All posts by Art Martens

Mentoring More Important than Winning

Letter to the Editor

The boys basketball tournament at Robert Bateman Secondary demonstrated how skilled and competitive boys and coaches are at that level. With only one exception, I was impressed with the attitude of players and coaches. The one exception was a coach who, in the opinion of many spectators, appeared to be more intent on winning than on developing his players.

Early in the game his team was ahead by 6 points and he called a time out to scold them. Throughout the game he was loud and disrespectful in his instructions and comments to his team. Unfortunately, his thinking and attitude were reflected in rough play by the team.

I have long believed coaching young players in any sport is an opportunity to prepare them for adult life. They are developing attitudes and values they will rely on in adversity and also in success. Sports can teach discipline, commitment, respect for others, staying strong in times of disappointment, and much more.

I mentioned the negative approach of this coach to a longtime, highly successful coach of Abbotsford softball teams. He told me that at the beginning of each year he had a chat with the parents of his players. His primary message to them was “ don’t be critical when players make a mistake. They are young. Encourage them.” His teams won numerous medals. This coach wanted to help his players develop a sound foundation for all of life.

My grandson played in the basket ball tournament this weekend. I am pleased that his coach is an encourager. At his age, positive mentoring is more important than winning.

 

 

 

 

Committed Citizens Create A Vibrant Community

In mid-December, approximately a dozen highly committed members of the Hedley Senior Center worked feverishly to create a successful potluck experience for some 80 attendees. Very likely, similar events took place in other communities. And almost certainly, the number of guests far exceeded the number of those who organized the event and served. After the Hedley potluck, a member of the Senior Center said to me, “We’re getting old. We need younger bodies.”

Most small communities are kept alive by giving, participating citizens. For a community to be vibrant, it needs the ideas, energy, and skills of many people.

Having been active in volunteering roles most of my adult life, I know that when we give our time and talents to society, we will almost certainly derive unexpected benefits. We gain new skills and experiences. We meet other active people. My wife and I have gained close friends through volunteering. And the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from giving far exceeds any monetary value.

Community organizations can only survive and thrive if people participate. If everyone does something, no one needs to do it all. And by making a contribution now, we will pass on to our children a more interesting, compassionate and cohesive community.

A decision to volunteer would make a worthy New Years Resolution.

Words To My Dying Father

When I went in to see Dad Tuesday evening, I could not be sure he knew who I was.  He simply looked at me without expression in his eyes or on his face.  He didn’t speak.  My attempts to engage him in conversation were fruitless.  He drifted in and out of sleep several times.

After watching him sleep for about an hour, I decided to talk to him, in the hope that his subconscious might absorb something of my words.  In essence I said, “Dad, you have been a good Dad to me and to Vi and Linda.  You have been a wonderful example of how to live a good life, a life of integrity.  You have been a mentor to us and our children.  You have also been an example to our friends.” (I have many times repeated to him the positive comments made about him by my friends.)

“You have also been an example to your brothers and sisters.  I can tell that they have a tremendous respect for you.  What you have sought to accomplish with your life will be carried on, even though you can no longer do it yourself.  You have done your part.  Now it’s up to us to continue your work.”

When I ceased speaking I thought there was a flicker of a response in his expression, as though he was accepting what I had said.  I prayed audibly for him then, and again he seemed to acknowledge the prayer.

As I sat at his bedside that evening, I wondered if we would lose him that night.  His breathing was loud and he fairly regularly pretty much stopped breathing (I think this is called chain stoking).  It seemed that his life force had been spent and there was little left to sustain him.  I left when it seemed he had drifted off for the night.

Amazingly, Gail came in to an entirely different person the next morning.  He wanted to talk and recounted several incidents from his past.  He remembered having gone to a street corner in a rundown area of Vancouver to do music with Nick Klassen.  One of the songs they had sung there came to his mind and now he and Gail sang it.

At one point in their discussion, he asked “what does a man have left?”  He didn’t provide an explanation of the question, but I wondered if it indicated an awareness that the number of his days is dwindling.

In response to his question my mind went back to the morning when he went out to his machine feeling deeply disquieted by a longstanding misunderstanding between two men in the Mennonite church he attended.   They had not spoken to each other for some time.  Dad started his machine and let it warm up.

He had no peace,however, and so he shut it down and drove to the home of one of the men, in the hope of persuading him to seek a reconciliation.  When the man realized that Dad was willing to sacrifice to achieve a reconciliation, he agreed to go with him to find the other man.  That morning the problem between them was dealt with and they were again brothers.

Increasingly, I’m finding that I want people to know about Dad’s values and how they directed his thoughts and actions.  Having been positively impacted myself by his life, I feel a responsibility and desire to speak and write about how he has lived, in the hope that possibly others will benefit.

He said to me this week, “I want to carry on.”  It seems he still has reason to live and inspite of his hurting body and the dire predictions of the nurses, he is pressing on. His desire to live is giving a (limited) measure of strength to his body. He is sleeping a lot, but when he is awake he is alert and completely aware. Will he last until Christmas?

 

His Example Still Speaks

It is a fascinating experience and a privilege to watch my 95 year old father trending downwards. When I talk with my sisters, Vi and Linda, I realize that each of us is going through a precious and unique time with him. And each of us is increasingly impacted as we understand somewhat more completely who he is.

