it to be a season of hope and I am hopeful because I have learned so much. It is a season of caring and for the care I have given, I know that I have been true to my nature and to what my grandmother demonstrated in her life. For a season of possibilities and for Cassey and Becca, this will be an amazing week. For Brittany and Maria, it is your last week as an undergraduate student. You have grown so much since that first summer class. I am still grateful to all four of you because I still have some surrogate kids. Last week I received a wonderful email about what I do in class . . . the student ended with the following words: “Thank you for pushing me to be the best I could be, for showing me that I am far more capable than what (sic)I ever imagined. Thank you for making an impact on my life and my educational career. It was truly a blessing to be a part of your class, and experience I will never forget. I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and pray that you continue to change other students’ lives like you’ve changed mine.” While I am touched and humbled by this, it too provides hope. There is a hope that after time, the investments made in any situation might be considered or realized as efficacious for both. Of course, there is no guarantee of that, and it is certainly not wise to need that response. I have learned that to about the 10th power or exponentially.

Yet the chance it might happen is at least one reason I have invested in students; that is why I invest in people in general. It is my sincere hope that what I offer, or give, or provide makes their lives better. When it does, I have invested wisely because it makes my life better.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Traditions of Christmas

Scan 757Hello on the day retailers go into the Black,

I am probably not helping them make any goal today and I am grading and attending to matters that somehow once again seem beyond my control. I do not plan to do much shopping, if any today, and I have other things I want to try to manage. I sometimes wonder if my attention to detail is something wrong or merely something that causes me difficulty, or perhaps both. The picture here is of two of my seminary friends when they came to Pennsylvania when I first lived in this state a quarter century ago and was a parish pastor in Lehighton. They are in the house I lived in and their names are Tim Christensen and Sandra Van Zyl. I miss them, but still know where they are (in Montana).

I did have a nice Thanksgiving, though a bit untraditional and a bit traditional. I spent part of it on the road taking my Midwest guests back to the airport and spent some time in a traffic jam. Then I went to a family’s house for dinner. They had extended family there and it was nice to meet them. It always it interesting to be around a group at the holidays. I listen to comments and conversations and one learns so much. It was the “cousin” comments which taught me the most and gave me new insights.

I didn’t finish all of this yesterday and last evening (it is 4:00 a.m. and I have been awake for over an hour, so I write) I was at the Decker’s. I had a nice time watching Grace in a parade and seeing Caroline and Rose scramble for candy. Mary always brightens my day because of her amazing love and beauty. Max, Mark and I played a card game following the parade (which Max beat us both) and Ethan, Christian (the Clark nephews who were visiting), and Gayle worked on a jigsaw puzzle (which they pulled an all nighter and I just got the completed picture as a text). It was interesting that advice both Mark and I gave Grace last night, I need to take for myself. It really dawned on me as I was saying it. In fact, I noted that point and Mark and Grace both noted it back to me.  It is a bit ironic how we tell others not to put up with what we ourselves are putting up with. So, now comes the hard part: doing it and continuing to say that impoliteness is not reasonable nor acceptable, regardless of what the other does to justify. I realize that I put up with a lot more of this than I should and then when the consequence is my generosity or kindness (in any form) is taken advantage of, I am always surprised (I should not be). What I am learning is what I offer or think about a person’s intentions or character is not as pure as I want to believe. If one’s heart is not selfish, it is almost impossible to act selfishly. This is the adage I must remember.

Tonight when I got home I pondered (yes, again I am pondering) why it is that Christmas music so profoundly affects me. I am not sure if it is because I grew up singing from the time I was small. I am not sure if it is because I remember recording an LP (do your remember those things?) with the Sioux City Children’s Choir. However, it was actually trying to listen to Christmas music on Thanksgiving evening and a comment from the cousin that gave me the most insight into things I have watched, but perhaps did not really understand. In addition, it also got me thinking about the music. The station I was listening to was probably the most traditional of any Christmas station one could ever hope to find. John Rutter and Robert Shaw have probably done more arranging and composing of Christmas music than any other two people in the world. It is their Pandora stations that play the most amazing Christmas music one could ever hope to hear. Check it out; I am quite sure you’ll be glad you did.

