Let’s listen and enjoy the silence

I have always been more than a little uncomfortable with silence. I love to talk. Argument and debate are part of my skin.

Silence actually unnerves me and I will invariably do something to end silence and create dialogue. I often will use humor to do that. My daughter and my late wife could be silent for 30 to 60 seconds when they were talking on the phone on and it drove me up the wall. With the patient guidance of my wife Candace, I am beginning to appreciate the beauty and benefits of silence.

Silence can be beautiful but I need to listen in order to find that silence. Listening has never been a strong point for me. These days it seems as if everybody is yelling and few of us are listening. I am trying to change that by doing several things that have long been foreign to me. I have been trying to:

Listen to my breath, to my beating heart. They are a profound gift. I have people who I loved who no longer have that gift of life.

Listen to my better self. When I am quiet, that better person often talks to me and guides me. When all the talking is raucous and unnerving, my better self can get me through it without resorting to anger and meanness.

Listen to my dreams. No matter my age I can still dream about what might come next. Hope can shape me and guarantee my positive outlook on life.

Listen to those I love without defensiveness. I know they care deeply about me and they have wisdom I need.

Listen to my critics and to those who just tick me off. It’s difficult because those people are often not very nice and they believe stuff I don’t. Yet, my understanding of the world and of myself will be incomplete if I don’t listen to the critics. I don’t have to buy what they say, but it is terribly arrogant if I don’t at least consider their thoughts.

Listen with an open mind. I, like everybody else, have my beliefs and my “frames” for thinking about things. Increasingly, I am trying to consider the merits of other people’s thinking.

Listen to the written word. I am reading ever more non-fiction, history, current events reading from reliable sources, and provocative books such as Hillbilly Elegy. The more perspective I can find the better. Listen to the world around me. As I write I am sitting on the sunny patio of a coffee shop. I can hear just enough of the conversation next to me to know that it is not healthy. It is full of gossip and griping.  Listening to that sort of thing shows me how cheap and vulgar I sound when I do that same thing.

Listen to the environment. The birds are chirping. The bunnies and squirrels are chattering and the dogs are barking. I need to listen more closely to the rising temperatures, the weird weather, such as tornadoes in Minnesota in March, and the melting ice packs, so our grandchildren can listen to the birds and the bunnies.

Talking is easy. I find listening far more difficult, but a worthy effort.

Finding my happy place at a Spring Training game

Early in my newspaper leadership career my company sent me and other top executives to a development clinic for its top executives where I learned something memorable and profound. It helped me appreciate my true joy.

Every time the clinic psychologists and psychiatrists wanted us to deeply reflect on  important parts of our life, they told us to mentally go to the most peaceful, happy place we could imagine.  I remember some colleagues went  to their imaginary beaches, forests and parks.

I did not struggle at all. I closed my eyes and mentally went to a spring training game in Lakeland, Florida at Joker Marchant stadium. When I worked in Florida from 1977 to 1979,  I had spring season tickets to the team I had followed since I was little boy. When asked to think of my ideal happy place, it was easy to imagine myself in great seats, near the Tiger dugout with the Florida sun gently kissing the small, intimate field. Sure, some players were fighting for jobs, but the vibe of camaraderie and freshness was invigorating. Winners and losers don’t matter much in the spring. It’s all about kicking off the rust and getting sharp for the season.

In that beautiful setting, the stresses of my high pressure job melted away. When you say peaceful and happy to me, those scenes at the ball park almost 40 years ago flood my mind.

I have a friend who claims the three greatest words in the English language are “Pitchers, catchers report,” because that is such a harbinger of spring. I beg to differ with him. “Spring training game” are three much better words.

My fantastic journey, we call life, has brought me full circle back to a place where spring training thrives. A quiet, sunny afternoon at a spring training game in Scottsdale is still my perfectly peaceful, happy place. At practically every San Francisco Giants spring home game you can find me basking in the sun. I have owned season tickets for several years but this, the first year of retirement, has allowed me to see just about every game.

The magic and mysterious peace of the spring ballpark still thrills me. Sure, the setting is ideal, but I also deeply admire the game of baseball which can best be appreciated in person. The perfect measurements of the baseball field combined with the fluidity of movement fascinate me. I love to critique game strategy and decision-making. It is a game tailor-made for second-guessing.

I often sit at a game and jabber with a friend as I watch the action. Sometimes, I go to the game alone and just soak up the comforting vibes while admiring the artistry of hitting a small ball coming at a guy at 95 miles per hour. In moments like this I can let peace wash over me.

Spring training games are definitely about baseball, but for me they are also about going to my happy place, a peaceful refuge that allows me to reflect and find real peace.

And no matter the season, all I need to do to slow down and find equilibrium is to recall those magnificent images of spring baseball.  My happy place has given me peace and joy for many years and it keeps on giving.