In his almost 6 years at Menno Hospital, we could say that he has a number of times teased the nurses and care aides, leading them to believe he was about to draw his last breath, and then reviving to virtually his former self. When he was in bed or in a Broda chair continuously for about two months, unable to speak above a whisper, he really was not expected to come back. But he did, and I can only conclude that his physical reserves have been quite extraordinary.

Now it seems that the battles of the last 5 years, including the prostate cancer and the various drugs, have depleted the reserves to a dangerous level. His PSA count is pretty much out of sight, his haemoglobin levels are low etc., his voice is again weak, he has little appetite, and he tires quickly.

Even so, he is still interested in the world around him, including American politics. Recently he asked me “What is Obama doing?” I need to pay more attention to what is happening on the other side of the 49th parallel so I can answer his questions.

He also asks about our families, especially our spouses. His frequent question to me is, “what is Linda doing today?”

Quite often when he appears very weary and is asked if he wants to go back to bed, he says, “I don’t know.” My sister Linda tried to sort out what he was thinking and he finally said, “I don’t want to waste my time.” This seems to suggest that he knows the number of days left to him is shrinking more rapidly than he would want.

On Sunday Vi brought her daughter Nicola and her boyfriend Adam to visit Dad. Adam, a PHd student in mathematics at UBC had not met Dad or the rest of the family before this. When we asked him about his studies, Dad became quite interested and asked a number of questions. It was evident he has not let go.

Yesterday he said to me, “what shall I do?” When I asked him what he had in mind he began talking about work. He thought he shouldn’t just be sitting in his bed. He should be accomplishing something. I reminded him of how hard he had worked as an equipment operator, the courses he had taken in night school, his involvement with his family and church. Then he said, “I guess it’s alright if I just sit here.”

Our friend Gail continues to do breakfast with him on week days. She has recently finished reading ”The Epicentre” to him, a book about the Middle East. It is pretty involved and requires some understanding of politics. He stayed with her mentally throughout the book.

Dad is used to being active and useful physically. He has always reached out to people, whether it was in his church, in the community, or until recently at Menno Hospital. The challenge for him now is to accept the fact that he can no longer make a difference in the lives of others.

I speak to him sometimes of the impact he has had, and still has, on the care aides. He has always shown an interest in them when they come into his room to wake him and get him ready for the day. Many times they have expressed their caring and respect for him when we talk with them.

I’ve been surprised at times when people at Menno Hospital who I don’t know address me by name and obviously know who I am. This includes both visitors and workers. I’ve come to understand that because everyone knows Jacob, many people also know me. Often complete strangers ask me how my Dad is doing.

Dad still says “I like to live.” He does not speak of dying, although recently he said to me “I miss Ann.” (my mom). I would like to know more of what is going on behind the scenes in his mind but I only get small snatches these days.

Much of the time he is uncomfortable physically, frequently he has pain in his back. It really is not a good time in the life of a once strong man who still wants to push onward,inspite of being totally dependent on others for every physical need.

I realize that in writing this, I’m attempting to more fully understand who my Dad has become. I’ve observed him as a father, as a skilled heavy equipment operator, as an active member of his church and community, and now as a man whose life is trending downward.

I really cannot adequately describe who he has become. I do know though that although his voice is very quiet, his example still speaks to those around him.

 

Homelessness Requires A Societal Vision

(This post was written when we were still living in Abbotsford, several years prior to our move to Hedley.)

Last week we were given one more reminder that we are not grappling seriously with a significant societal failing. Another homeless person has died on our streets.

I noted with interest that in The Abbotsford News (October 31,2009), the account of this most recent death was juxtaposed to a story about the three Plan A projects. Reading the two articles, I concluded that as a society we have learned a good deal about creating impressive structures, but relatively little about developing communities that enable all citizens to live productive lives.

This is not to in any way disparage the efforts of committed individuals, churches and other organizations providing shelter and various kinds of assistance to street people. I do feel, however, that we are doing little more than talking about the problem.

The well intentioned comments by some community leaders when Compassion Park was in the news several years ago, is an example of this. Our track record since then has been dismal. The same is true in Vancouver and throughout Canada.

As a society we have had a vision for building expensive structures for our pleasure. Where is our vision for dealing with a cancer that is endangering the safety of our citizens and the well-being of our entire nation?

My Friend John

For about 2 years I’ve been observing an 85 year old man at Menno Hospital where my father is a resident. This man, John, is not a resident but a visitor. He comes in at 10 am to spend time with his wife Teresa 7 days a week. The fact that Teresa has Alzheimers and does not recognize him seems not to deter him. “I still recognize her,” he told me. John feeds Teresa lunch and dinner, addressing her lovingly as “sweetie”.

When he was told to come in for a minor surgical procedure at the General Hospital, he said,”you’ll have to give me a different time, that is when I feed my wife.” At mealtimes he puts aprons on the other residents and has a cheery word for each one. Sometimes he comes to my Dad and gives him a quick back rub. Often I hear him whistling, as though to give expression to an inner delight.

Inspite of his age and some personal health challenges, John is absolutely and wonderfully committed to Teresa and to the other residents. When I see him leave sometime after 6 in the evening, I often notice that his feet seem a little heavier, and his expression is more serious. Even so, there is an aura about him that suggests he feels fulfilled at having once again lived up to his commitment to the woman he still loves deeply.

Observing John, I have decided that he has learned to live with a sense of abundance and joy. Without realizing it, he has become a mentor to myself and also to many of the workers at Menno Hospital.