The Power of Who.

 

“I’m getting the sense that you’re not going to be able to do this alone,” the woman said to me. We had already had a 45 minute conversation over the phone when she dropped this little nugget into my memory bank. This woman had undergone her own MRSA battle. Our recent conversation was a long heart-to-heart about the ways she approached the eventual healing of her infection, and the medical practices both alternative and conventional. We bonded over ointments and essential oils, swapped stories and compared discoveries.

I have no plans to turn Roots & Wings into a MRSA blog, but those of you who read my previous post will know it has recently been a dominant bit of content in my life. Truth be told, the topic is rich with parallels, metaphors and crossover into other important areas of my well being. There has been something spiritual about the healing process, and it is putting me in touch with some old lessons from my roots. My wings are being stretched, too. Hell, it’s getting me to write again! That’s something. Possibilities and new realities are opening up everyday, but I’ll save that for another blog.

As I talked with this woman, it surprised me that her most valuable insight wasn’t some MRSA secret. I asked a lot of relatively informed questions: What kind of doctor will be able to help me? What can I do to eliminate the infection? Where can I find alternative resources? How do I implement these strategies? However, this idea that I was not “able to do this alone” gave me reason to pause. This new bit of wisdom gave me the courage to ask a new question. A who question.

After all of the researching, doctors visits, and elimination diet, do you know what made me feel the best? Hearing from you. After posting a month ago, I have been overwhelmed by the response. Over 200 people responded with words of encouragement. Even more shared something with me in person. The question that changed the whole process is: Whose support do I need to make it through this? I need as many people as possible. I am so grateful for everyone’s outpouring of support.

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My Grandmother, Nancy Batz (Right) and her student, Jack.

This is no new lesson, but one I’d forgotten. I was reminded yet again this weekend as I celebrated Christmas with my Grandmother, one of my original supporters. My source. A long-time music teacher, she started the weekend with a Christmas concert on Friday night for all the residents of her apartment building. 80 years old, and she was singing her heart out, one of her voice students at her side, sharing music with her community. Her support system. She rounded up our whole family to sing carols around the building on Sunday evening. Her community came out to listen, and a few even joined our brigade.

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The Batz family Carolers, led by our fearless matriarch.

My Grandmother has been through her own share of trials. One does not make it to 80 without a great deal of resilience! In the three short years since she moved from Spirit Lake, Iowa to St. Paul, Minnesota, she built a loving community to support her in the next chapter. That’s the power of who. May I never forget it.

Whose support is important in your next chapter?

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Infections and Healing.

So, I may or may not have told you about my inconvenient friend. I’ve had an ongoing relationship with an unexpected visitor that has lasted over a year. What started as a little bump on my leg turned into a lasting medical head-scratcher. The test came back to reveal I had a MRSA infection, a particularly wicked form of Staph. The journey to healing has been winding: three rounds of antibiotics, topical treatments, professional opinions, and personal research, yet the infection persists. Tyranny, thy name is MRSA.

A bit of background. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, is an antibiotic resistant bacteria that has been appearing in developed countries over the last few decades. It is widely thought to be caused by the over-use of antibiotics. My understanding is that when the antibiotic kills 99.9% of bacteria, the .01% survives and requires new forms of treatment. I suspect this infection is just a part of that simple evolutionary process.

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My first visit to the Doctors office to get the news. Enter MRSA.

I’m glad to say that my case is one that isn’t life threatening. The abscesses on my legs that return now and again may jostle my comfort, peace-of-mind, and sense of control, but all in all, I count myself among the lucky. The process has brought to light more than I ever wanted to know about a number of topics. Modern healthcare, health insurance, preventing the spread of infection to name a few. More personally, I am confronting my own anger, anxiety, impatience and behavior under pressure like never before.

