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 still don’t like cats but the journey with Clawd and Clementine teaches me a lot

My Dad hated cats. My early love of boxing and my life-long dislike of cats was clearly learned behavior at my Dad’s knee.

When my daughter married a man with a cat I was horrified. Things failed to improve when I met said cat and his successor cat. My dislike for the species catus is legendary. On my late wife’s deathbed she overheard a hospice worker ask me if we had any pets. When I replied “Hell no, I hate pets,” my sarcastic-to-the-end wife told my daughter, “There is no way he can divorce me now, let’s talk cat.” Actually, Jean had never been that anxious for a cat, but the line was funny and demonstrates how much my dislike of cats is rooted in my family’s culture.

The astute among you have more than an inkling of where this is going. Late last year a woman I had been friends with at the Minneapolis Star Tribune contacted me to offer sympathy upon my wife’s death. We had been good work friends in Minneapolis, but not such good friends that I knew she was a cat person.

As we rekindled our friendship and that friendship showed the potential of something much more, Candace  made it clear she had two cats. She credited the cats with getting her through her own grief when her husband, David, died late in 2011. It was abundantly clear that if the relationship had any future at all, the cats were going to be a part of that future. To this moment, the thing that impresses my daughter Tracy the most about my marriage to Candace Hadley McGuire is that the cats were not a deal breaker.

Now, this is a real-life story and not a fairy tale, so I am not going to come before you to testify I fell madly in love with Clawd and Clementine. I still don’t really like them and I get terribly antsy when they jump up on my bed. In my heart of hearts, I believe they are plotting against me. And yet, I have developed a genuine appreciation for the two felines and for Candace’s love for them.

I swear the cats often seem to talk to Candace and she talks back! A year ago I would have scoffed mightily at the notion that the three of them communicate in any way. Now I am not so sure.

The other day I grabbed for a tie on a tie hanger in our closet and I dropped it. As I reached for the tie on the floor I grabbed some cat. After my record leap in the air I realized I had discovered Clementine’ top-secret hiding place that neither I, nor Candace, knew about. Cut to a day later when Clementine was whining incessantly to Candace. Candace was almost at her wit’s end when she followed the cat into our bedroom and realized that the closet door to Clementine’s secret hiding place was closed. Candace opened it and all was well. That impresses the heck out of someone who has always believed cats were incapable of communication.

Clementine does not seem well and that has made Candace very sad because she believes she is about to lose her long-time companion and savior. And anything that makes my lovely new wife sad, makes me sad. A year ago I would have been sympathetic but not very empathetic. That has changed.

Don’t hold your breath for me to become a cat lover, but by opening my mind and watching the incredible bond between two cats and an extremely intelligent woman I think I finally get it. After a lifetime of closing my mind, I understand that it just might be possible that the creatures really do relate to humans on a deep and important level that demands respect and even a little awe.

My tolerance and respect for cats is growing, but I still wish they’d stay off my bed!

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

Divorces produce grief too

As I have discussed grief with people since the death of my late wife Jean last year, a difficult truth has dawned on me. For a lot of divorced people grief is the only effective word to describe their experience.

Certainly the permanence and finality of death make that a very different process. However, I am repeatedly struck by the deep sense of loss that divorced people disclose. I talked to a man last week who referred to three or four years of desperation that blocked him from moving forward. Another man I know is fighting despondency in ways that are achingly similar to the way spouses grieve over death.

In no way am I trying to put divorce and the loss of a spouse to death on the same plane. They are different just because of the permanence and hopelessness that death brings.

In divorce, there is often betrayal, guilt and regret that magnify the loss. But when a spouse dies, I know from personal experience that even when the marriage has been very good, there is serious second guessing and worry about whether you treated your beloved the way she/he deserved to be treated.

We all know that we should be deeply sorry when someone loses a spouse to death. The essence of my point is that we should also be sorry when a person loses a spouse to divorce. The divorced person is often, but not always, feeling a similar sense of  loss, loneliness and especially onliness which I wrote about in this post.

The ongoing reality of my own grief, and now after falling in love and marrying a woman who grieved the loss of her husband, I am coming to appreciate the singularity of the impact of losing a spouse to death. Yet, I am also coming to realize that a deep sense of loss over a divorce, a lost job or a devastating illness carries with it a somewhat similar load of emotional upheaval.

One of the most distinguishing reactions after losing a spouse to death is the almost indescribable loss of control over every aspect of your life. That is accompanied by a gripping sense that nothing can ever be the same again. That arouses great sympathy for the grieving spouse as it should.

I only submit here that divorced men and women deserve some modicum of the same empathy because their loss is also painfully and deeply disruptive.

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

Invisible disabilities demand our understanding

I often think Moses dropped a Commandment as he descended from the mountain. Thou must not judge other people by their appearances should have been that 11th Commandment.

I learn practically every day that I shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover” and come to rash, unfounded conclusions about people simply based on their appearances. Yet it is a sin I commit almost hourly even though the last thing I want people to do is to come to conclusions about me based on my appearance.

And yet appearances only tell half the story in the world of disabilities. It is is incredibly obvious that my limbs are twisted and you don’t have to be very astute to see that my son Jason has Down syndrome. But recently the other side of disabilities, the invisible side, has entered my consciousness and caused me some real concern about my own insensitivity.

Invisible disabilities require us to be sensitive even though we may not immediately recognize them. I developed a close friendship with a man with tinnitus, ringing in the ear and just yesterday I found that another friend suffers with it too.  Several months ago I read this long story about misophonia, the hatred of sounds. And now a celebrity, Kelly Ripa, has said she suffers from that disease which strikes me as a hateful one.

Just this week I encountered a well-functioning student who deals with a condition that was absolutely new to me called Synaesthesia.  “It is a phenomenon in which the stimulation of a sense can activate other senses. Synaesthetes perceive their environment a little differently, than other people: Music can be colored, letters and figures can be associated with genders and personality types, and forms can have a taste.”

My student associates colors with letters. I was stunned to hear about such a thing but the student was quick to tell me she does not consider it a disability. I admire that attitude but I tend to consider anything I wouldn’t want to have as a disability.

When I hear about the invisible challenges I am forced to ponder how many unfair conclusions I have made about people because I did not realize that their behavior was caused by an invisible disability. It reminds me that I have to cut everyone slack and assume the best about them.

There is much debate about who said it but I have always been smitten with the quote: “Be kind, everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

Those are rich, guiding words for every day encounters with people who may be suffering in ways we simply can’t see.

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