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.

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.

 

 

Speaking truth to bullies

My plan was to prepare several new posts for the relaunch of my blog with a new name, McGuire on Life. I was going to explain what I have been doing for the last eight months and where I want to take the blog now.

I still want to do that and I will in the coming days. However, the Meryl Streep/Donald Trump contretemps along with an intriguing question from my wife forced my hand.

By now, most people know that arguably the best actress of our time accepted the Cecil DeMille  Lifetime Achievement award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Sunday with a lamentation about the President elect’ s lack of empathy.

Streep told the audience that the heartbreaking event of the year was “that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.”

Naturally, Donald Trump reacted the way all bullies do. He attacked by calling Streep overrated, he denied and he lied. He said he never mocked a disabled person.  Please watch this video and tell me Trump was not mocking Serge Kovaleski. This denial shocks and appalls. E. J. Montini, columnist for the Arizona Republic  wrote “But to continue denying irrefutable video evidence is bizarre at least and pathological at worst.”

Social media blew up Sunday night after the awards ceremony.  Twitter and Facebook was full of support for Streep’s courage and attacks charging she abused her position and opportunity. My wife, Candace, was passionate and immediately praised Streep on Facebook. As we went to bed she asked “Are you afraid to speak out against Trump?” I answered absolutely not, but the  question was not inappropriate because I have tried to keep a low profile about the President-elect on social media.

I have some bedrock beliefs and my trust in the American democratic process is one of them. This election did not go my way and that’s happened fairly often in my 45 years of voting. The people have spoken and so be it. I have not been comfortable bellyaching about the results on social media. No matter how big a mistake I believe was made, I think a good citizen should give the process a chance.

As I pondered my wife’s question and watched people defending and berating Meryl Streep, I realized something crucial about those bedrock beliefs of mine. The greatest is that we must love our brothers and sisters and treat them all with respect. I worried about this issue on November 7, the day before the election. I wrote this on Facebook.

“If you are still undecided please read this Washington Post story. As a disabled man and the father of a developmentally disabled man, I have taken this election very personally since Donald Trump mocked the disabled reporter from the New York Times. This story tells us he has obviously not learned his lesson. Is his horrible treatment of the disabled and other struggling Americans a reason to vote against the man? I believe it is. There are lots of ways to value life.”

I wrote then that I have taken this issue very personally. You see, Serge Kovaleski and I are probably the only two journalists in America with Arthrogriposis Multicongenita, a rare disease that literally means “curved joints.”  So yeah, when Trump mocked Kovaleski I saw a lot of mocking from my past, like the time three second graders made fun of the way I walked. Those little boys and Trump enraged me.

Meryl Streep totally nailed why this behavior from the leader of the free world is so dangerous and concerning when she said, “And this instinct, to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life. Because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing.”

I am petrified that the new President’s abuse of everyone who disagrees with him, especially people who face life’s struggles, is going to spark an epidemic of mean-spirited ugly attacks. There is already evidence of that.

I do business with a man about once a month. We have become friendly. He told me a few weeks ago he voted for Trump “because things have to change.” That is his political opinion. As long as he’s talking about health care, education and foreign relations, no matter how much I  disagree, I will respect it.

But if the change that man and others want is the right and ability to bully the less fortunate in our society, I am going to fight those people with all my strength. And, I am going to vigorously support brave people with a real voice like Meryl Streep when they call for our leader to model civility, kindness and empathy.

My wife ‘s pointed question has helped me realize that politics is politics, but protecting those who need protecting is a higher calling that deserves my voice and Meryl Streep’s.

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.

I think I figured out a new definition of love

I was driving down the highway when I think I realized my own personal definition of love. I will be 67 years old in a week or so, but I don’t think my discovery has come too late.

As I drove, I thought of my bride of six months, Candace. And, I smiled. It was the kind of smile that started at my mouth, occupied my entire mind and then made my insides all gooey. It was a smile of gratitude, a smile of comfort. I was consumed by that smile of love. I suddenly wanted to write a love letter to her. I guess this is it.

Passion is great, affection with a great big hug rewards the heart, and concern and care are certainly essential elements of love. But in that flash, I realized that real love brings with it that satisfied, contented and all-absorbing smile. And, I happily realized that smile of love has been a constant in my life.

As I reflected, I realized that smile was always the greatest sign that my late wife Jean and I had something special too. I was able to recall great feelings of satisfaction that were always marked by that smile that grabbed my soul. Even when she is gone I get consumed by that great big smile of love. It happened last weekend when I saw something in our old neighborhood that would have amazed and tickled her. That great big smile of love captivated me.

My kids induce that big, all-encompassing smile. Incredible emotional connections with my daughter, Tracy, warm me with that sort of smile and so do the incredible bouts of repartee I have with my son, Jeff. And the simple thought of my son Jason, who has Down syndrome, grips me with a smile that envelops my entire being. Then there are my two delightful grandchildren, Collin and Kayley. I smile so much when I think of them that I fairly burst. That’s the gooey kind of love.

I sometimes think people look in all the wrong places and for all the wrong emotions for love. I always feel sorry for the young couples who seem to think they are going to hear bells or giant gongs when they fall in love. There are no bells.

Happiness comes when we bask in the comfort, content and satisfaction of loving and being loved. When we find that sweet spot, a great big smile seizes our soul and carries us off to a special place worth celebrating.

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

 

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