Tonight as I write to you, I am remembering the healing quality of gratitude. There are lots of crazy things going on in our country right now. I happen to be one among so many who are experiencing frustrations with their health and the healthcare system. I feel for them, and I’m grateful to have the care and coverage I need. There is a roof over my head when the Minnesota weather is wintery. I can’t imagine this struggle without a place to call home.I know there are people whose lives are impacted today by crazier shit than a rash on their legs.

After a raucous election season, many of our neighbors are feeling an irksome change. Like my blogging colleague Katherine Fritz wrote in a recent post, the result of the election “has come with a price: the safety, security, and equal rights of black people, women, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people, and immigrants.” Though my life as a young white man hasn’t changed much, it’s an important time to take the dangers seriously. Whether it be on the skin or beneath the surface in our minds and in our culture, a special kind of care is required to resolve an infection. Gratitude is an important aspect of a holistic healing process. It’s not because it will heal heal my current health woes, nor will it much help my brothers and sisters who fear the loss of their agency and peace-of-mind. I am grateful, however, for the urgency to focus my energies on how to heal.

#1: Don’t Drop the Window.

Lesson #1:

I never realized what responsibility really meant until I was dangling a window lash two stories above the ground trying to install it. Dropping it was not an option.

I took a risk on the job when I held a window, dangling it out of the open frame two stories in the air. As I tried to re-install it, I felt my center of gravity drift out over the edge, my feet losing their grip on the floor. I narrowly avoided shattering a $300 window and surely one of my own bones but by the steadying hand of paint master David. It has been both refreshing and nerve wracking to feel a strong sense of responsibility. It’s a part of being a professional. I felt skilled enough to take the risk, and I would have been held accountable had the window been dropped. Was it worth a chunk of my paycheck?

Painting is unlike any job I’ve ever had. The results of my work are physical. It’s tremendously satisfying: I get to see the results of my work on a daily basis. On the other hand, if i’m not holding a brush or moving around, I’m not working, and I get paid for the quality of my work. It takes a lot of energy. This role was one of my most recent reminders that some mistakes can be permanent. Paint makes a point of it. The risks are real. No carpet or wood floor–or window, apparently–is immune.

This responsibility is not meant to be feared, though a decent dose of it in my belly can be a healthy thing. It’s meant to be handled with care and attention, allowing my own experience to help me make decisions. What’s on the line, here? Could I live with failure? Is it worth the risk this time?

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Surely dangling students over Lake Superior in climbing gear assumes a certain amount of responsibility

These questions challenge me to be professional in all areas of my work. I take the same responsibility with me every time I take students into the wilderness with Outward Bound, where risk is often very real and the result is extraordinary. I am bringing it to Good Leadership University, where we will provide leadership training to real students with real money invested in the process.

True risks are taken not with reckless abandon but extreme care. We carried paint over carpet and removed windows in homes because Phil And David know the satisfaction of transforming a room and have the experience to take on the risks like a pro. They mentored me in how to be a professional. It leaves me wondering: where is professionalism waiting to transform other rooms in my life?

 

 

Going Pro

As a high school student, I dreamed of playing professional golf. The number of golf balls I hit at the driving range and putts I made on the practice green may outnumber the days I’ve been alive. As it turns out, competitive golf was really stressful! I didn’t seem to have the “stuff” or the temperament to go pro.

As you may have noticed throughout my last posts, my ambitions have adjusted a wee bit. I still love to play golf, especially with my Dad and my family. Today, I’m enjoying the game more than ever, I spend a lot less time practicing, and my handicap has hardly changed! Funny what a little maturity did for my golf game. It helps to have a solid base developed from a young age. A lofty goal, even one that was poorly calculated and rather vague, was enough to keep me hungry to improve my score and to keep the dream alive.

David Schut, in the classic Sherwin Williams painting uniform I'm sporting nowadays.

David Schut, in the classic Sherwin Williams painting uniform I’m sporting nowadays.

