Do the kind thing and don’t worry about gratitude

There is a meme running around Facebook that goes like this: “Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone and then find out how ungrateful they really are?”

I suppose it is a harmless expression of frustration, but it really bugs me. That’s really a self-destructive attitude and it’s mighty selfish. You did a nice thing and now you expect a parade? Good luck.

My late dad actually taught me that years ago. He would tell my mom and the kids, “do the nice thing but don’t sit around waiting for thank yous.” My dad wasn’t a great philosopher but every now and then he absolutely nailed it. When we get upset because somebody wasn’t grateful enough we give them control over our happiness and our goodness. And, your motive for being nice gets thrown into question too.

For me there is a tangible joy I get from doing the nice thing. Oh sure, I enjoy a hearty thank you and occasionally some recognition for the nice things I do, but I am working hard on not needing that. More and more I try to do silent acts of kindness.

Four or five times a week I have been buying coffee for the car behind me at the drive-thru Starbucks. Just because. It’s only a few bucks and I often jokingly tell the barista, “I need the good karma!” I make it a point not to linger or look back, to be sure I don’t do it for the acknowledgement.

It is nice when it comes. The other day I bought a $2.27 coffee for a guy. He apparently violated a speed limit or two because he caught up with me and hoisted his cup in a happy, appreciative, toast.

I thought little of it until I got to my office. I was a good 20 feet from the door when an exiting student stopped and held the door for me for several seconds. He went way out of his way to do the kind thing. Karma?

I didn’t know the young man. He had no duty to do the right thing. He didn’t hold that door for the thank you. He held the door because it was a nice thing.

As I walked away from that encounter with a little glow, I could not help but think about all the anger we see in the world and wonder if  being nice could help.

Perhaps we all need more good karma. Maybe we can find it by doing the nice thing and not getting pissed when people don’t bow down before us in gratitude.

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

 

 

Suddenly my son’s health seems like a big deal

There is a short passage in “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance about the day after my son, Jason, was born with Down syndrome. The staff pediatrician at the hospital was discussing the diagnosis with us. I wrote this:

He (the doctor) actually began the conversation with good news, but his delivery rankled more than it comforted. He had ordered an x-ray which revealed Jason’s esophagus was connected to his stomach. That’s not always the case with Down syndrome children. And, as far as the pediatrician could tell there were no heart problems, which is the other huge risk factor for Down’s babies. Jason was perfectly healthy except for that pesky mental retardation,(1979 term.) That blessing of good health didn’t impress us much that morning, but we have thanked God for Jason’s exceptionally good health practically every day since.

Jason has been incredibly healthy as a child and now as  an adult. He has been so healthy I am afraid I took that good health for granted.

Jason fell on the Minnesota ice and snow a few weeks before Christmas. When we visited during the holiday he complained that his back was hurting. So last week he visited his doctor.

His house manager wrote me after the appointment and said, “Jason was seen last night by his primary physician for his lower and mid back pain. He had three x-rays taken. The doctor stated that his bones were close together, but nothing that would require surgery. He suggested using ice as needed for pain and rest.”

On the face of that note Jason is fine. There is nothing to worry about. But I did and I do.

The words that leaped off the page for me were, “but nothing that would require surgery.” I had never come close to imagining Jason undergoing back surgery. In truth, I have more or less lost sight of the fact that Jason is aging and that he is going to have to deal with all of the things associated with that process.

Selfishly I think about how disruptive a major Jason illness or surgery would be for my family, but once I get past that I am frightened to death about how Jason would deal with a debilitating illness.

I am afraid that sort of experience would be overwhelming for him and that makes my stomach churn.

I can’t protect Jason from bad health any more than I can protect my other children, but in my mind they are adults and Jason is an innocent boy who needs my care and attention.

I am convinced Jason’s back will be fine, but this little scare has been valuable. It’s focused me on Jason’s vulnerability and caused me to think about some important contingencies around his future care.

And, I won’t take his good health for granted ever again.

You can remember your loved one and be happy at the same time

I was talking to a close and incredibly smart friend over the holidays about memories, grief and loved ones.

