Coming Home to Roost
Kierkegaard, Mt. Lebanon, Dancing, and My Family

There is an old saying about “chickens have come home to roost.” That statement often dealt with troubling things seem to always “come home to roost.” There is validity to that saying.

The chickens came home to roost.

Nevertheless, things coming home to roost isn’t always negative. This essay is about the positive aspect of that old adage. It relates to a philosophy class that I took in my senior year at Muskingum College. That class was a collegiate version of writing your thesis in graduate school. The assignment was to pick a philosopher and write an in depth paper on your choice of a great thinker. It was easier to decide who which philosopher than to fully grasp that philosopher’s mindset.

My choice was Søren Aabye Kierkegaard who was often called the Dismal Dane or the Fork. Some dissed him for what they saw as a somewhat a gloomy writer. The other nickname was due to his philosophical predisposition to stick a verbal folk into what he thought were ne'er-do-wells, like the Lutheran State Church of Denmark.

Søren Kierkegaard

Some modern theologians consider Kierkegaard to be the Father of Existentialism. He influenced theologians like Karl Barth, Martin Buber, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. His influence also extended into famous writers like Franz Kafka, J.D. Salinger, and W. H. Auden.

Kierkegaard was philosophical idol of mine over a half century ago. However, my mind and interests continued to develop without much dwelling on Kierkegaard. Only occasionally would recall things that he wrote even though I was essentially an existentialist. This poster represents me.

Essentially, this is existentialism.

During my journey down the yellow brick road of my life, there have been three pivotal or axial moments that radically changed me. The first axial moment was when my father got a promotion in an insurance company in Philadelphia. He worked hard at work and became a vice president. However, that meant that he had to move to the corporate office in Pittsburgh. We moved from Pennsauken, NJ to Mt. Lebanon, PA, which was suburb Pittsburgh.

I was about to enter sixth grade. I was an above average student in a nice school system and a pleasant middleclass town. However, we moved into Mt. Lebanon, which was the 19th best school system in America. My father couldn’t go to college due to WWII, but he wanted to prepare his children for college. The town was also the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania.

My dad sacrificed a great deal for his children. However, the adjustment to Mt. Lebanon was difficult for me. I learned two things: I was dumb and poor. It took me several decades to realize that in the real world that I was neither dumb or poor. In fact, the feeling of being inadequate intellectually and financially motivated me work harder. The result was that what was a curse turned out to be a blessing.

The second axial moment was that I danced with death twice in 2008. I had prostate cancer that had metastasized outside the prostate. In that same year, I fell off a ladder and had a subdural hematoma better known as a traumatic brain injury. I spent four weeks in ICU and three weeks in a rehab hospital. The neurosurgeon told my family that I had a 50/50 of making it through the surgery.

Both dances were problematic, and I wouldn’t want to go through either experience again. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t delete either from my life. Dancing with death taught me that I was finite. Before either dance, I knew that I wouldn’t live forever. However, doing two dances moved my not being immortal from an intellectual concept to something that I felt in my gut. Again, what initially seemed like a curse became a blessing.

My third axial moment was my discovering my family in Myanmar. I met them on my first trip to Myanmar nearly seven years ago. I returned about three years ago and again during winter break from teaching almost a year ago.

Moh Moh was my tour guide on my first trip, and Ko Ko, her husband, was my tour guide on my second trip. On my third trip, we toured as a family to some of the places that I had been before and to places I had no idea even existed.

Ti Ti was nine when we first met. Snow and Fatty were four and two at the time. My granddaughters have really grown up a great deal.

In the fifty-five years since that class at Muskingum, I continued my education, had a family, traveled all over the world, and taught and attended school overseas. Now, I am in my twilight years. The pieces of my life are coming together, and the chicken have come home to roost.

In addition, a couple years ago, a former colleague with whom I worked in my early adult life happened upon my webpage. We have reconnected and talk over the phone nearly every Saturday afternoon. She is partly like Carl Rogers and has a Rogerian way about her. I’ll rattle on and on about my hauntings. My hauntings are not ghouls or ghosts, but things that I wish to fully grasp or understand. Often, she will merely say, “And how do you feel about that?”

There are times also that my friend also acts as a foil, which allows me to try out ideas. I want her to say, “Yes, but….” I like being forced to explain something about which I might not have fully grasped. I appreciate that duality of her being passive and assertive. I trust either of her techniques with me.

My friend has heard and reheard the confluence of my feelings about Mt. Lebanon, my two dances, and my family in Myanmar. As I attempt to process those three moments in my life, my former colleague has done what I have wanted her to do. She challenges what floats around in my head. We debate, argue, and question both what I say and what she disputes. A week ago, her closing comment was that I am always trying to validate empirically my mindset. My retort was that it allows me to process my life. We ended the call with two positions what were different.

Yesterday, I got a postcard from my colleague and friend. This is one of her methods of adding to our weekly chats. Kierkegaard came home to roost. She quoted the Dismal Dane, which he wrote in the early 19th century. It was his way of saying what I was trying to put into words.

What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.

I had several weeks before argued with some guy that thought that I was wrong and believed that I needed to change my Weltanschauung or world view. The next time that I run into this person, I’ll tell him that Kierkegaard and I disagree with his premises. Therefore, therefore his conclusion is erroneous. This guy won’t even know who Kierkegaard was. Nonetheless, I know Kierkegaard, and he has come home to roost, which gives me a sense of achievement. I will be true to me.