My changing ambitions brought me into the company of some different pros: the professional painters of Two Nice Guys Painting. They will verify that their golfing is not professional grade. It’s not a job I may have expected to find myself in as my 25th year slides into it’s final month, but I am so grateful to Phil and David for their mentorship, their patience, and their skills. I have a lot to learn from their experience in and out of the painting business. I still don’t  know the trajectory for my life’s work, but I’m learning more from painting everyday. I’m enjoying every step that has brought me to an understanding: it’s less about what I’m doing, and more about how I’m growing.

Phil Nordberg always makes painting look good.

Phil Nordberg always makes painting look good.

Over the next few posts, I want to share with you 5 lessons that painting is teaching me about being a professional. Pro golf is no longer my future. I’m interested in being some new things: an effective leader, a valuable employee and a positive role model. An organized young professional (a long shot, maybe…). A loving boyfriend, brother, and son. A loyal friend. And, what the hell, a better painter!

Stay tuned.

Northern Lights and Lightning Drills

On the last Voyageur Outward Bound course of the summer, the adult chaperone in my group turned to me at the end of a long hike and said, “I get it now. All this hiking sucks until it’s amazing.”

I grew up in the Lutheran church, and the theologians in that neck of the woods love paradox. I’ve seen my own array of paradox on the rivers and hiking trails we traveled this summer, and my friend’s quote sums it right up. The perks of the job are what you might think: sunsets every night, usually accompanied by bon-fires and reflection on the day’s activity. My meals are always surrounded by good company and I get to see youth thrive in a foreign setting. They can truly surprise themselves at what they can accomplish.

I’m also pretty damn tired after a summer of Outward Bound. My day continues outside rain, snow, or shine. My weekday nights were swarmed by mosquitoes, as were my weekends for that matter. Self-care seems mostly theoretical other than the 10 minutes i’m still lucid before I pass out on top of my sleeping bag. And then, there is managing the students who are not quite as rehearsed in these new roles.

When I woke up to lightning flash and a clap of thunder, my sleeping bag was already wet. I had been sleeping through the torrential downpour failing to notice the approaching thunderstorm, and by this time, we needed to get students in position for lightning drill, an Outward Bound policy to keep students safe if lightning strikes. Lightning was upon us, and we needed to act fast. So fast that when I couldn’t find my pants upon waking, I had to forgo them.

My coworker and I ran around the campground waking students up, shoving their arms and legs into rain gear and sitting them each down 50 feet apart throughout the campsite, as per policy. I shoved my wet legs into the leftover set of rain pants, and we sat in the rain, teeth chattering, for two hours waiting for the lightning to pass.  We watched the lightning strike at least every minute, splitting the sky and illuminating everything as if in daylight. When everything finally subsided, we got the students up. The overwhelming reaction from the crew was a smile and, “That was awesome!”

One of the goals of this work is to create moments for students to see what they are capable of. This requires that they come face-to-face with risk, whether it’s very real in the form of lightning or perceived when ten miles of hiking in one day doesn’t seem possible. When our job is done right, and with lots of luck, students get to see themselves enjoy something they never expected. On this trip, our students got to relish in the success of surviving, and enjoying, a severe thunderstorm in the woods.

The job has aspects that wear on me, like any job would. We hiked 25 miles over three days before confronting that storm. Sometimes, inspiring confidence and create success in our students takes lots of work. In another instance, a student asked, “what’s that up in the sky?” only to discover the beginning of a Northern Lights show on display in the dark, night sky. Waves of light as bright and mysterious as you can imagine. With all the planning and preparation we do, it’s these times when awe and wonder just sneak up on us, and all we need to do is sit back and be inspired together.

 

Finally, another post!

I have not written a blog in 175 days. It’s not for lack of ideas or new encounters worth sharing. I could share any number of the beautiful and profound things that 13 year olds said this summer on the hiking trail or while floating downriver in a canoe. So why haven’t I?

A slight detour is in order, I think. I’ve been following this website by Benny, a multi-linguist who is sharing his language-learning secrets. The premise is that you’ll be fluent in the language you you desire in 3 months time. That’s a high order, and my goal is a bit more realistic: speaking spanish before I’m 30. I’ve been trusting Benny to guide me because he points out one of my most detrimental character flaws, and that is my pursuit of constant perfection.