I told him how happy I am with my new wife, Candace, and how happy she seems to be. As the conversation meandered I mentioned that Candace was a little down because the four year anniversary of her husband’s death was New Year’s Eve.

My smart friend expressed confusion. He could not understand how one minute I could say Candace was incredibly happy and then tell him that she was melancholy over her late husband’s death.

I was briefly surprised before I realized again that people who have not experienced the loss of a spouse just can’t understand how conflicting emotions exist with you all the time.

I gently told my friend he was thinking about emotions as a zero sum game and they are not that at all. I told him melancholy and happiness co-exist. One does not replace the other.

I completely understand how difficult that is for someone who has never lost a spouse to comprehend. Intellectually it probably does not compute, but for someone who has lost a spouse the feelings are genuine. To explain to my friend, I put out my left arm in a straight line. Then I did the same with my right arm.

I said the straight line represented by my the left arm is my late wife Jean. I miss her. I loved her and I loved our life together. I regret that our wonderful nuclear family no longer exists. I am deeply saddened that my kids lost their beloved mother. I think about her and what she would have thought about scores of events and people each week.

Then I moved to my right arm and told my friend that was my life with Candace. We laugh uproariously practically all the time. We learn and come to enjoy eccentricities like my sneezes and my constant aches and pains,  and her obsession with Christmas decorating and her cats. We cultivate a new love with all sorts of tender moments each day.

The two lines are wonderful in their own right. They do not subtract from each other. One of those lines is a memory. It cannot be lived again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be treasured and remembered fondly without detracting at all from the other line. That other line is now. It is real and it can be savored, felt and hugged.

So when Candace was melancholy about David’s death I never felt a single pang of jealousy. Because I experience the same emotion all the time, I knew that she could remember, honor and miss David at the same time she loves me with all her heart.

One of those straight lines represents yesterday. The other line represents today. The two separate lines just are. They are distinct worlds and they are as real to me as my right foot.

Candace holds both of her lines in her heart at the same time and so do I. We treasure yesterday and our late spouses. We savor and live today with our new spouses with everything we have to give.

Most readers will ignore this advice but clean out your “stuff” now

I suspect I have never written a blog post or column that will be as roundly ignored as this one will be. Oh, the typical number of readers will read this post, but very few people will follow my suggested action. They have been procrastinating before today. I fully expect that procrastination to continue tomorrow.

So, there I was standing in front of an elevator at work with two good friends. We were discussing the fact that I had closed on the sale of my old house. One of the women asked me about moving out. Posing this question to me is like dangling raw meat in front of a starving bear. Moving out of two domiciles over a year’s time has been torture. And in complete truth, my now-wife Candace and her close friend Cathy, my close friend Frank, my daughter Tracy and my brothers, David and Marty, did far more of the actual work than I did.

My major job was to make the tough, emotional decisions about what to save from my old life. That is a huge, tortuous job.

That’s when I raised my voice to my two friends. “Clean out your junk/stuff/valuables/memorabilia/paraphernalia, pictures now!” I exhorted them not to hold onto that stuff for one minute more unless it truly has value and precious memories are attached to it. I plaintively shouted, “Do not wait for someone to die because it gets a helluva lot tougher then.”

Once you lose a loved one, you have to make all those tough calls by yourself. Many years of emotion and experience  get impossible to sort. So many times I looked at something of little value, not in terms of whether I or my kids wanted it, but I wondered if I was betraying my late wife Jean by discarding it. I gave my all for Jean when she lived, but that sense of betrayal is a hard guilt-trip to shed.  My new wife Candace struggled with the same thing when it came time to clean out her house. Her husband David was as much a part of her moving  process as Jean was in mine.

With the wisdom earned though tough choices, I told my friends to make the tough decisions about “stuff” now and with their beloved partners at their side. I also told them to talk those choices over with their kids. It is silly to save stuff for Johnny when Johnny doesn’t care a lick about that piece of memorabilia that nobody remembers anymore.

There are lots of practical reasons to clean out your junk now including being sure nothing of legitimate monetary or emotional value gets thrown out later. But the biggest reason to do your cleaning now is to avoid the inevitable second-guessing that will plague you when you are forced to do it alone.

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