Class of '41
January 2002

Class Letter by Guest [not ghost] Writer, Bob Esbjornson

I have chosen to do what I enjoy best, writing wisdom and wit, even if no one else gets the point.  Be alert for hidden ironies.

The opinions expressed in this editorial do not present the views, either of our esteemed class agent or college president, so if you have any complaints or questions, address them to me.  My email address is:  esbj@gac.edu.

I helped Marian Swanson Johnson contact classmates at the October Phonorama.  It's only the second time I've helped, so I realized it was high time to do so.  I joined callers from several classes in one of the banquet rooms on campus.  Randy Stuckey ’83 (Alumni Director) gave me instructions and a cell phone, and Marian gave me a list of names.  The buttons on the phone were so small that it was difficult for me to use it because of the condition of the fingers on my left hand, affected by the stroke I had in March, 2000.  The other conversations distracted me, so I asked Randy if I could call from my apartment where I could use my own phone.  I am glad I did, because it seemed more like calling friends to find out how they were and not just calling for contributions.  I don't have Marian's practiced skills in gathering and reporting, so the notes I took were too sketchy, and I reached too few of you.

The calls I had were interesting and informative.  One of my duties was to solicit commitments of support.  Some of you increased your annual gift, others gave the same, and some of you said you planned to give from your estate later.  There are other ways to helping the college, too, such as by encouraging students to choose Gustavus.  We ourselves have been the most persuasive evidenced by our devotion to Gustavus over the years, and still can be.

First Year of the Third Millenium a 911 year - big time.

We call 911 when something happens to us that we can't handle.  The help comes and usually something better occurs.  Such events change our lives in many ways, some of which are good surprises.  We can't go back to times as they were.  We feel less secure and more sober; but we also feel more sympathy for others who suffer.

An instance of a 911 experience was the Tornado of 1998, which changed Gustavus and St. Peter and has become a major event in our stories.  The destructive disaster resulted in losses‑for example, I lost my computer and all the information stored in it.

Because we had decisive leaders who took advantage of the resources available, Gustavus and the city have had consequences that were very beneficial.  The City has a beautiful new community center and library located on Gorman Park where the most damage happened.  St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church and St. Peter Missouri Lutheran Church have new and improved facilities to replace their churches destroyed by the tornado.

Gustavus has excellent new facilities, equipment and a restored campus and other rather amazing gains, when one thinks of all the facilities that were damaged or needed repairs even before the storm.

Both townsfolk and gownsfolk discovered that they live in communities, not just beautiful facilities.  People were drawn into cooperative and compassionate actions.  And the help that came from outside was astonishing to both the college and town.  This experience makes grumpy complaints out of date.  Thankfulness is in style‑always has been though not as evident in public ways.

The disasters of September out east, were a 911 experience, Big Time, that shocked this nation and all people who lost some of their citizens in that traumatic experience.  The experience seems more real, because of our experiences in St. Peter.  I discerned the same pattern of responses in New York City.

A psychologist, interviewed on a TV program, commented on how long it takes to recover from a traumatic experience‑not just days, not just months but about three years.  He was saying that, not only for New Yorkers, but for all of us.  We should keep this in mind.  This opinion, supported by research, makes credible the policy of Lutheran Disaster Relief to have counseling available for two years.  The St. Peter office was closed sometime in 2000.

911 Experiences in Our Personal Lives

My mentor-friend, Pastor Eric Gustavson, Sr ’33, who is ten years older than I, fore-warned me some years ago that there is a change during our 80s to a less active and able living style than in our early retirement years.

Eric was right, at least about most of us.  I gathered enough information to discover that, in addition to our long-standing relationship to Gustavus and to one another, we have experiences of loss and challenges common to people at our age.  Some of these losses are traumatic enough to see them as 911 experiences in our personal lives; especially those we did not expect, did not want and found it hard to cope with; experiences, however, that often are the prelude to good changes in our attitudes, words and actions.

·        How to respond to diminished energy in a healthy way, rather than becoming a "couch potato."