My favorite of Benny’s posts is this: Your Ego is the Reason You’re Not Speaking the Language. He points out that when you’re learning a language, you should “sound like an idoiot–It’s the best thing you can possibly do.” Five days into my pursuit of Spanish, and this headline hit the nail on the head. And it translates beyond my weak Spanish and right into my hesitant blogging. Here’s to improving them both!

So, here I am, writing because I can practice putting my thoughts into action without worrying about whether or not they are perfectly worded, well-rounded, or clever. I just have to get out of my own way, sometimes. And now, a quote to ponder.

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” -Mohammed Ali

A picture from Glacier Nat'l Park, not because it relates to this post, but because I can!

A picture from Glacier Nat’l Park, not because it relates to this post, but because I can!

Self Doubt Funk You Up

The 15 passenger van pulled into the fuel mart gas station, canoe trailer in tow. Four of my co-workers and I shuffled out to grab water jugs to fill from the hose when my trainer Mark began to turn up the volume of the radio to the funky “do-doo-duh, do-doo-duh,” of Bruno Mars. We had been waiting the whole ride to hear Uptown Funk, and as our feet hit the asphalt, the locals watched us start a dance party.

The NST 95A team, from left to right: MJLefty, (me) John Lennon, Meerhart, Wild Sunflower, Chincsilla, and Froglegs

The NST 95A team, from left to right: MJLefty, (me) John Lennon, Meerhart, Wild Sunflower, Chincsilla, and Froglegs

In this moment, with the eyes of camo-clad, work-boot-wearers observing our sunburnt bodies and grubby clothes, I felt like myself again. Smoother than a fresh jar of skippy. We were eight days into an Outward Bound staff training on the Oklawaha River in central Florida. We paddled long days, stayed up late, did workshops in boats and on shore sitting on five-gallon buckets. We led games and lessons, student behavior simulations, and gave each other constructive feedback every night. It was intense! Hot Damn. So, with a deep breath and Bruno blaring, Reiley, Lila, Ericka, Csilla and I busted moves all over that oil stained pavement.
There were so many reasons to be happy. I learned about a million new skills and lessons from the Outward Bound world, met new friends, and took on new physical and mental challenges. I spent ten days working in a canoe, for pete sake! The trip was no vacation, either. Along with the physical challenges of sleep deprivation and pooping in a bucket, learning new things can welcome a host of self-doubts. A few of the popular ones for me: What on earth did I just get myself into? How am I supposed to know all this? Will I ever feel good about this? The music was a well timed reminder to forget about myself for a while and dance my butt off.
Patrea Hansen-Adamidis is an Art Therapist and a contributor to tiny buddha.com. She writes about these inner questions like a little gremlin uprising. If we let the gremlins take over, we can be sapped of our creative energy. You can find one of here articles here: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-steps-to-deal-with-self-doubt-and-trust-your-self-again/. For some reason, when taking in all these new skills, my inner gremlins told me that I need to change. If Outward Bound instructors know how to do this stuff and I don’t, I have to work hard to become someone worthy of this job. Trying to process and implement this new information, I forgot something important: Outward Bound already hired me. I already had the creative energy to do the job, I just had a few skills to learn.
Photos courtesy of Reily Kennedy

Photos courtesy of Reily Kennedy

Without even realizing, I was overcome with ways to feel disappointed about the stuff that I hadn’t yet learned how to do. What I missed was the motivation that comes with an opportunity to expand my ability to use the ways in which I am already gifted. Sure enough, I couldn’t help it once I let my guard down in the gas station parking lot that day. We laughed and let it loose, and something inside me simply shook it’s groove thang at those gremlins as if to say, “Don’t believe me? Just watch.”

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/112360147″>Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/crilleforsberg”>Crille Forsberg</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>