Juggling or Staying Afloat

 Good early morning,

For someone who does not really enjoy water, it seems that the metaphors regarding it are enveloping my writing as of late. I noticed this trend even as I have been writing announcements in BOLT (really D2L), the course management system we use here at Bloomsburg. I got home last night and was in bed by 8:40 because I seemed to be fighting off something most of yesterday. I do feel reasonable at the moment though it is about 2:00 a.m., and I am pretty wide awake (thanks, Katy Perry, for the song running through my head). . . . Maybe I’m not as awake as I thought because I’ve somehow posted this unintentionally. So I guess I will stay up and try to finish the writing, a bit more promptly than originally planned. Such changes can be a blessing and a curse, but nevertheless this posting will perhaps get completed in one fell swoop.

As the last four days have ended, in addition to the loss of the fraternity brother mentioned in the last post, four other people to whom I am close have lost immediate family members, parents or siblings. In some cases I knew those parents or siblings and in other cases not. I do not remember another time in my life I’ve been aware of so many people to whom I am close losing loved ones. I do remember a week when I was a pastor at a parish not far from here. It was one of those weeks where there is so much on your plate and of course it seems there’s not a moment to do anything else and there would be multiple funerals. Ask any parish pastor and I am sure that they will tell you the same story. For me that week was the week of Christmas and New Year’s. In fact it started Christmas Eve day, and it continued into the first week of January. If I remember correctly there were five funerals in that time. One person was maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. Two were sisters, both in their early 20s. I remember telling the one funeral director that he should just have an office in our parish. What I did learn from those times was that death is always painful. No matter what cliché you try to use, when we as humans come face-to-face with the ending of life we are at a loss through that loss. To the family of Justin, to Antonio, and to my Dana  and seminary friends, Deb and Wilbur, my words and my thoughts are certainly not enough in this time, but they are what I have to give you, and in my piety, the God in whom I believe sheds tears of sorrow with you. Please know that you are not alone at this time in spite of the distance. As you will juggle your feelings and emotions in these days and weeks ahead, there are those of us who will try to help you stay afloat. Please do not hesitate to reach out. I know this from my own experiences and I know how important those words and those touches are.

As I think I have already noted this fall, I was granted a quarter release time. For those of you who might not understand what that means, it means because of another project I have on my plate, I was provided a release from one section of teaching. However I was not given one less prep. It certainly helps because there are fewer papers to grade, fewer essays to read, and fewer blogs to manage. However the project I’m working on seems big enough that I’m not sure I ended up with less work in terms of labor. Once again I think I have more work than I had planned. This is not really a complaint because I enjoy most of what I do, but it certainly makes for long days. And this is where it seems that my age is catching up with me. I used to be able to come home and just keep working; now it seems my pillow has become my favorite friend. It seems between meetings, office hours, grading, and more meetings, my nose is still above the surface of the water, but I certainly hope no one kicks up a wave or I’m confronted by some swell. I’m not a good swimmer and I hate when water goes up my nose. Somewhere between now and Saturday I have another paper to finish. I think it might be a long couple days. I think what is interesting to me is that when I was in graduate school I thought somehow after the comprehensive exams and the dissertations life would get easier. Then it was after the probationary period and achieving tenure, life would get easier.  Or is it then after promotion, I think I figured out it’s never really easy if you’re going to do more than be average. The words of my father come ringing back. “Anyone can be average,” he said to his lazy 16-year-old; “that’s why it is.” It’s almost 45 years ago he first spoke those words to me, and I can still hear them as if they were yesterday. As I’ve said many times, he was one of the wisest men I will ever know. I think somewhere I need to find a picture of him and post it. As I have often said to others, one of his most characteristic features was that he was always smiling, and he had perfect teeth. In spite of the fact that I perhaps finally will admit I’m not average, I still believe I’m perfectly normal, whatever that means. I’m imagining that any of my students who read this would want to debate that point.

Over the last couple days I have the opportunity to speak through Facebook with one of my Dana classmates. He was actually ahead of me, but because I was well beyond a teen when I got there I think I older than him. He now lives in another country, the country of my ancestors actually and another place that I’ve always wanted to travel (if you’re wondering, the country is Norway). We spoke about the education we had received at that little liberal arts college on the bluffs of the Missouri River, barely into the state of Nebraska. We reminisced about our humanities courses and how much we learned from that class. We spoke about the director of the humanities program, Dr. John W Nielsen. How blessed we were to learn from such an amazing and brilliant person. He taught me about so much more than just classroom material.  He also taught me about life. What I’m realizing now is that one of the best decisions I ever made, as I traveled on that Lutheran Youth Encounter team, was to attend Dana College. But along with brilliant professors,  I had amazing classmates. Indeed, the Tom Kendallls, the Merle or Karen Brockhoffs, the Scott and Nettie Groruds or Shelly Petersons,  the Leanne Danahys and Kim Nielsens,  the Joanne Hansens or Barb Kalals, the Kip Tylers or Peter Bondes. There were wonderful people who stunned me with their intelligence and beauty like Pam Poole or Jill Rogert. These are the colleagues or classmates I first met and who blessed me in so many ways. I hope that my mentioning some of you by name is not too bold. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Choir with Dr. Paul Neve and the humanities staff changed my life. I am a professor because of that small college. I am a professor because Dorothy Wright and her husband helped me go to Europe as a sophomore. To this day I love choral music; it was an experience like no other to spend my spring breaks on choir tour, eating ham, scalloped potatoes, and green Jell-O (every single day for a week). As I lie here and type away on my iPad, there are so many memories from Dana. In spite of the fact that it’s over 30 years and that Dana as an institution closed after its 125th year, the generations of us fortunate enough to go there were provided with an education that will rival anywhere. For me, one of the best things about Facebook is that I am still in contact with that amazing group of people. And while there were people from the other institutions I have attended who have been important, that small college on the hill affected me more profoundly than any words could ever explain.

As is often the case I’m not sure this is where I expected this post to go. But I think of my freshmen students right now. Your business LLC is much like some of the groups I was in when I was a student. Oh shared experiences and the commeraderie you now have will hopefully mean more to you as time goes on. As you juggle classes, events, and other requirements, you will find that these people will help you stay afloat. Perhaps that’s the same for today: learn to juggle; manage to stay afloat. Both skills are invaluable. I’m not sure I’ve always realized that, at least consciously that is. Yet, I think I’ve always practiced it. For those of you who have been reading, and if in Bloomsburg driving by, hopefully the next few days will see significant progress on the barn project. As my colleague, Dr. Usry, said yesterday, “You have big equipment yard again.”. It is my hope that in a few hours I will once again have a driveway. A little less dirt and mud will not hurt my feelings. At is as it is now somewhere between 3:30and 4:00, the question becomes: should I go back to sleep or just stay up? Perhaps I should just get up take a shower and go to work. That would certainly be more productive.  Would it help my  nascent juggling skills? Might it help me overcome my fear of water, or will I merely look like someone foolish dog paddling in 15 foot swells? I’ll let you know what I decide, and by the way, the picture is of my father when he was in the service. He was in his late 20s in this picture.

As always, thank you for reading.

The non- juggling and non-swimming professor.

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