Some random observations

Some things that have intrigued, angered or pleased me.

  • I hate cancer and its ravages so much, I feel sometimes as if I could punch it in the face.
  • A lot of ink has been spilled complaining  about United Airlines and its fiasco with Dr. David Dao. Focus on the fact that this reprehensible incident would not occur if United had put their customer’s interests before their internal needs. Too few American businesses today focus on maximizing their customer’s experiences because it is easier for them to make their own internal systems or processes serve the bottom line. When you read today that another government regulation has bit the dust, ask yourself if that move will improve your life as a consumer. Unlikely.
  • I know people who refuse to give a few bucks to a homeless person because they say they fear funding an alcohol or drug problem. How about this? You could buy a bunch of $5 McDonald gift certificates and hand those out. Or if you want to take an extra step, hand out “kindness bags” to the homeless folks asking for money. Simply buy some bags and put in a juice box or two, beef jerky, instant soup, a can of tuna and some protein bars. Needy people get real food and you have shared your gifts.
  • I get frustrated by a lot of things, but I still find myself happiest when I find the good in things and concentrate on gratitude.
  • It amuses me when I hear someone say, “That is hysterical” and they barely crack a smile. If it’s really hysterical, shouldn’t they be rolling on the floor?
  • I have seriously wondered if coffee shops would make more money if they gave away the coffee and took a percentage of all the deals conducted in their space.
  • I hate the fact that I need to approach Google with such a cautious “buyer-beware” attitude.  I like a business called Phoenix Flower Shops because  of its customer service, high quality and it is local. But when I Google Phoenix flowers  I get four listings and Phoenix Flower Shops is not the first. Other companies try to slide in on Phoenix Flower Shops brands. I know it’s my fault if I mess up and do business with one of the pretenders. It still ticks me off.
  • I have decided one of the keys to enjoying retirement is to avoid thinking about what you are not doing and focus on all the good you did before you retired. And, maybe some of the screw-ups too.
  • A few weeks ago I found myself crying when a friend completed a major accomplishment. Tears of joy over another person’s triumph are warm and gooey and probably a sign that maturity may await just around the corner.
  • A good sandwich of one of life’s most underrated gifts.

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.

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

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:

BEFORE I GO TO BED
I KNEEL AND PRAY EVERY NIGHT.
I WONDER IF GOD’S PROUD OF ME.
I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT.

But then Thorn hit me with the chorus;

THE MORE I LEARN THE LESS I KNOW
THE MORE I CHANGE
THE MORE I GROW.
I PRAY THE ROAD I’M TRAVELIN’ ON WILL LEAD ME TO THE LIGHT
GOD I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT.

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

Do people speak from the other side or do we hear what we want to hear?

I am not a fan of the idea that we get messages “from the other side.” I have always found the idea that people hear voices of the dead real creepy.

And yet, I believe in the Divine and I actually have had personal experiences with messages from what I believe was the spirit. On page 26 of my book “Some People Even Take Them Home” I talk about one of those moments that occurred hours after Jason was born as I ate clam linguine. I wrote: “To this moment I cannot explain the source of my uneasy feeling, but that odd emptiness in my stomach is an overwhelming memory because it was a prelude to one of the most important spiritual moments I have ever experienced and I was totally unprepared. Moments like these do not advertise themselves. They do not send you an advance message to be on guard. They possess you, you do not possess them.”

“The haunting thing about this moment the night of Jason’s birth was that it brought simultaneous thoughts and emotions. I knew with a strange, unequivocal certainty that the ridge on my son’s stomach was bad news, that my fears were completely justified. Yet, at the same time, there was a palpable, comforting presence assuring me everything would work out. Fear and comfort locked in mortal battle, but comfort, with the “Other” on its side, clearly won.”

I have actually been blessed with two other inexplicable interventions from “out there” in my life. My Catholic faith tradition tells me it’s the Holy Spirit. Some people of every faith, and even some non-believers, know that feeling of an “Other” inserting itself into their raggedy, unworthy life. One was job related and the other involved a serious surgery. In each of the three cases I can affix the exact location of the source of the intervener. The one at Jason’s birth was over my left shoulder and it felt very close to my ear. The second intervention was in the same location and the third was out in front of me, to the right.

Despite those very clear experiences I have been quite skeptical when other widows and widowers tell me they have received communications from their spouses. One widow told me about lights flickering in her house and a widower told me he often felt his late wife’s presence with him. I had heard nothing from my wife Jean since her death last June so it was easy to remain polite but skeptical. I had to believe such things were poppycock or I had to believe Jean had just moseyed onto the other side without much thought of me.

Tuesday morning changed all that. I write what follows, not to convince anyone, but to simply share my experience and my belief.

I walked into my office Tuesday and as I do everyday I looked at Jean’s picture on my desk. Tuesday, Jean’s always beautiful smile seared my soul. For a second or four I basked in the power of that smile and I “heard” or perhaps “felt” the words “What you are doing Tim is very good and I am really okay with it.” I wish there was more but there wasn’t.

At that moment a sanguine sense I have only experienced three other times in my life overwhelmed me and I smiled like hell right back at that picture.

I know that some readers are shaking their heads in disbelief and worrying that McGuire has lost it. I am just as sure there are others who have had similar experiences and are nodding their approval and understanding.

Each journey is our own.

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.