Gratitude for one day is not enough, let’s stop taking stuff for granted

So many millions of Americans will gather for a huge dinner Thursday and practically all will profess that they are thankful for all that they have.

And yet, we are reading every week just how angry Americans are. Americans are angry at government and the economy and it is obvious that we are pretty angry at each other.

Relax, this is not a political post. It’s not even a traditional Thanksgiving gratitude post. I am full of gratitude this Thanksgiving for my new wife, my fantastic children and happy, active grandchildren and despite my aches and pains, my health is pretty darn good.

But my reading and reflection recently forced me to think about all that I take for granted.

I have read a several important World War II books recently such as Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson and 1944 by Jay Winik. Guns at Last Light taught me how much I have taken for granted about the courage of my Dad’s generation. So many young men from so many countries suffered pain, starvation and death and most of us just take it for granted. We don’t genuinely bleed for their suffering or even put it in perspective. Our world would be dramatically different if the world’s leaders had not marched so many young men people to their death, so many of them might have attained greatness.

The book 1944 is a difficult, emotional read that taught me more about the Holocaust than I have ever known. It becomes clear after reading that book that our ancestors’ treatment of Jews, Japanese and even German-Americans was despicable. As the hate, vitriol and prejudice swirls around Muslims and the American political campaign, I bow my head in shame because we have been here before. And those of us with German, Japanese,or Jewish heritage should take absolutely nothing for granted. We won a cruel lottery.

The other day, a good and valued friend who has brightened my life beyond measure, told me his cancer is terminal. On Thanksgiving one of the happiest and strongest men I know will have little to take for granted. I need to stop taking my life for granted too. Every day is an amazing gift and I have to give deep, personal thought to how I want to spend the days left in my bank.

Last week, a regular showed up at our daily coffee klatch. The man is what my wife would call an “Eyore.” He is not an effusive or positive guy, to say the least. When he displayed his typical forlorn nature another fellow said “Things tough at home?” Our friend Eyore brightened up and said something like “things at home are great, but work sucks.” As he griped about work, I interjected, “but things at home are great, right, let’s celebrate!” He stopped griping, looked at me long and straight and simply said, “Thank you.”

True gratitude doesn’t assume anything. It takes nothing for granted. The universe, or karma or God owes us nothing. Every morsel, every dime, every friend, every loved one we have is a pure gift. We are owed nothing. Do be thankful Thursday when you are celebrating with family and friends, but take nothing for granted. Celebrate everything you have and for heaven’s sake, stop being so angry. If you are in America, you are pretty darned lucky.

Second-guessing past actions is silly because you are someone new

It was a joyful, peaceful Sunday. My new wife, Candace and I were enjoying brunch, reflecting on  the Catholic mass we had just attended and on our week. I candidly confessed that All Souls Day in early November had prompted me to reflect considerably about my late wife Jean. Candace, a bit surprised at the parallel, replied that she too had been reflecting the last week on her late husband David.

As we talked, we realized that it would probably be an error to call our thoughts grief. Our grief has matured, if you will, into melancholy, a sense of loss and definitely sweet appreciation.

I then wistfully confessed that many of my thoughts centered on second-guessing how I handled Jean’s illness and death. Like many widows and widowers I have talked to, I worry about things I should have said, comfort I could have offered and kindnesses I wish I would have extended. As I expressed my regrets Candace gently offered her wisdom. “You did your best with what you had. You loved Jean in the very best way you could and that’s all she could have asked of you and I know that’s all David asked of me. We did our best.”

As I rolled Candace’s comforting words around in my mind, I experienced my own flash of understanding for which I am incredibly grateful. It is actually quite silly for me to second-guess because I am quite a different person from the one who attempted to comfort Jean and hold her hand as she faced death. Her valiant outlook on life, her acceptance of imminent death and the crushing reality of grief changed me in fundamental ways. Comforting my children, and receiving their comfort altered me too. So did the journey of finding new love with Candace. I realize my grief counselor’s incredibly wise advice to “tend the garden of grief over Jean and the garden of new love with Candace” transformed me in fundamental ways.

As I ate my frittata I realized how fruitless it is to wish I would have acted differently 16 months ago when I am a new person complete with fresh bumps, bruises and new revelations. If we are growing in understanding and appreciation we simply cannot rationally assess what that other guy in our past should have or could have done.

Candace is correct. We did our best. My love for Jean, her illness, her death, my grief and my laugh-filled journey to an exciting new love with Candace are now part of my odyssey. If I pay attention, they can be great teachers for the next part of my adventure.

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

I still don’t like cats but the journey with Clawd and Clementine teaches me a lot

My Dad hated cats. My early love of boxing and my life-long dislike of cats was clearly learned behavior at my Dad’s knee.

When my daughter married a man with a cat I was horrified. Things failed to improve when I met said cat and his successor cat. My dislike for the species catus is legendary. On my late wife’s deathbed she overheard a hospice worker ask me if we had any pets. When I replied “Hell no, I hate pets,” my sarcastic-to-the-end wife told my daughter, “There is no way he can divorce me now, let’s talk cat.” Actually, Jean had never been that anxious for a cat, but the line was funny and demonstrates how much my dislike of cats is rooted in my family’s culture.

The astute among you have more than an inkling of where this is going. Late last year a woman I had been friends with at the Minneapolis Star Tribune contacted me to offer sympathy upon my wife’s death. We had been good work friends in Minneapolis, but not such good friends that I knew she was a cat person.

As we rekindled our friendship and that friendship showed the potential of something much more, Candace  made it clear she had two cats. She credited the cats with getting her through her own grief when her husband, David, died late in 2011. It was abundantly clear that if the relationship had any future at all, the cats were going to be a part of that future. To this moment, the thing that impresses my daughter Tracy the most about my marriage to Candace Hadley McGuire is that the cats were not a deal breaker.

Now, this is a real-life story and not a fairy tale, so I am not going to come before you to testify I fell madly in love with Clawd and Clementine. I still don’t really like them and I get terribly antsy when they jump up on my bed. In my heart of hearts, I believe they are plotting against me. And yet, I have developed a genuine appreciation for the two felines and for Candace’s love for them.

I swear the cats often seem to talk to Candace and she talks back! A year ago I would have scoffed mightily at the notion that the three of them communicate in any way. Now I am not so sure.

The other day I grabbed for a tie on a tie hanger in our closet and I dropped it. As I reached for the tie on the floor I grabbed some cat. After my record leap in the air I realized I had discovered Clementine’ top-secret hiding place that neither I, nor Candace, knew about. Cut to a day later when Clementine was whining incessantly to Candace. Candace was almost at her wit’s end when she followed the cat into our bedroom and realized that the closet door to Clementine’s secret hiding place was closed. Candace opened it and all was well. That impresses the heck out of someone who has always believed cats were incapable of communication.

Clementine does not seem well and that has made Candace very sad because she believes she is about to lose her long-time companion and savior. And anything that makes my lovely new wife sad, makes me sad. A year ago I would have been sympathetic but not very empathetic. That has changed.

Don’t hold your breath for me to become a cat lover, but by opening my mind and watching the incredible bond between two cats and an extremely intelligent woman I think I finally get it. After a lifetime of closing my mind, I understand that it just might be possible that the creatures really do relate to humans on a deep and important level that demands respect and even a little awe.

My tolerance and respect for cats is growing, but I still wish they’d stay off my bed!

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