Sunday, December 11, 2011

Business Cards: New Identity for the New Year

I am in the process of printing new business cards.

I ran out of my old ones last week and have been putting off ordering new ones. There are a great deal of changes that are coming in my life in the New Year, and I wanted to make sure that I was able to meet these challenges with a new frame of mind, a regenerated sense of faith and, moreover, a strong and engaged sense of confidence.

So I thought about re-doing my business cards with a different color, maybe a little design in the corner…but then I looked at one of my old cards and read the words stamped into the paper.

On the card it says my name, my credential, a line underneath that says “Psychotherapy and Mediation”, my phone number, fax…and that’s about it. It says nothing about me. If you picked this card up out of a pile of a hundred, it would not catch your eye. It’s boring. It has the same perfunctory information that every other business card has. Nothing makes it stand out. It’s just another card.

So I decided that I was going to change things up a little bit. I’ll keep the phone and fax number, but underneath my name, instead of “Psychotherapy and Mediation”, I have some ideas. The card has to be different. In that space underneath my name, it has to say something more specific. Something memorable. Something that you won’t see on another card, anywhere. Something that just grabs your attention by the collar and gives it a good shake.

My card should say something confident and heroic, like “Ed McShane, Quarterback.” It should give the aura of intelligence, maybe “Ed McShane, Astrophysicist.” Or maybe it should represent truth, justice and the American Way: “Ed McShane, Superman.”

I have thought about dozens of possibilities to use, some descriptive, others informative, and others that make no sense at all: “Ed McShane, Handsome beyond words.” “Ed McShane, Takes No Prisoners.” “Ed McShane, twenty four carat heart of gold.”

I was thinking I could truly reinvent myself and put anything I want on this thing. I mean, really, who cares? What would be the difference if I said I was “Ed McShane, SuperGenius” or “Ed McShane, Cellophane Man?” What would it matter? And to whom? They’re my cards, it’s the image I want to project…I mean, life is short. Why not?

So in a couple of weeks or so I’m going to decide on a card that screams cool, smart, confident, handsome and clever. OK, so I’m probably stretching the truth on the cool and smart part. And maybe the handsome, smart and clever part, too…

But I accept life’s challenge on this one. And life is so short, you know? So I need a little help on this. I don’t want to be the only one engaging in this process. I want all of you to take this challenge, and I want to hear about it. If you had to print out your business cards, and had to put a descriptive few words or phrase underneath it, what would it be? Send it to me at . Let me know what you come up with. I’ll write about the results in the upcoming weeks.

I still have to sift through the phrases that I have in my head. The one I’m leaning toward right now is: “Ed McShane. Yes, THAT Ed McShane…”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Never a bad Christmas

I met an old friend of mine over a cup of coffee about a week ago. We went to a coffee shop around the corner from his apartment. It's not his usual place, but he's having trouble getting around these days. His movements are deliberate, his gait his slowed, and he gets tired easily.
My friend is my age, has a family, but has needed to take leave from his job. His wife is worried about him all the time. His kids are, too. His condition is getting progressively worse, and his doctor's have told him to take it easy.
This old friend of mine is dying. He has an inoperable form of cancer that has decided to take the express lane through his capillaries in the last few weeks. His doctors, his wife, and his children know that this will be his last Christmas.
Now, I was told of his condition two weeks ago and it didn't really come as a surprise. I have seen him deteriorate in distinct measure and seeing this kind of change really saddened me. When his wife called to confirm my suspicions, I went to see him right away. I thought he could use the time away, and I needed to see him again.
When a friend is dying, the conversation will inevitably turn itself toward his mortality. It just can't be avoided. He knows it, he knows you know it, and the coffee tends to speed up the conversation. Once we both got past the "how are you's" and "man, how about those Chargers?", the words between us began to lag a little, so I thought I’d ask a question that I wanted to know. It was getting late, and I thought I’d just throw this one out there.
I said "Hey. Please forgive me for asking this but I kinda need to know. What will you miss about all this?" waving my hand around the coffee shop.
He said "You mean this dump you dragged me into?"
I said "No, no...I mean, about this. The people. Your family. The memories....what comes to mind that you'd miss?
His first response was almost immediate: "Christmas, man. I'm going to miss Christmas. I'm going to miss the sounds, mostly. All that noise. It's like music to me. And the lights. Man it's like heaven. You know, I figure that heaven has a wing set up for Christmas all year long. No matter what kind of cloud your on, no matte where you are, you can snap your fingers and be anywhere from London during Dickens time or a Christmas from your childhood. I hope I get there...."
I ordered us another couple of cups.
"You know, I look forward to Christmas every year. I start thinking about it in the summer. I hang my first string of white lights around the patio in July. I just don't know a time every year that has such love, such an outpouring of love, built into so many days of the year. In past Christmas', I've been alone, in jail, on the road, and really sick. I've been with strangers, with family, and at work and you know what? I've never, ever had a bad Christmas. Not one. To me, they’ve all been wonderful. Christmas. Whenever there is that much good in the air, whenever we stop thinking about ourselves and begin to think about somebody else with as much energy and focus and love that we do around Christmas, all is good. And I'm going to miss that.
Before I leave this earth, I'm going to tell my kids just that. That Christmas is always good, no matter what. We are here, together, as a family and as a part of the greater whole of love and kindness. I hope that they keep that in their heart always, and I hope that they think of me next Christmas...I will miss them, I guess. You know, I miss them already."
We finished the coffees and headed back to his place. His lights have been since early November and won't come down until mid-January. NASA can see his apartment from satellite photos.
I hugged my friend goodbye, I got into my car, and I drove away. And as I hit the freeway heading home, I softly sang "Oh Holy Night" to myself. And as I looked back over my shoulder to take one last look at my friend's apartment, I thought about him.
Christmas is the gift of each other. Be with somebody this Christmas. If you’re alone, give yourself to the poor, the elderly, and the sick. If you’re with somebody, give of yourself fully to them. Be your best self this Christmas for the people you’re with. Keep each other in your heart, no matter how far away they may be. May it be the best Christmas you’ve ever had..

