Some random observations

Some things that have intrigued, angered or pleased me.

  • I hate cancer and its ravages so much, I feel sometimes as if I could punch it in the face.
  • A lot of ink has been spilled complaining  about United Airlines and its fiasco with Dr. David Dao. Focus on the fact that this reprehensible incident would not occur if United had put their customer’s interests before their internal needs. Too few American businesses today focus on maximizing their customer’s experiences because it is easier for them to make their own internal systems or processes serve the bottom line. When you read today that another government regulation has bit the dust, ask yourself if that move will improve your life as a consumer. Unlikely.
  • I know people who refuse to give a few bucks to a homeless person because they say they fear funding an alcohol or drug problem. How about this? You could buy a bunch of $5 McDonald gift certificates and hand those out. Or if you want to take an extra step, hand out “kindness bags” to the homeless folks asking for money. Simply buy some bags and put in a juice box or two, beef jerky, instant soup, a can of tuna and some protein bars. Needy people get real food and you have shared your gifts.
  • I get frustrated by a lot of things, but I still find myself happiest when I find the good in things and concentrate on gratitude.
  • It amuses me when I hear someone say, “That is hysterical” and they barely crack a smile. If it’s really hysterical, shouldn’t they be rolling on the floor?
  • I have seriously wondered if coffee shops would make more money if they gave away the coffee and took a percentage of all the deals conducted in their space.
  • I hate the fact that I need to approach Google with such a cautious “buyer-beware” attitude.  I like a business called Phoenix Flower Shops because  of its customer service, high quality and it is local. But when I Google Phoenix flowers  I get four listings and Phoenix Flower Shops is not the first. Other companies try to slide in on Phoenix Flower Shops brands. I know it’s my fault if I mess up and do business with one of the pretenders. It still ticks me off.
  • I have decided one of the keys to enjoying retirement is to avoid thinking about what you are not doing and focus on all the good you did before you retired. And, maybe some of the screw-ups too.
  • A few weeks ago I found myself crying when a friend completed a major accomplishment. Tears of joy over another person’s triumph are warm and gooey and probably a sign that maturity may await just around the corner.
  • A good sandwich of one of life’s most underrated gifts.

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.

 

Only we are going to fix our problems, one volunteer at a time

We all know bad stuff and good stuff happens to people. But our reactions to those things often differ.

Many people live their lives in gratitude for all the good things they have.  Other people tend to downplay the good things in their life and constantly lust for more. And there are people who have a great deal, clamor for more and are convinced they are smarter, better looking and more talented than the people who have less. Barry Switzer and Jim Hightower are credited with saying “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” I always credit that quote to my youngest brother, David, but the point is many view good things as something they earned.

People who deal with bad things often accept that bad stuff happens and they just need to roll with the punches. Others need to blame someone such as God, their rotten parents and/or the government. Those carping complainers shake their fists at this cruel world and fault everyone except themselves. Just this past weekend I said some reckless, insensitive things to a couple of close friends. There were no excuses to be had. I was a jerk plain and simple. I apologized in a text and will rely on forgiveness and our longtime friendship to heal the problem. People who can’t own their screw ups  fail to accept the truth. As my insightful wife, Candace, declares so eloquently, “our troubles are usually an inside job.”

I recently read an article that contended that a tremendous number of Americans believe authoritarian behavior is the answer to our challenges. The author wrote, “Authoritarianism, by which I mean Americans’ inclination to authoritarian behavior. When political scientists use the term authoritarianism, we are not talking about dictatorships but about a worldview. People who score high on the authoritarian scale value conformity and order, protect social norms, and are wary of outsiders. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they support aggressive leaders and policies.”

That frightens me. I like some order as much as the next guy, but I do not believe our problems are caused by a vengeful God, parents or the government. I believe some people live dangerous lifestyles, don’t pursue enough education, refuse to embrace technology, but mostly I believe good things happen in this world and bad things happen, just because. To quote Forrest Gump “It happens.”

I especially refuse to believe that there is some giant hand in the sky or a  commanding government that can erode civic liberties and fix everything. I am reminded of a great ongoing Saturday Night Live bit performed by Kenan Thompson during the Great Recession several years ago. Thompson would rant and rave at some invisible force he called “they”  and scream “Fix It, Fix it, Fix it.” Nobody ever appeared from the ether to “fix it.”

I reject fear, authoritarianism and hate as viable “fixes” to our country’s problems. I subscribe to Gandhi’s famous admonition,If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” That has been popularized as “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and it is the only way we can improve things.

My wife Candace was so distraught over the refugee ban this weekend she went to church and sponsored a Mexican child for more more money than was asked. She took action to change the world for the better. Two of my dear friends volunteer for that program, Casa Franciscana Outreach at our church. They give countless hours to a program the improves the lot of people in Guaymas Mexico. Another friend of mine has spent years finding guardians for struggling children in his small Michigan town. Another friend spends hours sitting with and talking with hospice patients to relieve the burdens of their loving caregivers.