This coming Wednesday, I am going to see Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas concert in Bethlehem. I have not seen them live since I was in seminary. I got two tickets way last summer, but the plans I thought of have changed pretty dramatically, and I am really fortunate to be going with a former colleague. She has a “bit of a musical appreciation” so going to see the concert with her will be amazing. She is also one of the people for whom I have great admiration. I am looking forward to it. Next weekend I am going to hide out in Jim Thorpe for the weekend. I plan to see the Bach and Handel Chorale there (and probably do some grading).

When I grew up every Christmas was at my Grandmother’s house. This is the same person with whom I lived until I was about four and a half. I have mentioned her in my blog many times, and she is my hero. She is probably the most loving and giving person I ever met. She had a much more difficult life than I have really taken the time to imagine. She grew up on a farm in the depression and the dust bowl years in South Dakota. She did go to college, at least for a period of time, but she did not finish. I never learned the story behind that. I’m not exactly sure how she ended up married to my grandfather, but I think that deeply loved each other. He died when she was only 45 years old. So what I’m realizing that she spent the rest of her life, the next 19 years, as a widow. Another one of those ironies, Lydia has been alone also for 19 years. I think with me this is me the most about my grandmother is that she overcame her alcoholism. I did not know she was an alcoholic, but I remember as a small child going to the liquor store with her. From what I understand, my grandfather also had a drinking issue. It was really after I became an adult that I understood what it happened. Long story short, AA changed her life. I think she quit drinking when I was seven years old and she never drank again. For the rest of her life, she focused on her ownership of the bakery and she was active in Eastern Star. She eventually was the Worthy Matron of her chapter. I remember in high school being amazed as I watched these elegant women do the things they did at installations. It reminds me of someone, a person who worked at the bakery. I wonder where she is today.

Christmas at my grandmothers house was amazing. She owned a bakery – the one I worked at from the time I was 12 – and everything that was made there was delectable. Both she and her older sister, Helen, where the most amazing cooks in the world. So between her bakery and her culinary skills Christmas dinner has never been equaled. However, that was only the beginning. Grandma pulled out all the stops at Christmas and her generosity was unparalleled by anyone. I do not come close for those thinking I am like her. I only wish I was. I can still remember her kindness, her smile, and how happy she was that everyone was in her house. Perhaps the best part of Christmas was that we got to stay at her house the week that followed. My favorite breakfast every day consisted of two poached eggs, a half a grapefruit, and toast. Hanging out at the bakery is a small child and working later in my life was something that I love to do. I still remember the present of a toboggan and sliding on her hill. The house she lived in the rest of her life with the house I had spent my first years in. It was a place of safety; it was a place of love. Perhaps that’s the most important gift she gave me the gift of unconditional love. While I’ve tried to emulate her all too often I fail miserably. However I still have her example to remember and to cherish.

In spite of the craziness at the end of the semester, regardless a number of things that can get in our way, it is the time to remember the things that matter. No matter how busy we are or how much we have on our plate simple acts of courtesy and kindness or what Christmas and traditions are about. I am blessed by my traditions from earlier my life and the memories I have. I’m grateful for the things that I have learned this past year. I’m not sure what the future will bring or how long with future is, but I do know that I have been blessed. Even when I don’t understand all the reasons or even the actions of others, I can still find some blessing in those experiences. I’m grateful for my traditions, for my heritage. While I will not leave children behind, I was reminded again this week by an email that somehow I make a difference. While I love the traditions of Christmas perhaps my most important legacy is in the classroom. It is one of the places my gifts really shine. I hope you can find time to create new traditions and begin new things. I’m looking forward to Christmas and having some people at my house to share to learn together, and perhaps create a new tradition, at least once. Well, it is 5:30 a.m. – time for a nap.

The link is from one of my favorite group, the concert I will see this next week. The song is titled “Traditions of Christmas”. I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin