My “take-back” machine fantasy would be a winner but reality is tougher

I spent a good part of an airplane flight this weekend tinkering in my head with a fantastic idea for an invention that would revolutionize human behavior. I tried to develop the “take-back” machine.

My fool proof concept would allow us all to take back the stupid, inconsiderate, mean things we say. You know, the ones we regret the minute they pass our lips. The ones that hurt and do damage to the last people we want to hurt. We all do it. Our demons grab our tongues, we lash out and then spend the next minutes, hours, days and even years regretting what we said. The “take back”  machine would allow us to take back those things and act as if they were never said.

Now, I can’t claim my idea is original. This weekend, for the second time, I watched a 2013 movie called About Time. It’s about a young man, who at age 21 finds out the males in his family can repeat time. If the young man, Tim, botches a date or hurts someone or wants to avoid a terrible event, he simply backs up time and gets a “do-over.”

The concept of  “do-overs” in our life is so delicious, so alluring and such a giant problem solver that I decided that super-fix should not be allocated to one person or one family. My “take-back’ machine would be universal and available to all of us who have very big feet and even bigger mouths to stick our foot into.

But “do-overs” and “take-back” machines are fantasies. We don’t get second chances. Life is to be lived once with all our pearls and lovely statements and our foolish, mean-spirited attacks. We really don’t need do-overs if we have three things.

1.Forgiveness. We are all human. There is not a perfect person among us. We will all screw up and say stupid, ill-considered things. We need to forgive those who say things like that and we need to seek forgiveness for our mess-ups.

2.Lessons. We need to learn from the bad, ill-tempered things we say. If we find ourselves saying something that cuts someone to the quick we need to learn that comment hurts and vow never to say that sort of thing again. If we do say it again and even again, we need to go back to number one and seek forgiveness and figure out why we are so ugly.

3.Reconciliation. I had a Facebook conversation last week with someone from my past who wrote from the heart about reconciliation in his life. It made a mighty impression on me. Letting old hurts and contempt fester, damages our soul and leaves us the loser. Reconciliation and reconnecting to people we have hurt or who have hurt us is the only route. And, reconciliation doesn’t have to wait years, it should wait minutes.

Do-overs would be nice, but being more considerate, opting for forgiveness and reconciliation, and learning from our mistakes are really the only options available for mortals like us.

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

Musical lyrics can contain the soul of life

My musical career is checkered.

When I was in sixth grade my class and school intensely prepared for an annual Music Festival. As we neared the big date the school’s music teacher, A Dominican nun, approached me and five classmates. She carefully seated us toward the front of the school’s bleachers in a tight group. This was my big moment. We were obviously being prepared for a big solo or ensemble piece.

Without much affection or gentility the good Sister said, “you six just mouth the words.” I was crushed. I suffered the same indignities throughout my academic career and when I was a fairly accomplished actor in high school and college I was doomed to the non-singing roles in musical theater. People look askance when I sing the National Anthem too.

The crowd of musical experts was not wrong. I can’t carry a tune and I don’t know a musical chord from a bungee cord. I do love lyrics, however. As I have reported in this blog before I am a fan of something called alternative country music largely because I find the lyrics so compelling.

Saturday night I was profoundly moved by a Paul Thorn concert at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum Theater. Thorn, a former boxer, is a very funny man. His humor entertained, his singing seemed great to my tin ear, but Paul Thorn’s lyrics were captivating and often stirring.

Thorn is the son of a preacher and though he is somewhat sardonic about that experience, his father’s vocation has obviously bred deep roots of philosophy and spirituality. Some of Thorn’s lyrics are funny, like “It’s better to be the hammer than the nail,” but many provoked a couple of days of introspection.

One of his Most powerful songs was “I hope I am doing this right.”  This lyric really got me:


But then Thorn hit me with the chorus;


I deeply admire a folk singer who can pose such a fundamental question of life with verve and talent. I don’t know about you but I wonder all the time whether I am doing this life thing right. Thorn’s words are not going to leave me soon.

But the talented musician wasn’t done with my soul for the evening. He asked another question I ask myself constantly, but probably don’t act on enough with the song titled “What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up?” That powerful chorus goes like this:

What have you done to lift somebody up?
When have you helped someone who’s got it rough?
Oh we can change the world with a little love
What have you done to lift somebody up?There is a chance I was in a particularly reflective mood Saturday night, but I think an artist who can explore the basic lessons of life and entertain at the same time is a precious natural resource.

We all get motivation and provocation from strange and different places, but Saturday night a folk/rock artist from Tupelo, MS made me think good thoughts about life on this rotating sphere of ours. I hope those powerful lyrics make me act too.

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

The battle metaphors around cancer are probably beside the point

My friend Steve Buttry couldn’t sleep the other night and wrote a dynamite post about the battle metaphors surrounding cancer.

Steve quoted Stuart Scott’s now famous ESPY speech when he said, “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

Steve had made a very similar point on Dec. 12 when he disclosed his cancer diagnosis. He contended he won the battle against cancer because he survived his first cancer bout for 15 years and had lived a fun, rewarding, fruitful life.