I, and you, know thousands of people like these who don’t rail at the condition of the world, or blame God or the government. They do something themselves to fix our society.

All of us pulling together to extinguish fear and hate strikes me as a better solution to whatever ails us.

 

 

Let’s see if the second retirement takes

I retired as Editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis in summer of 2002. It didn’t take.

I wrote a syndicated column, facilitated and spoke to groups about ethics, spirituality and work for about three years. I also did a couple of visiting professor gigs at Davidson College and Washington and Lee University.

I also had plenty of time to play and relax. I found that I didn’t miss the action of editing a daily newspaper and I  didn’t miss the power either. What I found I missed was the sense of belonging to something. In 2005, when Dean Chris Callahan of the just-formed Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University offered me an endowed chair to teach the business of journalism and ethics I accepted it immediately.

And, I have belonged to something very special ever since I accepted the job. Callahan has built a remarkable journalism school and I have had an incredible ride on his bus. Students teach me every day, faculty make me laugh and make me smarter and the thrill of belonging to a journalism school that has emerged as one of the best in the country has been a fantastic adventure.

Last week Dean Callahan, in a much-too-gracious note, acknowledged my May retirement from the school. Steve Buttry had nice things to say too.

A lot of people are asking why now? The clear implication is that University teaching is a pretty cushy gig and why would I give it up. The answer is not a quick soundbite but it starts with the fact that this is not a cushy job.  If you do teaching right, and I think I do, it is hard work. It’s nothing like the pressure of running a newspaper, but it is not easy.

Further, I think retirement is an outdated word. It is defined as “the action of fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” Yes, I know some people who seem to do pretty well at ceasing to work. I  don’t think I will be one. Certainly my new bride, Candace, and I, already have two major trips planned along with several small ones. Time to just kick back is an important part of my decision.

At the same time I have some things I want to write that have just been too difficult with my teaching responsibilities. Both my wife and I are also investigating ways to give back to society too.

But at root of my retirement decision at 67 years old is my overriding emotion since my wife Jean died in 2014. “Seize the freaking day!”

A good friend of mine observed this in an email when he learned of my decision: “It’s interesting, because when Jean was ill you said you were on a retirement trajectory. After her death you said you’d never retire. Now you’re back to the plan. I guess work’s relevance is dependent on what else we have in our lives and our sense of options, huh?”

My friend is a bright intuitive guy and he nailed it. I had no intention of retiring if I didn’t have someone I loved in my life. Now that I do, I want to make sure we maximize every single day we have together. My wife Candace’s brain aneurysm reminded me, as if I needed a reminder, that nothing is guaranteed health wise. We don’t know how much time we have. I am sorry I didn’t do this for and with Jean and I don’t want to err again.

My delightful Candace and I have a lot of laughing to do. I want to make plenty of time for that.

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

 

Being judgmental is easy for me but I hate to receive it

A long look at someone, a few brief words out of their mouth or a few lines of background can lead me to pretty complete judgments about people.

I am not proud of it, but I jump to conclusions about people all the time. It’s that old judging “books by their cover” thing and I am a huge culprit. But brother, you better not try to judge me.

A person from my past thinks I made a terrible mistake marrying 15 months after my late wife’s death. The person has been pointed about expressing dismay and has even refused to break bread with my wife and I.

This has made me hopping mad. I have obsessed about it far too much. I imagine the harsh things I would say to the person if I get a chance. I constantly construct arguments about how wrong the judgement is and I live in befuddlement why the person thinks my actions are any of their business in the first place.

And yet, what I keep coming back to is I have judged that person in the past and never gave it a second thought. Increasingly, when I judge others I find myself jerked back to the ugly fact that I am doing exactly what I despise.

Certainly some of us have to judge people as a part of what we do. When people worked for me I needed to judge their performance. And, I obviously judge and grade the work of my students.

But judging whether people are making the correct choices or following the right life path is silly, mean and even vicious because we have no idea of the person’s backstory, motives or needs.

When we judge people’s choices and actions, when it’s really none of our business, we are insisting that our own frame and values are perfect for everyone. That, is of course, poppycock.

That arbitrary judging is wrong is certainly not a new discovery for me, but I have found that my anger over being judged has dramatically increased my sensitivity to my own judgmental ways.

If I had a nickel for every time I mistakenly jumped to conclusions about people I’d have a huge bucket load of nickels. Perhaps the recent scars of being judged myself will produce a few less nickels as I move forward.

And, I hope my realization that I am often guilty of mean judgments can also lead me toward the path of forgiveness.

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