·        How to interpret and cope with forgetfulness about where we put things, names of people, sometimes appointments we have

·        Adjusting to our need to use canes for loss of mobility (I thought I would never need a bathroom with those bars and a higher "throne;" now I'm glad to live where I have them!)

·        Adjusting to roles as caregiver of a husband or wife, or partner or child, as well as of ourselves.

·        Deciding when it is time to move to more suitable places to live‑‑selling one's home; moving to a less daunting climate; or to a congregate living place for seniors, who can still be independent in an apartment and have meals and other services; or to an assisted living place when one needs some help with medications, etc.

·        How react to and deal with aches and pains in various parts of one's body, instead of giving in to them

·        Getting on with such limits as hearing loss, vision problems, blood pressure, or diabetes

·        Dealing with clutter stored in basements, garages, closets or attics

·        Deciding how far one should withdraw from activities that take too much time and energy

·        Giving up or reducing travelling, driving at night, etc.

·        Coping with loss of someone dear to us, especially if the loss was unexpected

·        Responding to the report from medics that we are in our final days and are beginning to die

In brief, it is our fate to be mortal beings ever losing and at last dying.

We share another fate:  we are moral beings.

There is no escape from the basic moral decision.  What could we and what should we do now that we have experienced the losses that come at this late time of our lives?  We can and do choose how to think about our fates.  We can choose to get up each day rather than curling up in bed, and this means we choose to live, not die.  As long as we have our wits we can choose between being grateful or grumpy, choose to love rather than exploit others, choose to seek guidance about how to love wisely rather than foolishly and cope with depression.  It helps to laugh a lot, especially at ourselves.  Maybe we are one of God's jokes, rather than his latest invention.  A sense of humor goes a long way, as Eric has shown‑even gross stuff, raunchy stuff, subtle, ironic stuff, even stupid jokes are better than none and better tell them than to hide them.

I believe there is a lot of wisdom among us, which we could and do share.  We do so when we tell the good news about our families and ourselves.  Doing this is not just a matter of ego, though it may seem so.  Madeleine L'Engle thinks it has to do with faith that our lives have meaning.  Telling our stories is a way to share what we have learned, not to brag.

However, not all of our experiences are happy ones.  It seems that, as we age, more bad things happen than good.  We lose our mates and friends when they die.  When we sell our homes we lose the familiar and treasured settings.  When we retire we lose careers meaningful to us.  As our strength and mobility decline, we cannot be as active as we once were.  Then comes the time when it is better to die than to keep on living in pain and at great cost to others.

We are less inclined to tell about the bad things, but I believe we can and should.  They are part of our life experience, too, and much wisdom comes from them for us and for others.

What we choose to make of fate is a matter of faith, faith as trust that we can make it through.  That it is better to go through the experience with the confidence that when we do, something better than we can imagine will come of it.

Sometimes the good things that happen to us are as absurd as the bad things.  Something happens that we did not plan and expect and probably did not deserve. We can explain this as the luck of the draw, seeing it as blind, random chance, or by believing we are especially deserving or chosen by God. Doing so is a decision of faith.

On the other hand we can regard it as providential, but how do we know it is so.  That belief is also a matter of faith.  I think the second explanation is more interesting and accounts better for the mysteriousness at the core of our experiences.  Grace is absurd from the standpoint of chance, and astonishing from the standpoint of faith, not a consequence of our wisdom or goodness.

Faith prompts us to see possibilities in fates we did not expect or want.  Instead of gloating or crying, we can choose to create something.

These events would not appear as providential if we are not aware, alert and active enough to respond.  Living by a meditative and prayerful lifestyle can become a habit that enables us to recognize doors through walls where, at first glance, we saw only walls.

A poem by Frederick Morgan expresses a provocative view of how God is involved in our lives.

Although he deals hard blows and gives great boons,

God does not wish to punish or reward us

as though he sat with answers in his hand

waiting to mark us either sheep or goat.

It's not so simple.  Somehow he's mixed up

in all this with us; cares, participates,

while holding all the while his ancient realm

that goes beyond our knowledge now.  This, though,

we may share with him, if we let ourselves,

as he shares our flesh when we deeply know.

