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

St. Patrick’s Day was a watershed day on the journey

St. Patrick’s Day 2015 will go down as a watershed day on my journey.

Much to my dismay I could not find anything green or Irish to wear this morning. As I frantically searched, I fondly remembered that my late wife Jean used to order me a snappy green boutonniere every March 17th when I was working at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

As I reflected, a deep joy came over me as I remembered that typically sweet, loving gesture Jean made every year. It was vintage Jean. It was kind, imaginative and full of love. Jean always heard a different drummer and came up with cute, unique expressions of affection for everyone in the family. Her creativity made loving her a special adventure

It was a wonderfully delightful memory that I savored for several minutes.

And, that’s the watershed part.

That delightful memory triggered deep love, gratitude and affection instead of the grief it would have provoked just a few months ago. This time I savored. I didn’t sob. I didn’t tear up. The memory wasn’t full of regret and sadness.

I celebrated. Nine months after Jean’s death I have reached a point where memories are sweet celebrations of love and not debilitating moments of grief and sorrow.

I immediately went to the florist to buy a green boutonniere. Unsurprisingly, you had to have the foresight to order it in advance as Jean always did so thoughtfully.

So if you see me today you will not see a green boutonniere on my lapel, but I assure you it’s there on my heart. And, I am smiling, not crying. The journey goes on.

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

Someone always has it worse, always

So I am working out at my fitness center the other day feeling fairly smug that despite my profound limp and my right arm, which is mostly decorative, I was doing resistance weights just like everybody else.

Then a man hobbles to the machine next to me using a walker and carrying his water bottle in his mouth. The man’s disability makes me look like Mr. Bodybuilder. With incredible strain he pulled on the resistance machine with raw courage. As he exceeded his own natural limits I was reminded of the lesson I have had to learn and relearn all my life–someone always has it worse, always.

I remember the lesson from my youth. When I was bound in casts and braces I would frequently encounter kids who could not walk at all.

When I worked at the Minneapolis Star Tribune I would sometimes start feeling sorry for myself for either professional or personal reasons. It seemed as if every time I did, I would turn a corner and encounter a man who worked at the newspaper who used crutches with disabled arms and struggled with every step. I would invariably mutter a little prayer: “Okay God, I get it, I am really a lucky guy.”

We always had the same experience with Jason, our Down syndrome son. His behaviors often upset us but one glance at many of his peers reminded us that our burdens were small compared to some. I have found many parents of special needs children view their own challenges as routine but they feel awful for the family next door.

The human spirit is a resilient one. Rising up to our own challenges is important but respecting the journeys of other is also required because, indeed, someone always has it worse, always.