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Heart of Holiday Survival

I am your father, brother, sister, mother, cousin, uncle, aunt and friend. The holidays are here and you’re going to be spending time with me. We haven’t been around each other a great deal this year. But now we’re together, in one house, for a whole day, to catch up. Nothing may be as uncomfortable for you as that. Nothing may be quite as awful as spending time with somebody that I haven’t really gotten to know very well in a long while, Well, I have news for you: I feel the same way.

We’re all supposed to hang around and make small talk. Most of us are hoping the TV is on as a distraction. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can get called into the kitchen to help prepare things and stay out of the social atmosphere, saving our conversation for dinner. But odds are that we’ll be sitting and standing around one another, not really knowing what to say past “So, how are things?” and “Really, how about that?”

I don’t want you to feel like you’re uncomfortable to be with me. I know that, in any family, things come up from the past. We can’t help but hold onto the feelings surrounding our history. But the attitude that comes forth from those feelings keeps us living in that history, not in the moment, not in the celebration of the day.

There were times within that history that were good. There were times that brought us together when we were young. They made us close and the kept us together. Those experiences joined our hearts together as family and friends. We still hold that connection. It is the foundation of that history that brings us here today.

Today, please look at me as I am, how I’ve softened over the years. In these eyes, see me as the person I was when we were both younger, both more free of the judgments and anger. I wish that no resentment cloud our vision of one another today.

Smile at me today, OK? I promise I’ll smile back. No sarcasm, no innuendo, nothing hurtful. I know that we may be different, but we come from the same place and have arrived at this time today under the guise of sharing a celebration with one another. The spirit of our enjoyment together begins with a smile.

Be interested in seeing me. It will relax me immediately. I won’t need my guard up, won’t need to be defensive. I can feel like it’s all right be the person I am today and still feel accepted regardless of all that has come before us. That interest you show will melt away years of anger and misunderstandings. It will begin a new chapter of our relationship.

Above all else, look at me-whomever I am in your family or circle of friends-as someone you have loved. Carry with you that love in your heart for me, as I will for you. Let all unpleasantness drift away. Through the spirit of sharing that love with one another, let us enjoy this time we have.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Commit Random Acts of Waving

I want to tell you an absolutely true story.

There is a senior living housing complex about a half mile from my office. On the way to work, and often on the way back, I’d see a man with very white hair, walking along the street.

Every day he would wear essentially the same outfit, which was a short sleeved white shirt and black pants. Other than his noticeable white hair, he would be somebody you’d pass on the street without notice.

At different times during the afternoon, but always in the morning about 7:30, this man would walk along the street which I drove on my way to work, and he would wave to the oncoming traffic. It was every morning. I never saw him miss a day.

I thought it was charming. Without fail, his waving would draw my attention to him. Seeing him every morning would draw at least a pleasant thought, if not a smile and an occasional wave back to him. Thinking that he wouldn’t see me wave, particularly if I was going in the other direction, I’d usually just stick my hand up in the air and quickly pull it back down.

He had such energy. The man looked eighty if he was a day, and may have been much older. He walked with somewhat of a halting gait, slightly stooped, but always sticking his arm high into the air, waving with enthusiasm. I liked it when I saw him, and I saw him virtually every day.

One morning, the traffic was somewhat slower than usual. An accident along the way made the driving more deliberate. I looked to the left, and saw the fixture of the morning walking along his steady route, waving at the cars as they passed. He sported the white shirt, black pants, and beautiful white hair. There he was, hand outstretched and waving from the wrist, with a smile on his face.

Then I saw something that I hadn’t noticed in all the mornings I’d seen him. I probably wasn’t paying very close attention in the past, and they may have been doing this all along, but with my car crawling along, the drivers in this traffic caught my

attention with the most unusual form of collective automotive behavior I’d ever seen. They were all waving back! Almost to a car, the folks behind their wheels were responding to him. Some stuck their hands out of their windows; others just lifted their wrist off the steering wheel and wiggled their fingers. But, every single driver within eyeshot of the man waved back.

After seeing that, I’d make a point of watching what the traffic was doing, and try to look at the people looking at him. Every morning, they waved. Every single morning, most of the folks in the traffic in both directions, waved.

This went on for several months, probably the better part of a couple of years, but I really don’t remember. It was an every morning observation. Just like observing the sky, the trees, the traffic and the noise, I observed the man on the street waving his arm to hundreds and thousands of anonymous friends in their cars. He eased the experience of driving to and from wherever we were going. It was nearly a guarantee to smile every single day.

One day, I noticed he was missing. This happened again the next morning, and the next. After a week, I realized that he hadn’t been there
from one Monday morning to the following. From

that point on, I didn’t see him anymore. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t know why he stopped showing up, and I never found out.

I wanted to know why he’d disappeared, but I knew, or at least expected, that my inquiry would be met with bad news. An accident, a stroke, possibly even his death, may have been the answer I’d receive, and I selfishly never asked. To date, I have never found out what happened, and because he has been gone over two years now, I expect I’ll never see him on the street again.

That is why I did what I did a few weeks ago. I’d been thinking about how much I missed seeing him every day, and how much I’d missed having that guaranteed smile on my face on my way to work. So, one morning I took a few hours off from work. I got up a little early, got dressed, cancelled my first couple of morning clients, and parked about a half- mile from my office. I got out of my car and took a little walk. Did I mention that I happened to be wearing a white shirt?

For about an hour, I walked back and forth along the route to my office, and I waved at everybody. Not a wave like I was trying to draw attention to myself, but like my predecessor with the white hair,
I was waving as part of my walk. I didn’t want to make a point of waving. I wanted to be like him,

just a man out for a morning walk, smiling and waving to the traffic.