Here’s to your happy place.

 

Steve Buttry lived a wonderful life and he lived a great death

Steve Buttry lived a fascinating life. His death a few weeks ago was tragic and sad as all deaths are, especially to the family who loved him, and to the many people who called him friend. His death was also intriguing, instructive and  provocative. Provocative, because I think Steve did a great and powerful good with how he LIVED death.

Steve and I considered each other dear friends even though we were actually together less than a dozen times. Our friendship was fueled by the digital age. We grew close through blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Our bond became strong.

I deeply respected Steve’s determined efforts to move the stodgy newspaper industry into the 21st Century. He was outspoken when he needed to be. To my delight he tilted at more than a few windmills and he passionately cared for journalism. He did all that with unerring kindness, concern and attention to people’s feelings and emotions.

To be candid, I was lucky that Steve said nice things about me and my book in his compelling blog and in private forums. Steve and I had a comfortable mutual admiration society.

You don’t have to take my word about Steve’s successes and his impact. This salute from a student editor is heartwarming. Wonderful tributes are  here, here and here. And this incredible collection of salutes should tell you everything you need to know about Steve and his professional and human contributions.

Assuming I have established how well Steve lived an extraordinary life, let me travel the road less traveled (Steve would expect nothing less of me) and talk about what I find the intriguing and instructive part.

Steve was a deep believer in transparency before he got sick so it was unsurprising that when he faced his third bout with cancer he discussed it openly on Caring Bridge, Facebook and on his excellent blog. Steve especially impressed me with his constant gratitude for his life, his loves, his experiences and his friends. He eloquently wrote about all the gifts he received since he survived his first two cancers. His omnipresent optimism also fueled that particular blog.

The striking thing about Steve’s path to his death was his amazing commitment to his relationships. His devoted, funny and strong wife Mimi could never have doubted Steve’s love, and her love for him shone like a guiding star.

Last August, Steve and I shared breakfast at a suburban hotel outside Minneapolis. We both knew his path was growing short and I brought the relatively fresh scars of my late wife’s death to the table. We both shot straight and hid nothing. Before Mimi joined us, Steve told me he was spending a great deal of time writing letters to his three sons and Mimi. These were not dashed-off letters. They were comprehensive stories about the family, his interaction with each of them and reflections on his deep love for each of them.

Steve did the same for his friends with far greater brevity. A few weeks ago I received a delightful two paragraph letter from Steve thanking me for being his friend. Apparently several other friends received similar notes. My note thanked me for what I had done for him, wished we had known each other better and concluded with some nice compliments.

Now to the provocative part. Here is how Steve began that note. “I’d rather die suddenly, but a slow death does let you leave with less unsaid, so I am writing letters to some friends.” I responded with this:

Thank you for your brilliant and kind letter. Writing these took guts.

I was a little surprised that you said you would prefer to die suddenly. From afar it seems to me you are LIVING a perfect death.

Colleagues and friends have been able to honor you in several different ways. You had a wonderful opportunity to share with and embrace your family and your devoted wife.

I think I have told you that the greatest thing my Dad ever taught me was how to die. Well, friend you are my new model. Your transparency, your courage and your integrity are fantastic examples for all of us.

Now that gentle Steve has passed there is a small tinge of regret for telling him how he ought to feel, but it is a small tinge.

As I said in the first paragraph, I think Steve did a great and powerful good with how he LIVED death. I wanted him to realize that, in my view, he accomplished so much with that death.

Steve has left us with three instructive lessons.

He fashioned a model of strength that any and all of us should strive to follow. His courage, his candor, his attention to to others and his selflessness set a standard that I pray I can match when the time comes.

He allowed people to honor him. LSU’s Manship school honored him with a scholarship in his name, and he was awarded a Chairman’s Citation from the National Press Foundation in 2017. Certainly those honors should have pleased Steve, but they also allowed so many givers to formally thank him for his great contributions.

Steve taught us to attend to relationships in an intimate and professional way. His wife, his sons and his friends are not going to forget his final communications.

I remain surprised by Steve’s wish for a more sudden death. I have a dear friend who lost his wife about five years ago. Dan Untiedt;s  wife Ginny’s car  inexplicably hit a tree and she died suddenly. Dan was incredibly distraught and dearly wished he would have had some time with Ginny before she died as I had with my wife before she passed three years later.

I told Dan shortly after my wife died, that a sudden death is horrible, awful and terrible. I also told him a lingering death is horrible, awful and terrible. They are simply different.

Steve Buttry’s slow death must have been painful, horrible, awful, terrible and a loathsome burden. But for my money one of his many legacies will be the great lessons he taught us with the way he died.

God bless Steve Buttry’s soul and his outstanding family.