It is so easy to run the lives of others rather than our own

Let’s go back to the coffee shop on a sunny Arizona morning for today’s life lesson.

I am sitting alone so I can’t get into much trouble gossiping about my neighbors. But at that table over there, two people are going through a litany of friends and bad-mouthing each and every one. The people at the table right next to me are doing the same thing. They are all talking in voices I don’t have to strain to hear. The people at both tables are theorizing about what Tom, Dick and Julie should be doing, ought to do and things they “just need to realize.”

They all seem to have just the right answers about what their friends, families and acquaintances ought to do with their lives. It doesn’t matter a whit that the gossipers own lives are probably train wrecks, but by God they know what someone else ought to do. They seem to have the special rule book that tells them all the “right ” things other people should do. They know that even if they really don’t understand their “friends” real circumstances.

I am certainly guilty of the same behavior. It is always very clear to me how someone else ought to run their lives. On my good days I shut my mouth. On bad days, I tell someone else how and what that other person should do.

We all frequently attempt to direct other people’s live from afar, but we feel remarkably different when we hear that other people are second-guessing our decisions and our behavior. We get huffy and angry. “How dare they presume to know all the things I struggle with and carry. How dare they assume they have a guidebook to behavior that I don’t.” I can work myself into a perfect snit over other people’s audacity and cheekiness, all the while forgetting that I do it to other people all the time.

As I have written in this space so many times, our journey is our own. Only we know what makes sense for us. Only we know where our heart takes us and where it’s been. It is impertinent and maddening when other people judge our journey with an implied arrogance that they know best.

But every time I find myself in high dudgeon over those people who think they could run my life better than I can, I try to remind myself that I own that sin too. I judge them too. Until we walk other people’s journey in their shoes we don’t know squat about what they are going through or what their best decision might be.

We would all be best off if we remember the lyrics of an old Hank Williams tune: “Cause if you mind your business, then you won’t be mindin’ mine.”

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

My “take-back” machine fantasy would be a winner but reality is tougher

I spent a good part of an airplane flight this weekend tinkering in my head with a fantastic idea for an invention that would revolutionize human behavior. I tried to develop the “take-back” machine.

My fool proof concept would allow us all to take back the stupid, inconsiderate, mean things we say. You know, the ones we regret the minute they pass our lips. The ones that hurt and do damage to the last people we want to hurt. We all do it. Our demons grab our tongues, we lash out and then spend the next minutes, hours, days and even years regretting what we said. The “take back”  machine would allow us to take back those things and act as if they were never said.

Now, I can’t claim my idea is original. This weekend, for the second time, I watched a 2013 movie called About Time. It’s about a young man, who at age 21 finds out the males in his family can repeat time. If the young man, Tim, botches a date or hurts someone or wants to avoid a terrible event, he simply backs up time and gets a “do-over.”

The concept of  “do-overs” in our life is so delicious, so alluring and such a giant problem solver that I decided that super-fix should not be allocated to one person or one family. My “take-back’ machine would be universal and available to all of us who have very big feet and even bigger mouths to stick our foot into.

But “do-overs” and “take-back” machines are fantasies. We don’t get second chances. Life is to be lived once with all our pearls and lovely statements and our foolish, mean-spirited attacks. We really don’t need do-overs if we have three things.

1.Forgiveness. We are all human. There is not a perfect person among us. We will all screw up and say stupid, ill-considered things. We need to forgive those who say things like that and we need to seek forgiveness for our mess-ups.

2.Lessons. We need to learn from the bad, ill-tempered things we say. If we find ourselves saying something that cuts someone to the quick we need to learn that comment hurts and vow never to say that sort of thing again. If we do say it again and even again, we need to go back to number one and seek forgiveness and figure out why we are so ugly.

3.Reconciliation. I had a Facebook conversation last week with someone from my past who wrote from the heart about reconciliation in his life. It made a mighty impression on me. Letting old hurts and contempt fester, damages our soul and leaves us the loser. Reconciliation and reconnecting to people we have hurt or who have hurt us is the only route. And, reconciliation doesn’t have to wait years, it should wait minutes.

Do-overs would be nice, but being more considerate, opting for forgiveness and reconciliation, and learning from our mistakes are really the only options available for mortals like us.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

My late wife’s birthday represents more forks in the road

Jean Fannin McGuire would have celebrated her 68th birthday tomorrow, April 24, had she not passed last summer.

I am not predicting the day will be easy. It represents several forks in the road for our family and forks mean choices that have to be faced.

My daughter, Tracy, will have the toughest road because her mother and her husband, Ben, celebrated the same birthday. Tracy would have been very tempted to be sad all day, but that’s not really an option when she must celebrate with her wonderful husband. I predict she will pay tribute to her Mother, cry a little and move on to Ben’s big day.  That is the way life is supposed to work.