Yes ‑ what befalls us here is part of him.

And what we make of it part as well.

And through this painful sharing, which is love,

He works within us to establish meaning.

[quoted by Rev. Glover B. Wagner in Pilgrim Pace, the newsletter of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Bozeman, Montana, Dec. 31, 1998]

An Afterthought

Gustavus has changed in many ways.  It is not the college we knew when we were students  "It ain't like it was in the good old days."  Those days were good in some ways, but not in others.  We tend to think of them as good, because they are familiar.  Times have changed, especially in the last 40 years or so.  A college that does not adapt to those changes could become isolated behind the closed gated and walled communities of faith.  Gustavus has chosen to change.  Many, but not all of them, are that great, but some characteristics are persisting, because they are aspects of the fundamental identity of the college.  Some are not, because they are not so.  I think we should be alert, so we aren't captivated either by nostalgia, or by careless acceptance of whatever is new.

This is a topic for another time, so at last I have finished.

Now for some news from the campus:

Campus News

Hi!  My name is Tracey Hanson.  I’m a senior, double majoring in Communication Studies and Business Management.  I’ve worked in the Alumni Office all four years and can hardly believe that I’m in the middle of my last J-Term!  After a longer-than-usual Christmas break, it’s great to be back on campus.  Instead of taking a class (and doing homework) this J-Term, I’m spending my time slaving away in the Alumni Office.  It’s great to have the extra time to relax and do other activities that J-Term allows.  Having unlimited time at home each night has made for some great cooking!  And getting to watch “Friends” without worrying about the homework you should be doing instead is also a plus! 

The campus is full of life and excitement.  The theme for J-Term 2002 is "Our Global Village," and the month will be a celebration of cultural diversity as we grapple with social, political, economic and philosophical aspects of our ever-shrinking world neighborhood.  Faculty are offering 29 different classes that tie into this global theme, many of which are travel courses.  Examples include Islam and Culture, and Chinese Cooking and Culture.  This year, 2319 students are enrolled in J-Term courses, with many studying abroad, participating in internships, student teaching or studying at other domestic institutions.  I get very jealous when I read e-mails from my roommates who are studying in warm, sunny Australia.  J-Term themes for the coming years include “Service-Learning” (2003) and “Undergraduate Research.” (2004).

Winter athletics are also in full swing!  Gustie teams are off to a great start and all are near the top in the MIAC.

Gustie music ensembles are also very busy.  The Gustavus Band will embark on an international tour this J-Term.  The band is touring Sweden and Norway, presenting “Music from America.”  The tour dates are January 16 through February 10.  The tour concludes with a homecoming performance at 4 p.m. Feb. 10 in Christ Chapel.  The Gustavus Choir is busy preparing for their tour of the Midwest during Touring Week in February, concluding with their home concert Feb. 16 in Christ Chapel.  The Gustavus Orchestra will tour Minnesota, the Dakotas, Colorado, Kansas and Iowa.

You are invited and encouraged to attend these upcoming alumni events:

February 2      Chicago Chapter event - 6:00 p.m. dinner, 7:30 p.m.

Gustavus Choir Concert

                        Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, 815 S. Washington St., Naperville, IL

February 16    Naples Chapter event - Naples Beach Club

                        851 Gulf Shore Boulevard, Naples

                        11:30 a.m. social, 12:30 p.m. luncheon

February 17    Vero Beach Chapter event - Dawn (Ekstrom ’67) and Ted Michael residence

                        2506 Ocean Drive, Vero Beach

                        12:30 p.m. social, 1:30 p.m. luncheon

March 7          San Diego Chapter event

March 8          Tucson Chapter gathering

March 9          Phoenix Chapter gathering

March 10        Sun City Chapter gathering

More information will be sent to alumni and friends in these chapter areas.

RSVP to Alumni Office at 800-487-8437 or e-mail alumni@gustavus.edu.

As I prepare to graduate in June, I find it increasingly hard to think about leaving this place.  It hardly seems possible that four years have flown by, and that in six months I, too, will be considered an alum.  I will always carry with me fond memories of my four years here.  GO GUSTIES!!!