Steve also wrote this : I did recall when I was writing in November that Jean McGuire’s obituary last June said: “In her last days she promised to haunt her husband if he included in her obituary that she had ‘lost a courageous battle with cancer.’ She despised such metaphors. She faced death as she faced the challenges of raising a Down syndrome child, with grace and class and humor.”

My wife Jean did hate the battle metaphors around cancer. She often said, “this is a fight I didn’t pick.” She personally thought it was poppycock to think that her attitude could change any outcomes and she was not interested in chasing around the country for cures. She would have participated in clinical trials but she was told she was a bad candidate. She trusted her doctors completely and firmly believed that courage was accepting “what happens will happen.”

Clearly, that attitude is too passive for many people. I have smart, courageous friends who have entered countless trials and fought like hell until the last dog was hung. Jean looked on treatment only as a vehicle to a better quality of life. If it didn’t help her do the fun things she wanted to do,  or “fix” her, she wasn’t interested.

And yet, I think that’s where Jean’s attitude intersects with that of Scott and Buttry. All three of them see and saw that the end game is not death. We all will arrive at that end-game. For all three of them the real end game was the quality of life one enjoys and demonstrates when they are still up and taking nourishment.

Jean was a model for many with her incisive humor all during her treatment and right to the end. Stuart Scott inspired with words and actions. Steve Buttry makes us all wiser with his transparent musings.

It is indeed all about the living and not about the death.

Looking at the world from two sides

The woman  settled into the seat next to me on the airplane with a friendly greeting and a big smile. “I just love the holidays,” she said, “everybody is so friendly.” My first thought was, of course everybody is friendly with you, you’re a happiness carrier.

We exchanged small talk with each other on the flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas where she lives until she blurted out, “Why does anyone go to Las Vegas  for Thanksgiving?” I explained that my wife had died in June and my son and I were meeting there to avoid past traditions. I mentioned that my son was going to be about three hours late. The news of the death of my wife made her pensive and she vowed she would give her husband a much bigger hug when she landed in the airport.

By that point I knew her name was Gretchen and we shared more details of our lives. Suddenly she reached for her purse and pulled out a business card. “Now if your son doesn’t make it tonight, you call me and come over for Thanksgiving dinner. One more hungry mouth won’t hurt a thing.”

Gretchen’s invitation was sincere and moving. I did not take advantage of it but I will remember her kindness for a very long time.

On Thanksgiving, Jeff and I had a nice Turkey dinner and we grabbed a cab to the show we were attending that night. The cab driver was a grizzled veteran and immediately launched into a schtick about being married seven times. He had a well-practiced repertoire of misogynistic jokes about wives and women that would make some passengers laugh but they were cringe-worthy and totally unworthy of reprinting.

Jeff and I agreed after the ride that the monologue may well be false but it really does not matter. The cabbie’s cynicism and bitterness is an indisputable fact even if he hasn’t been married seven times. If he hasn’t, his belief that his schtick is going to get him more tips is an even sadder commentary.

Gretchen has chosen a path of kindness, joy and generosity for her life and the cabbie follows a far more cynical path. We all face a similar choice. How do we want to be remembered from our chance encounters?

Considering what people think of us

A lot of us try to talk tough. We shout from the rafters that we don’t give a good damn what people think of us. We say we don’t care what they say and that we can rise above it. We tell ourselves “to thine own self be true,” but we seldom believe it.

Most of us obsess about what the people down the hall are saying about us. We are deeply hurt when some mean-spirited assessment of our behavior or character gets back to us. We primp physically, we buy the best  we can afford and we present our most charming selves on days we don’t feel at all charming, just so we can “impress” people.

My favorite spiritual author Anthony DeMello is brutal when he describes the self focus of humans. He writes in his book Awareness: “I press a button and you’re up. I press a button and you’re down. And you like that. How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey so everybody can twist your tail and you do whatever you ought to be doing.” DeMello adds “But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more.”

When people berate us, criticize us or belittle us it tells us far more about them that it does us. An older friend was recently devastated when a peer told her how horrible and selfish she was. It was the peer who was acting horrible and selfish but the peer has to live with that. Meanwhile, my friend is devastated because, like most of us,  she actually does care what people think of her.

These days I am trying to let the wisdom of a friend guide me when I am victimized by gossip, mean-spirited observations or when somebody just has no use for me. She says “what other people think about me is none of my business.”

I know that’s not new, there is even a book with a similar title, but the phrase was new to me. I find it profoundly shaping advice. It tells me I cannot be concerned about outside opinions. It tells me that I better know who I am, know what my gifts are and I need to know how I use those gifts to help and serve others. If I am confident in my personal assessment of myself, I simply don’t need to know or care what others think or say.

I need to own me and my actions and not let the wagging tongues own me. I need to live, give and love as I see fit, not as someone else dictates.