I must tell you, for about ten minutes I thought I was going to be arrested and taken away in one of those nice coats with the very long sleeves. It’s one thing for a kindly looking old man to wave to traffic. But, a middle-aged bearded Irish guy waving…well, I thought people would think I’d need to go back to the locked ward before I was taken there against my will. I was sure, at the very least, that several people would roll down their windows and yell, “You look so dumb,” “You don’t do it as well as the last guy,” or something equally as encouraging.

For the first few minutes I didn’t make much eye contact with the traffic, if any. I just walked along the road, looking straight ahead, waving to the onlookers. I kept my head down, sticking my arm up a little, doing this as if I was carrying out a penance.

When I finally got enough courage to look up, I saw something I truly didn’t expect. The drivers, en masse, in almost every car, were waving back to me. A smile came to my face and lightness to my step, and had I not scheduled a therapy session for later in the morning, I would’ve been on the street

all morning just walking, smiling, and waving. I was having a blast.

Since then, on occasion I’ve had a chance to walk along that piece of road. Every time I do, I always wave to the traffic. Maybe it’s in honor to my anonymous old friend, or maybe it’s just an effort to keep the tradition alive. But I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, waving and smiling to the approaching traffic. Every time, without fail, I’ve seen most of the drivers in every car smile and wave back.

You see this more often than you may think. There are waving kids trying to get you to pull into a car wash, folks directing you to a garage sale, or those people on the corner with big directional signs to send you to a store. I’ll bet if you were waved to, you waved back at them. Or you may have even waved first. It’s out there. And it’s such a nice, pleasant gesture.

I benefit from that fleeting contact, and I’m going to gather that you do, too. It truly does lift your day, and it is an action in passing, something that is done almost as an afterthought. They wave, you wave back, and both continue on with business
as usual.

So here’s the deal. Be conscious of waving at people. I know I’ve referred to waving while you’re driving, because that’s how this activity was introduced to me. At the very least, wave to people who let you into their lane. Wave if you’ve unintentionally cut somebody off. Wave if you are slowing up the traffic and you are just asking for patience. At the very least, make it a part of your everyday etiquette when you’re behind the wheel. I know that this essay started with introducing you to that lovely man who waved during his walk. I’m not suggesting that anybody take up that pastime, because I know most of you would feel as self-conscious about it as I did. But, if you decide to make waving at people who are walking down your
street a part of your everyday habits, if you decide to walk near a busy street and greet the traffic as they fly past, there is a precedent. And, this is just such a neat thing.

His name was Eiler Larson. As the story was told to me, he was a homeless man who stood on the main street of Laguna Beach every day and waved to the people in their cars as they came into the city. He did this for years, maybe even decades. He was such an enduring fixture of the city that a local hotel gave him a room and a local restaurant gave him meals. This went on for over twenty years.

When he died, the city council voted to erect a statue of Mr. Larson at the place where he stood for all those years, greeting the incoming to the city. That statue remains there today.

So, start waving. And if you get very brave, get out of your car and wave to the oncoming traffic. You’ll feel better and Lord knows the people driving in your direction will get a kick out of it. They’ll smile and wave back, too. I know. I’ve tested the theory.

And who knows? If you do it long enough, you might get a statue erected for your efforts. It happened once. It could happen again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Notice the Invisible People

One birthday not too long ago a friend of mine bought me a limousine ride to a restaurant for a nice lunch. The ride was about twenty five minutes from my office so my friend and I got to talk a while in the back, look at the scenery, and have a glass of wine. It was a really nice ride. I am not much of a limo riding kind of guy. In fact I’ve only been in a limo twice outside of the ones that take you from the church to the gravesite. So this ride was pretty special.

When we got to the restaurant, the limousine driver held the door to let us out, and said that he would be waiting at the door upon our return. As I was walking toward the restaurant a thought crossed my mind, and I turned back to the car, knocked on the driver’s window, and as he rolled down the window I asked, “What would you like for lunch?”

The driver’s eyes widened and didn’t say anything at first. When he finally spoke, the only words that came from his mouth were “excuse me?”

I said, again, “What would you like for lunch?”

He looked at me and, slowly, he said “a sandwich?”

So I asked him “what kind would you like?” He said “Turkey, please.” This went on for a few seconds. I asked him what kind of bread, if he wanted mayonnaise, that kind of thing.

Finally, I just came out and asked him, “Has anybody ever asked you if you wanted lunch before?” He said “No, no one has. And frankly, this gives me goose bumps.”

I ordered his sandwich first, ran it out to the limo, and then sat down with my friend for our lunch. When we got back in the limo, I asked that the divider from the driver’s seat to the back be opened. Then I asked him about his job. “How many hours do you spend it a car? Does your back hurt from sitting so long? Where do you park the limo when it’s time to go home?” “What happens when you really have to go to the bathroom?”

What I have found is that so many people around us, while doing their jobs, become a little bit invisible. Think about it. The bus drivers, garbage men, landscapers, housecleaners, gas station attendants…the list is vast. So many people work in a sense of anonymity throughout their lives. They go very much unnoticed. But they are one of us. They are people on the same walk through life as we are. The man that landscapes my office has had a liver transplant and can’t drink caffeine. The woman that cleans my office has an amazing knowledge of indoor plant life. The young man at the gas station has completed one year of college but has to work because his Mom’s sick. Their names are Manny, Maria, and Leo. And they are dear, wonderful people and have made my life better by their presence.

Ask the people you see every day how they feel doing their jobs. Get to know them a little better. Talk to them as if you were talking to somebody you know well. Give them a few minutes of conversation. The world of those you love will have grown by one more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Romance is a necessary, even required part of life-all of life.

On my birthday last year a great friend of mine gave me The New York Times Book of Essential Knowledge. I opened the book at random and the first entry I laid my eyes on-and I swear this is true-was the definition of Romance. . It begins: “Literary form containing characters that seem removed from the real world by fantasy or improbability.”

.The New York Times didn’t get it entirely wrong, but they were close.

The source of this word is Greek, meaning “appears in imagination.” Romance, therefore, originates in a dream. It is the possibility, the “what if”, the “maybe this will work” of Love. In short, Romance gives love style.

I’ll give you some examples.

Love is the smile. Romance is laughter. Love is saying “goodbye.” Romance says “until we meet again.” Love says “I love you.” Romance whispers it in the ear. Love is a hug. Romance makes their ribs squeak. Love is bringing a dozen roses. Romance is the arrangement. Love is an apology. Romance is the amends. Love is sympathy. Romance is empathy. Love is commitment. Romance is passion. Love is Music. Romance is Brahms.

Love is the birds in the trees. Romance is the seed in their birdhouse. Love is the Sun. Romance is the rays on your face. Love is the beautiful blue sky. Romance is the drift of the clouds. Love is the wind. Romance is the breeze.

Love is sweeping the driveway. Romance is twirling the broom. Love makes the coffee. Romance fills the cup and sets it on the table. Love washes the dishes. Romance looks at the reflection in the wine glass. Love lifts. Romance carries.

Love is the bed. Romance is the blanket. Love buys the presents. Romance wraps them with ribbon. Love looks at the moon. Romance sees your lover’s face in the moonlight. Love celebrates. Romance parties.

Love is laughing at a joke your friend told. Romance is laughing at it the fifth time they told it. Love is the old friend who knows your every move. Romance is the old friend that never gets tired of the same old moves.
Love is calling your parents. Romance is listening to them share their stories. Love is visiting the sick. Romance is holding their hand. Love encourages them to good health. Romance helps them laugh away the pain. Love is caring. Romance is carefree.

Love loves you even as we age. Romance knows how great you look with grey hair. Love is wearing your favorite colors. Romance is wearing them every day. Love is champagne. Romance is champagne with a hamburger.

Love feels beauty in your soul. Romance feels beauty with a tear in your eye.

Love is Life. Romance is Living.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quote of Reassurance

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. but the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you."-A.A. Milne

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tom Ryan and 9/11

Tom Ryan and I grew up together on the North Side of Chicago. He was as good a friend to me as I had when I was younger. We went to St. Gertrude School and I always wanted to be a little bit like him. He was bigger, faster, more athletic and more confident than I was. I could sing better than he could-I was in the boys choir, and he wasn’t-but he got to be an altar boy at midnight mass on Christmas, the brass ring for all young boys in our neighborhood. I moved out of the neighborhood when I was 14 and we lost track of one another. Facebook pulled our friendship back together several months ago, and we’ve been catching up on lost time.

Tom has been a firefighter for over twenty years and is the President of the Chicago Firefighter’s union. He’s held this position for a few years now. Last week he was at the dedication of the 9/11 exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago.

I spoke to him about his perspective on the events of 9/11. He told me a few things that I didn’t realize about that day, and his point of view gave me chills. The texture of Tom’s emotion came through the phone as if we were sitting next to each other in the classroom. He told me that the last firefighter’s transmission from the World Trade Center was as follows: “On 78, heavy smoke, many casualties.”

Tom said “78 floors. Think about that. A firefighter wears about one hundred pounds of gear.” So I thought about that. Climbing 78 flights of stairs, barely able to see, in full gear, in hopes of helping people escape. To climb 78 floors while the towers were burning is an act of heroism. Not brave, not courageous, but completely and utterly heroic. Tom continued “ While as many people as possible were fleeing for their lives, running in every direction away from the towers, the firemen and women on the ground and surrounding New York City were moving in.”

Tom told me that he and over fifty firefighters from Chicago were on the ground in New York City on September 12th and spent days and days picking through the rubble, looking for survivors that were never found. He shared with me his deliberations and thoughts, the things he saw, and the feelings he still holds to this day. Ten years later, he asked me to never forget the nearly three hundred people who lost their lives and those who were left behind to remember what happened.

I want to share so much more of what Tom and I talked about, but suffice it to say that the conversation will remain between two old friends. What I can tell you is this: I will never fully grasp the sacrifice that was made by the men and women of the fire departments that aided so many in New York and Washington DC. It is beyond my comprehension, but not my appreciation. It is now my obligation and privilege to express my deepest and most sincere thanks to somebody that represented our country with his full heart engaged and every fiber of his will thrust into the duty he shared in helping this nation come alive again from the awfulness of 9/11.

Thanks, Tommy. I am so incredibly proud of you. Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for helping a nation heal.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sherm kept the ball

Sandlots, in my neighborhood, were not exactly made of sand. And they were not always lots, either. Most of the places kids played baseball were either attached to a school, or in a parking lot. And the school’s lots were paved over or covered in gravel.

The biggest lot was about four blocks away, attached to Nicholas H. Hayt Elementary School in Chicago. I went to kindergarten there. It was, and probably still is, an enormous brick building. Three stories high, it seemed to cover about half a city block. I never went there much. After kindergarten, I went to the Catholic school down the street. I was suspicious of the kids that attended Hayt. For one thing, the name of the school was not exactly inspiring. Given that I was raised in a pretty strict Catholic family, Hayt Public School conjured up visions of ritual torture. I never went during the day; when I did go, in the afternoon, I always went with a crowd of kids.

Hayt’s lot was comprised of two big rectangles, one about the size of a football field going east, and the other, about two thirds the size of the first, going south. It surrounded the back of the school. On each side of the rectangles were six swing sets, two for littler kids and four for big kids. Near the swings were a couple of sets of monkey bars, a sandbox, and other assorted playground stuff.

Just where the rectangles met was the backstop; the infield, on gravel, sat between them. Behind the backstop was the field house, a single story L shaped building that housed baseballs, basketballs, kick balls, swing repair kits, and a small, dank office, with aluminum screens on the windows. This was the office of the great Sherm Janowski.

Sherm was a very large man. He had a sloped forehead, a big, busted in nose, and square jaw. He wore thick, horn rimmed glasses that covered tiny, iridescent brown eyes.. He squinted at you, even if it was overcast and forty degrees. He had a strong neck, iron arms, calloused hands, and an enormous upper back and shoulders. Sherm played a little professional football in his day, whenever that was. He was purported to play some with the Baltimore Colts. I’m glad I didn’t have to play against him.

Sherm wasn’t really a menacing individual, but because I didn’t always hear him speak, or see him interact with the children much, there was a mystery about him. I went to the park after school and on the weekends, when he was cleaning up the playground, or gone. On Saturdays he was in the field house, but never came out. I never remember him speaking to any child, ever. He did his job, kept the grounds clean and made the equipment available, then went about his business quietly.

My first and only encounter with Sherm happened just before my ninth birthday. It was October, an overcast fall day, and I don’t remember why I was at Hayt. It was after school, and a couple of my friends had ventured up that way, or I had met them in the neighborhood, and we went there. When we arrived, the place had been vacated for the day. School was over, and the rest of the kids had gone. Closing in on 5 o’clock, it was the three of us, alone and this monstrous, gravel covered playground.

The two kids I was with lived closer to Hayt than I did; when it came time to leave, they left and headed south, toward the front of the school. To get home, I needed to go east, toward the side of the school. They grabbed their stuff; we said our goodbyes.

For some reason I lingered a little bit. Ever since my childhood, I like to be alone in big places, but only for a little while. I like to be there long enough to get the sense of the place, but not too long to me to feel overwhelmed by its size. So I decided to run around the infield. I pretended to hit a long one, and ran around first, second, and third. When I came into home, I discovered I wasn’t alone on the playground. Just as I hit the backstop, the field house door opened, and out stood the big backed, thick necked frame of Sherm Janowski.

He didn’t move. He peered out past me, up at the sky. He was looking out toward left field, down the huge rectangle past home plate. He glanced down at the ground for a moment, then went back inside. I paused at home plate, because I wasn’t sure what he would do if I made any sudden moves. This was not a man that I wanted to make angry, and having known so little about him, I wanted to be invisible.

He reemerged from the field house, with a bat in his left hand, and a 16-inch softball in his right. He let the door close behind him, and he walked toward the backstop. Instinctively, I began to walk toward the third base line. I wanted to get off the infield if Sherm was going to occupy the same space and, as big as he was, I didn’t figure there would be much space left for me to occupy. As I was inching off the infield, trying not to make eye contact, he called quietly to me, “You. Come ‘ere a minute.”

I froze. With a prayer, I looked around quickly, hoping that he was speaking to another kid. But he was talking to me. I caught his eye and moved my feet a little bit. I felt my body walking toward him, but I was not conscious of exactly where I was going. He looked down at the softball, looked at me, and with his sledgehammer arms, tossed an underhand right to me. I caught the ball off my chest, with both hands, and stood there in front of him, a little to right of the pitcher’s rubber.

“You a McShane?” I answered that I was. I also had five older brothers and two older sisters. My little sister never showed up there, and all my brothers did Maybe they knew Sherm, although they never spoke much about him to me. To them, he was a guy at the playground; to me, he was a presence that embodied mystery.

“Pitch me that ball once, will ya?” He dug his right foot into the ground to brace himself, took the bat off his shoulder and swung it loosely over his head. He was getting ready to hit the ball! This ball, the ball I had in my hand! For a minute, I thought about the bat hitting me if he let go, then I thought, “Forget the bat, stupid, what if the ball it you?” Oh my God, Sherm Janowski, the towering, steel shouldered field general of Hayt playground, is about to kill an eight-year-old kid with a softball. And I was that kid! I was about to die!

And just then, I felt myself almost wet my pants. I caught myself just in time, but I wasn’t sure how much I really wet myself. I didn’t dare look down, because I didn’t want Sherm to know. Then I thought, “Oh great, I’ll be dead with wet pants.” And I just knew all my friends would make fun of me, even though I was dead. Dead kid with wet pants with softball marks in his face. They were really going to get mileage out of this one.

“Put it right about here.” He stuck his bat out, about belt high, right across the plate. I looked into his face, and grabbed the ball like you’d hold a bowling ball before you let loose for the pins, with both of my hands shaking around its laces. I stood there for what seemed an hour. Sherm was steadying the bat on his shoulder; he must have sensed that I was nervous. He then said “I just need to hit it once. I just want to see how far I can jack that thing.” I wasn’t exactly sure what “jack” meant, and I didn’t want to ask. But his statement made me feel a little better. He wanted to hit it far, and his eyes pointed toward the end of the rectangle, more than a hundred yards away.

For a second, I lost track of my nervousness, and thought “this guy’s crazy.” He’s not looking into left field, but beyond it, well past where the fence that enclosed the playground was. I looked quickly over my shoulder. I thought ,”Damn, that is a long way out there.” At the same time, I wanted to be clear with Sherm, letting him know that at the very least, make sure you miss the pitcher. I don’t care how far you hit it, as long as it doesn’t hit me.

I looked back in; he was ready. I gripped the ball one last time and let it go. I had a pretty good idea that it was running in belt high, but I thought it might have been a little fast. I wanted to make sure that it got to the plate. I was small, and although I had pitched sixteen inchers to my friends, this guy was so much bigger that his belt was about the same height as an eight year old’s head.

Sherm swung. To this date, I have never heard anything that has replicated the sound of his bat against that ball. The closest thing that might describe it is that of a rifle shot muffled in a mattress. It was loud, and it was almost crashing in its explosiveness. Startled by the noise, I closed my eyes,then glanced at Sherm. His head was looking up into the sky, and his bat was held loosely in his left hand. His legs were twisted over each other, and he stepped quickly over the plate to steady himself.

Then I looked over my shoulder. The ball was airborne, at a speed I thought reserved for bullets and buckshot. It was soaring, not floating, but soaring through the afternoon sky.
I remember moving toward the ball, sensing that, if it ever came down, I wanted to get an idea of it’s point of landing. I wanted to know where it hit, and memorize that place.

I stopped, waited, and the ball started coming down. It had cleared the entire playground and hit on the other side of the fence. A three hundred fifty foot shot, easy. The ball bounced high when it hit the ground, and kept going, across the street and down the alley. I couldn’t see how far it rolled, but I figure it may have stopped by now.

I looked back to the backstop, and saw him. Sherm just hit a 16-inch softball out of Hayt playground. He held onto his bat, and kept his head down, and started walking toward the ball. “I’ll get it. Thanks.” was all he said. He walked past me, and strode toward the fence to retrieve his prize.

I walked home. I didn’t ever go back to fine the place where the ball hit. I felt it was almost sacrilegious. I couldn’t ever bring myself to look down that street again, never even search the spot. I knew that I was part of history, that I had witnessed one of the most amazing physical displays of majesty ever. I pitched it, he hit it, and I watched it go. That was enough for me. I still see that ball. The rocket leaving left that bat sometimes visits me when I look up at the sky, particularly on October afternoons. If the sky’s just right, I can look up and see that ball fly. And if I look back, I can see the great Sherm Janowski walk past me, retrieving his part of history.

I hope he kept the ball.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Love makes the difference

There’s a statistic out there that indicates that 90 percent of all self help CD’s aren’t even listened to. Another one that says that the effects of self help seminars usually lasts only three days, and then the motivation to change fades. And the most staggering statistic about interpersonal change came from an research study that’s about forty years old and seems to be ignored by many in the therapeutic and psychological communities.

The experiment goes like this: There were two groups. The control group was made up of a few hundred people, as was the experimental group. The members of each group were selected based on their emotional difficulties, like depression or anxiety. The people in the experimental group participated in psychotherapy for about three months to address their issues. The control group was left to their own devices to deal with their problems as they saw fit. At the end of the three months, each person was given a survey to report if their feelings improved, stayed the same, or became any worse.

The results reported by the control group were as follows: one third got better, one third stayed the same, and one third got a little worse. What surprised the researchers was the results from the experimental group, the ones that received therapy: One third got better, one third stayed the same, and one third got a little worse.

The word “therapy” comes from Sanskrit. It means “to teach and to heal.” Think of the best teachers and healers that you’ve ever known. Do you remember what they taught? Do you remember their advice? Or do you remember their kindness, their patience, their encouragement and their support? The best teachers, healers and therapists are the ones that make you believe in yourself. Their message is not through instruction, it’s through attention and love.

Leo Buscaglia, the wonderful author and lecturer, said that people don’t need therapy. We have all the tools to make ourselves a better person. We don’t need any more analysis or interpretation. We need friendship and connections. We need no more reassurance that we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to trust in who we are. We need to begin to believe that, at our very essence, we are good and we will strive to seek the highest good for ourselves and those we love.

Lao Tsu, the father of Taoism, has a wonderful quote: “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” Believe in yourself. Believe in your judgments. Believe in that “center of your being” and you will be guided to the deepest sense of peace, happiness, and contentment. You don’t need a therapist. You need only to know, in your heart, that you are sufficient, you are good, you belong among us, and you will make it through this life just beautifully.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To be a good parent

I am a parent of five children. I am a therapist that has given people instruction on parenting both in therapy and in parenting classes. I would like to think that I was at least an OK parent, but you’d have to ask my kids. I know very few of the things I did well as a father but I could tell you every thing I did badly, largely because I wish I could do them over again in a more attentive and gentler way.

I have seen people yank at their kids. I have seen kids ignored. I have seen symphonies of tantrums followed by admonishment from an angry, tired, and frustrated parent. I have seen these parents, I have had these kids, and I know how both of them feel.

And with regard to parenting, I have learned two things over the years that all the strategies and seminars tend to bypass. In being an effective, loving parent there are really only two things that matter, the rest of which is window dressing in the form of theory and behavioral modification.

The two things are this: To be a good parent, you need to believe in your child and absolutely need to believe in yourself.

This isn’t such an easy thing. If you’re a parent with any kind of conscience at all, you worry about your child all the time. From the day they're born, you worry if they’ll talk, walk, run, and do all the things the other kids do. You worry if they’ll have friends, do well in school, and be happy with themselves. The best thing you can do for your child is believe in their ability to excel. Expect it from them, and reinforce this expectation with encouragement, kindness, consistency and love.

Secondly, believe in yourself. Believe that you can manage the basic tenets of being a good person. Believe that you can stay calm in the midst of difficulty, that you can keep your temper when everyone around you is losing theirs, and that no matter how often your child loses control you remind yourself that you just need to keep focused on their feelings, being the strength through which they can express themselves and grow. You are the example for how they should behave. Believe that you can be the person you want to be, and you’ll be the parent you want to be: Kind, patient, attentive and engaged. These four qualities are the basic foundation of any great parent and, for that matter, any great person.

One last thing. Good parents will let their children flourish. The day will come when they will begin to have lives of their own. That’s how it is supposed to be. But in their growth, give them the following quote. It’s from Winnie the Pooh. Let them take these words with them always and you will always hold them close to your heart.

“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. but the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What do you choose to make yourself happy?

Recently, a friend of mine told me that she really needed to get out of town and spend a few nights at a five start hotel to unwind. She planned on renting a car, taking a long trip to see the sights, eating fabulous meals, drinking very expensive wine, and just relax.

I asked her how much she much she thought she’d be spending on this trip and she told me about three thousand dollars, which roughly comes out to about $750 a day. But she qualified this by adding that she had been working hard and she deserved to treat herself a little. She says that she tries to do this about once every three months as part of her “self maintenance program.”

Now, two things immediately stood out about her trip. The first is that she said that she “really needed” this trip. The second was that she deserved it. The cost made my head spin, but it was how she defined her needs and her deserving nature that really puzzled me.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve listened to people tell me of their needs or what they felt they are entitled to. I have mediated over more than a few divorces that bring out the worst in people when it comes to their rights about money, property and the like. It is an adversarial process and I understand, in that context, why folks get so caught up in themselves.

But to feel you deserve to spend that much money on yourself in such short period of time for such a distinct degree of self indulgence seems, actually, a little counterproductive. I would submit that when she comes back from her trip, she is going to feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as she was before she left in a matter of days. She will be trying to find more relief shortly, and probably once again discover that her ways to relax just don’t work.

The field of Positive Psychology did a study that wanted to find out what made people happy. They had two groups: One that did what they would normally do in order to find happiness, whether it was going on vacation or seeing a ballgame or something, and the other group was to give of their time and service to somebody in need to make that person feel happy. Guess what the results showed? The second group, the ones that were told to give of themselves to another person, responded as being more fulfilled, content, and happy than the first group in every single test.

I suggested to my friend that if she really wanted to feel better, there was a homeless women’s shelter on her way to the airport. She would also pass schools, hospitals, day care centers and nursing homes, all in need of help, all in need of a little support, a little time, and a little love. And the money in her purse wouldn’t hurt, either. I’m certain that it would add a great deal of joy to whomever she decided to share it with.

I don’t know what my friend ultimately did. But I know what I would choose if I truly wanted to further my own sense of happiness and contentment. And I hope each and every one of you would choose the same thing…

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Help: Here's how it's done.

About a week ago, I got an email from a guy that lost his job. He asked me to point him in the right direction to get him a job as soon as possible. In the email, he sounded really desperate. He’s my age, maybe a little younger. He’s been a therapist and a social worker for over twenty years. I met him when we were both social workers for the County. Both much younger, both of us holding a lot of promise for our futures.

I lost track of him over the years. I knew that he was working for a few social service agencies in the area and had a good deal of success. I always thought he was a gentle, smart, hardworking guy that deeply cared for people and their welfare.

So it stunned me when I got the message. I read it and read it again. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt cold all over. Budget cuts laid him off and he was drowning. I felt helpless.

I tried to contact him a couple of times but with no luck. I have tried to reach him through email and the phone. I worry about him. I hope that he can get employed with somebody soon. And I hope to hear, either from him or somebody else, that he’s OK.

It’s hard when you’re out of work. Actually, “hard” isn’t a big enough word. When you’re unemployed, you lose a part of who you are, that eight-hours-a-day, forty-hours-a-week part. That part of yourself that gets up in the morning, meets the day, and puts in an honest, hard days work to pay for your shelter, your food, your transportation, your healthcare, and your livelihood.

That’s the part of yourself you lose. And when that part is lost, it’s an earthquake.

I began to think of those I know that are unemployed. I know a woman with two children. She has multiple health problems. She has no money and is trying to take any job she can. I know one young man that has been out of work for six months and he looks for work every day. And the list seems endless.

I try to call these people as often as possible and let them know that I’m rooting for them. I tell them to meet me over a cup of coffee so I can listen to how they’re meeting their challenges. I try to be positive when I’m with them. They can use the company and they can use a little shot of hope.

There’s an old blues song entitled “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.” Understand this sentiment and do the exact opposite. Get to know the people that have had a bad break and share some positive energy. Help them with a resume. Lend them some money for postage. Let them use your computer for a while to apply for jobs online.

But most of all, make sure that they know your love is without condition, whether they have a job or not. Make sure you let them know you love them, particularly when they’re “down and out.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Purpose is...what, exactly?

After going to the bookstore and browsing through the self help section, I have concluded that the self help word of the day is “Purpose.” A life with purpose, a purpose in your faith, lose weight with purpose and assorted other purpose filled books were hanging off the shelves.

I’m not sure what that word means anymore. The last time I was accused of doing something “on purpose” was when my little sister said that I overfed her goldfish “on purpose” so they would go quickly to the great fishbowl in the sky. I never really associated the word “purpose” for anything that good. And after reading through a few of those purpose driven texts I can confidently say that trying to remind yourself to do anything with “purpose” is absolute, utter nonsense. Here’s why:

A purpose filled life implies that you have a goal to achieving and meaning within the course of achievement. Guess what, kids? Sometimes, you lose sight of that goal and become engrossed in the meaning comes from being able to survive work, bills, and another day of worry.

And you know what? That’s enough “purpose” for all of us most days. And that’s just fine.

Living doesn’t have to rest on such ethereal heights. The good days that I’ve ever had are ones that are spent in the moment. The purpose of those days is to enjoy the way the sun hits the window, the way my shoes fit on my feet or the fact that my car starts the first time I turn the key.

My purpose for life today is living one day at a time, no matter what the days challenges may be. My purpose is that I know some of this life will recede from me and I will still meet each day hopeful that this day will be better than the last. That I remain positive in the face of upset, calm in the presence of upheaval.

Purpose. The word makes me squirm a little. I hear it and I feel that I’m failing something, fallings short in a part of my life I didn’t realize was supposed to be pursued or achieved or require meaning. I now hear the word “purpose” and I feel I’m not measuring up.

I am fine living the way I am. I find that I am content with who I am and how I’m living this life for today. Just today, I will try to make amends for the hurts I’ve offered, repair the injuries I have caused either willfully or by accident. I will focus as best I can on the positive in people and refrain judgment. I will complete as much work as I am able and then find time to enjoy some stillness of the evening. I will find one thing that makes me laugh and remember one thing that reminds me about love. And I will repeat this process as often as it comes to mind.

My purpose? To live each day, and only each day, as best I can, without too much concern of the future. I hope you find this your purpose, too. Ed McShane - Happy Scribbles, Inc.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Whisper so I can hear you

I had coffee with my middle child this morning, and although she is an absolutely wonderful person, I found that she likes a TV show about two angry, aggressive fitness trainers yelling at fat people.

I’m not sure what I did to cause this interruption in my child’s tastes. I thought she’d grow up to enjoy the blues, good wine and great conversation. Instead, I find out that she thinks angry thin people need to get their point across to those chubby numbers through threatening to disembowel them if they don’t do one more pushup.

I have been a yeller most of my life. I have five children and I failed to use the volume control on my voice more times that I care to admit. I am better these days, but my kids are grown, so I’m not sure if I’m actually calmer and more selective with my volume or I just have fewer people around to scream at.

But I have found that people feel they will make their points more clearly, and people will believe them more readily, if they add volume to their verbiage. They must think that yelling makes them smarter and more likeable, and that it will get them lots of friends and influence tons of people.

I’m not sure if I have this right, but is it just me or do you all get the feeling that, when somebody is yelling at you, they are pretty much out of control, really angry, or a whole lot of both? Again, might just be me, but I tend to tune the yellers out straight away, not really giving much credence to what they have to say. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when I hear somebody raising their voice to me, I don’t hear them at all. There is an inverse proportion between how loud they speak and how much I can’t hear.

I don’t understand this phenomenon but for some reason it’s catching fire. It’s all over television and the radio. It’s getting so that you can’t listen to somebody speaking their mind without the upshot of noise. They so need to be heard. And I appreciate that.

But to communicate there has to be somebody speaking, and somebody listening. I want to engage in this dialogue. What you say means something, otherwise you wouldn’t say it. But I have to understand, and you need to give me a chance to pay close attention.

I want you to speak without anger, without volume, without aggressiveness. I do not want a monologue of screaming, I need a dialogue of peace. I want to remember your words, not your intensity

I can’t hear you if you’re yelling. I can’t listen if you’re loud. Whisper so I can hear you. Ed McShane - Happy Scribbles, Inc.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hope from Arizona

The shooting in Arizona has passed from the headlines. Memorials have come and gone. The flowers, cards, and messages of support laid at the scene have been cleared away. The families of those who have died are just beginning their grief, and their attempts at making sense of this tragedy have left them at a loss.

And when we look back at this occurrence we burrow through the wreckage for answers, trying to locate some hints at a reason. We search, we look around, and we ultimately crash against this impenetrable wall of madness. There are no explanations to be had, no insights discovered. We will never find an adequate answer to the question, “Why?”

An event like this is a shock to the system. It gives us cause to reflect on how this incident affects us. Whenever a tragedy of this scope occurs we give a moment’s pause to our own lives: We take a quick inventory, maybe only a second or two, and think about the lives close to us. We wonder, if only a moment, if they’re all OK, if the members of our families are still with us. For a flash of an instant we think of our friends and take account of their lives and their presence.

And when we realize that everybody in our life is fine, we put the incident out of our heads. It is yesterday’s news and its impact is gone. We take nothing good from this awfulness. We apply no change. We are the same person we always were. . And with that, we learn nothing.

In life, we absorb thoughts, feelings and events from a million different directions. We make snapshot assessments of everything, everyday, and we move throughout our routine without even realizing all the information we take in and make part of ourselves. We react to a hundred things every minute: sounds, shapes, sights, feelings and thoughts fly through our consciousness. Instantaneously, we screen through 99 percent of it and apply only a small portion to who we are and what we’re doing.

And when I processed the events in Tucson, I realized how random life can be. An unexpected twist of fate could place any of us in harm’s way, at any time. In the whisper of an incident, your life can change forever. I never want to take the chance that my life will be over without amends made, apologies offered, and the spirit of peace extended. And never, ever want to take the chance of leaving this world without letting everybody I know how much I love them and how much they mean to me.

Take a minute today, please, and make peace with your enemies, resolve conflicts in every part of your life, and make sure that you tell every single person you know that you love them, that they’re important, and that your life is so much better because of who they are.
You will give new life to your journey and new meaning to your life. Ed McShane - Happy Scribbles, Inc.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Love and Integrity in the New Year

Years ago I had a friend that was a personal trainer. At the time he was 49 and had a body of a 23 year old. When I would work out with him I was in perpetual motion. After I was done I could barely walk to the car let alone lift my arms to operate the steering wheel. He never yelled, never coerced, but his insistence came with force that one didn’t question while contemplating your third set of bicep curls at 5:30 in the morning.

In any training regimen, weeks pass and your motivation stalls, you get a little sidetracked from your appointed rounds, and your commitment wanes. This happened, too, with my diet. Sticking to 1800 calories a day was tough. On a bad day half of those calories were consumed before 9 am, and the words “well, you can always start over tomorrow” were a mantra that began somewhere around 6 that night, and the next night, and that night after that.

When I told him that I’d had trouble adhering to the diet he said, very abruptly, that he could no longer train me. He said that he only trained people that “had integrity” and it was evident that I had very little.

I was thunderstruck and I assume the expression on my face reflected this disbelief. Upon seeing my state of utter shock he said “Look, it’s nothing personal, but integrity means one thing to me: Doing what I say I’m going to do. You said you were going to stick to the diet. You didn’t. You went back on your word. Therefore, you have questionable integrity and I will no longer train you.” And with that he shook my hand. I have never seen or heard from him since.

I left that meeting absolutely stunned but with the knowledge that he was absolutely right. Integrity means you do what you say you’re going to do. You keep your promises, appointments, resolutions and, above all, your word. If you say you’re going to do something, then carry through with what you said you’ll do. Living a life of integrity is that simple.

Life happens in our follow through, in the effect of our actions. It’s what we do that makes us who we are.

This morning I told a friend of mine that he and I are going to run the Rock and Roll Marathon. I haven’t run that long in eleven years and I get winded on my way to the bathroom. I’ve told myself that I’m going to drop weight, like 30 pounds, by April 1st. And I promised myself to be more positive.

This is your year to live in integrity. All those things you’ve said you’d do as part of your resolution need to be followed through with. When you achieve your goals, you’ll feel a sense of strength you’ve never experienced before.
In this New Year, make your greatest resolution a life with integrity, and watch how the person you are becomes the person you’ve always wanted to be. Ed McShane - Happy Scribbles, Inc.