It is so easy to run the lives of others rather than our own

Let’s go back to the coffee shop on a sunny Arizona morning for today’s life lesson.

I am sitting alone so I can’t get into much trouble gossiping about my neighbors. But at that table over there, two people are going through a litany of friends and bad-mouthing each and every one. The people at the table right next to me are doing the same thing. They are all talking in voices I don’t have to strain to hear. The people at both tables are theorizing about what Tom, Dick and Julie should be doing, ought to do and things they “just need to realize.”

They all seem to have just the right answers about what their friends, families and acquaintances ought to do with their lives. It doesn’t matter a whit that the gossipers own lives are probably train wrecks, but by God they know what someone else ought to do. They seem to have the special rule book that tells them all the “right ” things other people should do. They know that even if they really don’t understand their “friends” real circumstances.

I am certainly guilty of the same behavior. It is always very clear to me how someone else ought to run their lives. On my good days I shut my mouth. On bad days, I tell someone else how and what that other person should do.

We all frequently attempt to direct other people’s live from afar, but we feel remarkably different when we hear that other people are second-guessing our decisions and our behavior. We get huffy and angry. “How dare they presume to know all the things I struggle with and carry. How dare they assume they have a guidebook to behavior that I don’t.” I can work myself into a perfect snit over other people’s audacity and cheekiness, all the while forgetting that I do it to other people all the time.

As I have written in this space so many times, our journey is our own. Only we know what makes sense for us. Only we know where our heart takes us and where it’s been. It is impertinent and maddening when other people judge our journey with an implied arrogance that they know best.

But every time I find myself in high dudgeon over those people who think they could run my life better than I can, I try to remind myself that I own that sin too. I judge them too. Until we walk other people’s journey in their shoes we don’t know squat about what they are going through or what their best decision might be.

We would all be best off if we remember the lyrics of an old Hank Williams tune: “Cause if you mind your business, then you won’t be mindin’ mine.”

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

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

One Starfish at a time is sometimes the right path

Last week I did a speech about the importance of scholarships at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University. I closed the short speech with a story I heard years ago at a United Way motivational meeting. The version I told went like this:

I often worry that my scholarship isn’t big enough to help all the students I would like to help.

But then I am reminded of the story of the man walking along the beach. In the far distance he is mystified by a man who is repeatedly throwing something back into the sea.

As he approached, the man realized the guy was throwing Starfish who had been beached on the sand, back into the ocean.

“What in God’s name are you doing man? There are millions of Starfish up here. You can’t possibly save them all.”

As the guy reached down for another Starfish he said, “No, I can’t, but for this Starfish, I am making all the difference.”

A prominent man came up after the speech and asked me where it came from. A little Wikipedia research indicated The Star Thrower” (or starfish story”) is part of a 16-page essay of the same name by Loren Eisley (1907–1977), published in 1969 in The Unexpected Universe.

I have probably used that story in speeches more than 100 times in the 20 or so years since I heard it, yet it has haunted me for the last week. It carries such a wonderful, powerful message. So many of us get discouraged when we can’t fix all the problems right now. We can feel so inadequate in the face of our personal problems, much less the challenges that confront the country and the world. Yet one act of kindness, one meaningful conversation, one mentor-ship or 10 bucks might change the course of events for someone.

One day last week a delightfully sincere student approached me to thank me for an unconventional class lecture I delivered. I had worried a lot about that lecture. I had chosen to deliver the lecture even though I knew many students might not find a lot of meaning in it.

After the kind student’s remarks I realized once again that you are never going to please all the people all the time. But in this case I profoundly affected that student and I am just fine with that. Sometimes deeply touching one person is better than having minimal impact on the many.

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 small-mindedness of people continues to amaze me

My Down syndrome son Jason was not mainstreamed in high school, but we did all we could to make his high school experience as “normal” as possible. He was mainstreamed in religion classes where he met a lot of the boys he encountered in high school. His mother and my late wife, Jean, always encouraged Jason to “high-five” his friends rather than hug them to make him like the other guys. In that same quest to make him “like the other guys,” we also bought him a high school Varsity jacket so he could be “cool.”

The jacket had his name, his graduation year, 1999 on the sleeve and the school’s mascot name on the back. I vaguely remember there was some discussion about getting Jason a letter but we decided the jacket was plenty and he hadn’t really earned a letter. But, I will tell you that my attitude would have changed it somebody had said Jason could not wear a letter because somebody else said so.

I have been having an ongoing discussion recently with a close friend about her contention that most people are basically good if you give them a chance. I desperately want to believe that, but I am too often encountering people who shock me with their smallness and meanness.

The cause of my most recent ire is this story out of Wichita. A Wichita woman is telling news media that the high school principal ordered her Down syndrome son to remove the Varsity letter sports letter from his sports jacket. The principal without appropriate shame confirms that his teachers told the mother they did not want the boy wearing a letter he did not earn. The mother claims the action was instigated by another parent of a varsity athlete. This is the dictionary definition of small and mean.

What in our society has led people to think that telling the Down syndrome boy not to wear his letter because he didn’t earn it, is a good idea? Was nobody around to say, “you know this is really dumb and a lot of people are going to hate us for this?” It appears shame has taken a powder. Apparently people are just not concerned these days about appearing small and mean. One would hate to think that selfishness has become so dominant in our society that people can’t see beyond their own interests.

I sort of get the fact that letters should be earned, that was my instinct 16 years ago. However, I bemoan the lack of empathy in our society that does not allow people to cut a Down syndrome high school boy a little slack. Who really gets harmed if special education students are allowed to wear letters? And don’t tell me that if you allow one non-athlete to wear a letter then everybody should be able to wear one. That is antiquated everybody-has-to-be-equal thinking that is simply the work of narrow minds.

Can’t we all just lighten up and get along?

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

My 66th birthday, and the first without my late wife, looked quite different

I turned 66 Tuesday.

That modest language seems appropriate rather than exuberant verbs like celebrated. And yet, nothing about birthday 66 seemed unimportant or trivial.

For the last several years I have been complacent about birthdays. “It’s just another day, ” was my frequent refrain. I said that once Tuesday and it felt false, even phony. I regretted it the instant it escaped my mouth because it wasn’t true.

This birthday was a big deal but not for its opportunity to drink, party and make a special fool of myself as I did many more times than I should have on my life’s journey. This birthday made a special mark on me because gratitude took its appropriate place after last year’s death of my wife Jean.

As I told several well-wishers Tuesday, the point now is to keep having more birthdays. The importance of appreciating the gift of life becomes far clearer as I enter what I hope are the last 20 years of my life. As one birthday greeter said, “Happy birthday, Tim. Every year is a gift.” That is so true and such a vital thing to remember. I wish it was a perspective I could say I have had all my life, but I’d be a liar. It has taken age, wisdom and a little fear of death to help me realize that sense of gift.

It is definitely true, though, that the realization of life as a gift has been informed and given urgency by Jean’s death. Every time I said “the key is to keep having them,” I thought of Jean and the fact that she will never have another. I didn’t tear up every time I said that, but I do think it has strengthened my resolve to live my life more fully and with more gratitude.

Wednesday morning a woman who desperately wanted a copy of my book offered to pay for it. She can’t afford it and I can, so giving her the copy with a warm inscription was really pretty small potatoes when it comes to kind acts. But, the joy on the woman’s face and her enthusiastic and genuine promise to “start reading it right away,” made my day. It also reminded me that brightening people’s lives and doing kind acts every day is a crucial way to recognize the blessing and gift of each day we draw breath.

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