Kairotic Moments – Rhetorical or Fateful?

Lydia_posed_3 sized

Good late evening or early morning,

It is 11:38 p.m.,; so while it is technical a very late “good evening”, I am asserting for me it is very early morning. That is because I just woke up, after going to bed, for probably the 15th time in the last month, before 8:30 in the evening. My Tuesday began before 6:00 a.m., trying to do some additional snow blowing, before my day got off to a real start. My first meeting was at seven in the morning and I did not get home until after seven in the evening. The amount of time that I had in between as simple downtime was a grand total of zero. So when I walked into my house, I prepared and ate some of the “limited editions” in my fridge, brushed my teeth, and then I went to bed. My brain was mush and my body was exhausted. Only difficulty is, as I look at my calendar the rest of the week is exactly the same. If I have some time, even a few moments, I’m trying to do whatever grading I can to keep up with what’s coming in. Logistically I’m waiting on two items for to my students, but until I get those I can’t move forward on some other things. I am continually reminded that I do not live in a vacuum. My life seems forever dependent on what others do and I am forced to admit what time is my life seems totally deterministic. How Dr. Clifford Hansen, my first philosophy professor, must be smiling from wherever he is to hear me make such a statement. Any of my Dana College classmates who might read this, know what I mean. I remember how vehemently I argued against any thought of determinism in that class. It was simply illogical to the small town Iowa boy.

This gets me to my topic or my title for this post. From time to time one is forced to ask how did I get here? How in the world on God’s green earth did I ever make it along the continuum where I was to where I am? One might argue that is simply wisdom, The sum total of our experiences and, at least, what one might hope is a bit of wisdom. Yet at this point in my life I’m inclined to believe that’s too easy. More importantly I think it gives us too much credit as individuals. At least in my case, I’m much too stubborn and I am not that brilliant. For the most part I just go about my life. Because it’s after midnight now, the day before yesterday we had the first snow day of the winter or the semester. A year ago almost to the day there was another snow day, actually a year ago tomorrow. At this point I see it as a fateful day ~ not meant negatively ~ as a kairotic moment. A point in my life on the decision to go to dinner with some others on a snowy evening changed my life. The four other persons involved in that day have all scattered, or floated away, sort of like the leaf floating at the end of the movie Forrest Gump. To my knowledge one of them is no longer in school at all; one is attending community college and working; one has transferred to another institution; and the fourth one while still in school here at Bloom, works much like the wind in the New Testament, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8a). What I know is I’m grateful for that day, not only for the experiences that have occurred since, but more importantly for how it is changed who I am. One one hand, I know that my joys of the more joyful and on the other, some of the moments have caused more pain than I knew it was possible for me to bear. I regret none of it. This is not to say that I have some secret desire to feel pain. That would indicate I have yet another malady. What it states, actually, is that I loved that deeply. Yet all of that is an aside to what I am thinking about. How do these particular moments, these life-changing moments, happen? Are they actually special or did something specific, something monumental, occur? If it is something special, something monumental, what is it? Because if it’s not, then every moment is special, different, or extraordinary. Or perhaps it is that every moment has the potential for such. Still raises the question of what causes these particular instances? If one argues from a religious perspective we get those amazing sentences like “it was just God’s will.” Again, where I’m at in my life now, even that sounds deterministic. And I’m not sure I like the cliché “everything happens for reason.” Such a simple way to allow for things. Again we’re simply the cork floating along in the ocean and the bottle in which we were placed as well as the message that was in the bottle are lost. Perhaps some humor in this is that I am still considering corks and bottles. Amazing how my mind works at 12:45 in the morning. The other thing that happens at 12:45 in the morning is that I can lose some of the work I have done, and now I have done it twice, losing what I have worked on for 45 minutes.

When pondering these specific moments I wonder if there is some sort of divine intervention that minimizes how often they happen. To be kind to God, not the God needs my kindness, perhaps God knows our limitations and keeps these amazing moments spaced out in such a way that we are able to manage them. If I leave God out of the equation, perhaps these moments of completed action with present consequence, these times of punctiliar profundity, are limited because our human capacity for understanding is simply that: limited. During the past day, I certainly had one of those punctiliar moments. Yesterday as I sat in the departmental curriculum committee meeting, considering the new concentration in digital rhetoric and professional writing, it became abundantly clear to me what I had learned as a faculty person at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Little did I realize the lessons learned in that program would serve me so well half-way across the country. Five and a half years of working, observing, and listening prepared me for this meeting. But this is not something that I have accomplished on my own; indeed, far from it. The English Department at Bloomsburg University is a dedicated group of amazing professors and outstanding scholars. This is not typical at a comprehensive 4/4 institution. Yet, the insight of both the initial committee as well as the vision of the department and the revision of their liberal arts concentration, created a change that supported the possibility of creating this new concentration out of a minor. I was reminded during that meeting, and quite appropriately I must admit, that the department had also changed in that time period. Two years ago what might be called an initial failure was an important learning moment for me. I needed to learn, to listen; I needed to comprehend and understand; I needed to step back and wait. I must admit waiting for me is not a strong point, but learning, understanding, and waiting were all necessary. Perhaps that was my most important, non-durative moment.

When I consider the last month, the number of moments I’ve had caused me pause are quite astounding, both because of the number and because of the experience itself. From waiting at the bedside of Lydia, through my tears and laughter, I came face-to-face with beauty personified. The grip she had on my hand and the look in her eyes and those last days will stay with me for the remainder of my days. The care of the staff for both her and me, for both their tears and laughter, have blessed me beyond words. The people who have reached out to me since then, as well as those who have failed to do so, have taught me much, both about myself and about others. The trip to Poland and the beauty of that place, that country, still amazes me. My visit to Auschwitz, both the weather and the place that day, will remain with me forever. I’m sure the timing, only hours after Lydia’s passing, creates an important contextual situation. Coming back from Europe and being almost immediately ill is not something I will soon forget. Over the weekend I was speaking with my long-time friend; I call her my sandbox buddy and she refers to me with the same term. As she does, typically, she lamented the fact that she doesn’t get certain things done. After hearing the same story for the past six months, I noted for her with as much care as I could muster, “if it is important enough, you will do it.” It is simply a matter of priorities. It is a matter of discipline. Ultimately it says what is substantive to us at that point in time. Even in my own life what has come to the fore now and where it was at another point in time is different. Sometimes that is due to necessity. Sometimes it’s in response to what has been done to us. Ultimately again, it just is. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned this past year is to not hold onto things. For it is when we hold on it we will surely lose them. I think of how hard and desperately you, Lydia, held onto my hands those last days. It was incredibly hard for either one of us to let go. However, it was what we were required to do. My letting go that Friday night was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it allowed Nate, Theresa, and the girls to come and take their turns to hold your hand. It allowed for your hand to be held at the precise moment you left this earth.

Lydia, there has not been a single day that I have not thought about you since you left. I don’t think that will change for sometime. I know that coming into your life was unexpected for both you and me. Yet, it was one of those moments for which I will be forever grateful. The power you have, even beyond life, to affect life is quite astounding. In my own piety I believe you now see me all the time. It is a bit frightening. I hope you can still love me,even in my failing moments. I hope you know how much I love you. I miss you greatly and I love you even more. As it is now almost 2:40 a.m. and I am in tears yet again, I will close.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. M (as someone recently called me)

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