I face some important forks too. I can choose to celebrate the 39 very happy Jean birthdays I spent with her during our engagement and marriage. I can remember the romantic surprise getaways to hotels, the elaborate presents of fine jewelry and her favorite gift which I gave her frequently the last several years–High Tea at one of the two or three fine restaurants in Phoenix which offered them. An anglophile at heart, Jean had High Tea in the finest places in London and simply adored the fussiness of it all.

Or, I could take another fork in the road and remember her last birthday when she desperately wanted to go for High Tea and simply was not strong enough. If I remember that one I am going to cry as I am right now. I was so damn sad because Jean was broken-hearted that she could not muster the strength to go. She really tried to keep that reservation I had made, but it was just too difficult. In desperation I made another reservation for our May 10 anniversary, but she was even weaker for that one. I have been more than a little obsessed by my failure to get Jean to one last High Tea.

There is a nagging temptation to collapse in grief over the anniversary of Jean’s birth, but that just does not fit where I want to be these days. I work very hard to celebrate Jean and not mourn her. She was a wonderful gift in my life and I try every day to thank God for that gift and appreciate what we had. That is really important to me because I am building an exciting and happy new life with someone and that too is a remarkable gift.

Anniversaries, birthdays and other key memories are vital milestones that allow us to remember, appreciate and celebrate what we once had. But that’s the key. I ONCE had a great life with Jean but, sadly those days are gone. I must not wallow. I must not languish in the barrel of grief because of an anniversary. I need to simply pay tribute to my wonderful life with a great woman.

I must turn toward tomorrow. Jean would clobber me if I didn’t live life to its fullest. She believed with all her heart in the lyrics of
Turn, Turn, Turn which we sang at her funeral.

To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die.
A time to plant, a time to reap.
A time to kill, a time to heal.
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

I will always make time to weep for Jean, but it’s time to laugh and love again too. Happy Birthday sweet Jean.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

One Starfish at a time is sometimes the right path

Last week I did a speech about the importance of scholarships at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University. I closed the short speech with a story I heard years ago at a United Way motivational meeting. The version I told went like this:

I often worry that my scholarship isn’t big enough to help all the students I would like to help.

But then I am reminded of the story of the man walking along the beach. In the far distance he is mystified by a man who is repeatedly throwing something back into the sea.

As he approached, the man realized the guy was throwing Starfish who had been beached on the sand, back into the ocean.

“What in God’s name are you doing man? There are millions of Starfish up here. You can’t possibly save them all.”

As the guy reached down for another Starfish he said, “No, I can’t, but for this Starfish, I am making all the difference.”

A prominent man came up after the speech and asked me where it came from. A little Wikipedia research indicated The Star Thrower” (or starfish story”) is part of a 16-page essay of the same name by Loren Eisley (1907–1977), published in 1969 in The Unexpected Universe.

I have probably used that story in speeches more than 100 times in the 20 or so years since I heard it, yet it has haunted me for the last week. It carries such a wonderful, powerful message. So many of us get discouraged when we can’t fix all the problems right now. We can feel so inadequate in the face of our personal problems, much less the challenges that confront the country and the world. Yet one act of kindness, one meaningful conversation, one mentor-ship or 10 bucks might change the course of events for someone.

One day last week a delightfully sincere student approached me to thank me for an unconventional class lecture I delivered. I had worried a lot about that lecture. I had chosen to deliver the lecture even though I knew many students might not find a lot of meaning in it.

After the kind student’s remarks I realized once again that you are never going to please all the people all the time. But in this case I profoundly affected that student and I am just fine with that. Sometimes deeply touching one person is better than having minimal impact on the many.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance


Human connection and love is what we need to be addicted to

I read an immensely powerful and provocative story this weekend that has me thinking about our journey.

The story attempts to debunk the long-held belief that the drug causes addiction. It has always been a bit of a no-brainer that heroin, cocaine and alcohol cause us to become addicted. I have always subscribed to the theory that some people have the “gene” and some don’t. This story takes a totally different approach and argues that human isolation is the real issue. The argument seems logical and the research seems convincing. The author, Johann Hari, who has written the book,  Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs writes, “Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find –the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.” The writer draws this conclusion: “So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

That strikes me as nothing short of profound and sets down an extraordinary challenge for all of us. If addiction comes from loneliness and isolation then certainly the addicted person owns some of that. As a friend of mine says, “It’s an inside job.”

Yet, I am taken by our fundamental obligation to love people fiercely and with joy. I have become preoccupied lately with that overpowering sense that I need to love people openly and with abandon.

It is only in the last couple of years that I have become willing to tell male friends that I love them. And, I notice that the expression of affection is more often greeted with enthusiasm and a return of the emotion these days.

As the “me” culture seems to become more rampant, selfishness tends to overwhelm us. It strikes me as logical that selfishness leads to isolation for others in or around our lives. If we are all focused on ourselves that leaves little time and space for embracing the lonely and isolated.

I find brief but important connections can be made with a joke and friendliness in the coffee shop, the grocery story and even on walks around campus. It is naive to think that each connection we make can save someone from addiction. However, a habit of friendly connection strengthens the human bonds between people and just might make other addictive “bonds” superfluous.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance