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

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

 

 

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.

Rounding the corner on grief

Grief is like no other journey I have ever taken. It’s a bit like going from Minneapolis to New Orleans by way of San Francisco, New York and Florida. It is not a straight-line, north-south trip.

I am also convinced that during the trip it is mighty difficult to assess your location but I am going to make a stab at it. I think, believe, sense, suppose, postulate, assume, understand and any other speculative synonym you can conceive that I have turned a corner on grief. I can’t tell you when I turned that corner. I am convinced the grief journey seems clearer in reflection, but I can tell you five things about why I believe I have rounded that corner and what it is like.

1. Rounding the corner on grief is not a place. There is not a mile marker or a sign that tells you that you are done and have completed the journey. I certainly have not. I still grieve often. Just ask my close friend Bob Brown who held my shoulders as I sobbed in church on All Souls Day or that driver on the highway the other day who stared at me as I cried. I suspect I will cry over the loss of my wife Jean for the rest of my days but those tears are now punctuated with a sense of genuine celebration over what we had.

2. It is not forgetting. I still find many things that cause me to think fondly of Jean and even a few things that tick me off. And then I wonder why I let something so small tick me off. Then I grieve again. Remembering Jean fondly and respectfully is, in my mind, a crucial part of my journey.

3. Rounding the corner on grief is realizing I am not feeling consumed with overwhelming sadness. The pit in my stomach, or perhaps it was a hole in my heart, that I felt from the moment Jean died has grown dramatically smaller. It even goes away for hours at a time.

4. I realized I had rounded the corner on my grief when I started finding great joy in other people. For a time most people just pissed me off. Happy people, sad people, well-intentioned people, mean-spirited people, innocent bystanders, and especially happy couples, they all just really honked me off. That’s gone now and people usually make me happy. I let some people make me happier than others. I have even started thinking about and making plans for the future. Several weeks ago the future was an abyss that I needed to avoid thinking about at all costs.

5. I have become comfortable with the fact that my grief is ever-present. But it has softened over time. It no longer over shadows my every moment. I have recaptured vitality and joy when teaching, watching a college football game or having coffee with friends. I don’t think there is a set time-frame for grieving. No calendar pin points the arrival of acceptance and hopefulness for a future without the one I loved most in the world. I believe the time spent in deep grief is as unique to each individual as DNA. For me, being sad, angry and hopeless are suits that just don’t fit.

I still grieve Jean. If she wants to come back I would welcome her. But she’s not coming back and grief will not consume my soul. Instead Jean is a celebratory memory for whom I will still cry, but I know Jean would want me to be happy so I am off to do her will.

Finally touched by the anger phase of the five stages of grief

Almost from the moment you lose a loved one someone sticks the five stages of grief in front of you. Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s 45-year-old tome On Death and Dying remains the crucible for grieving loved ones.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance trip off the tongue of anybody who has taken the grief journey. The most amazing aspect of that for me is how often you go through the entire list. I have hit acceptance already–20 or 30 times.  Obviously my tongue is in my cheek. We just think we’ve hit acceptance and then we slide back down the cycle again.

The stage I have encountered most often was bargaining. Just a couple of weeks ago I had a long talk with Jean in my car. I knew I was on the brink of two big decisions Jean probably wouldn’t like. So I offered her a great deal. I told her that if she came back I would abandon both decisions. I am afraid I am still looking for her.

The one emotion I never felt was anger.

I interpreted anger as anger at God. When Jean, my wife of 39 years died I never got angry at a divine power because I don’t believe God killed Jean anymore than I believe God crippled my limbs or made my son Jason Down syndrome. So I thought anger simply didn’t apply to me.

My tune has changed. In recent days I find myself horribly upset at Jean. As I start to put my life back together and take baby steps forward I find everything is far more complicated than I imagined. And dammit, that’s Jean’s fault. If she hadn’t died and left me here alone everything would still be as it always was–sweet, simple and predictable. I know I am not alone among grieving widows and widowers but boy, when you are experiencing that sort of  anger you feel amazing isolation.

I don’t stay angry at Jean long, but the futility and seeming silliness of my emotions make me feel empty.

As I reread the above it strikes me that for someone who hasn’t experienced such grief this probably seems frustratingly vague and perhaps even overwrought.

For those of you who understand the five stages, and battle through them on a regular basis I hope this helps.