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Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most

Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most

by Timothy Shriver
Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most

Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most

by Timothy Shriver


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On a quest for what matters most, Timothy Shriver discovers the joy of being fully alive

As chairman of Special Olympics, Timothy Shriver has dedicated his life to the world's most forgotten minority-people with intellectual disabilities. And in a time when we are all more rudderless than ever, when we've lost our sense of what's ultimately important, when we hunger for stability but get only uncertainty, he has looked to them for guidance. Fully Alive chronicles Shriver's discovery of a radically different, and inspiring, way of life. We see straight into the lives of those who seem powerless but who have turned that into a power of their own, and through them learn that we are all totally vulnerable and totally valuable at the same time.

In addition, Shriver offers a new look at his family: his parents, Sargent and Eunice Shriver, and his uncles, John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy, all of whom were resolute advocates for those on the margins. Here, for the first time, Shriver explores the tremendous impact his aunt Rosemary, born with intellectual disabilities, had on his entire family and their legacy.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374535827
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 645,173
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Timothy Shriver is an educator, a social activist, a film producer, and an entrepreneur. He is the third child of Eunice Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics. As chairman of Special Olympics, he serves more than four million athletes in 170 countries. He cofounded and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the leading research organization in the United States in the field of social and emotional learning. Shriver earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University, a master's degree from Catholic University, and a doctorate in education from the University of Connecticut. He lives in Maryland with his wife. They have five children.

Read an Excerpt

Fully Alive

Discovering What Matters Most

By Timothy Shriver

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2014 Timothy Shriver
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4279-9


Boat Races

When I was about five years old, I fell in love with my first game: "boat races." My mother and I played it on the little streams that ran through the woods at the edge of the vast field that stretched out behind our house. Those woods were a whole world to me. Looking out from my back door, all I could see was the field, and then the magical woods. On dark nights, beyond the vast expanse of the empty black field and the uneven, inky line of the woods rising above it, I could also see a row of four radio towers blinking red and white like silent sirens.

As a little boy, many nights I'd lie in bed and look out the window and watch those radio towers blinking their secret signals of warning. I knew they were located in the faraway city, but all I knew of the city was that my mother and father went to work there. Sometimes they came home with lots of friends, and sometimes they came home with beaten looks on their faces. Little children remember only moments of heaven or hell. One time when I was four, my mother came home to tell me my uncle had been murdered and I should run along and find something to do. But on other days, she would take me off alone, just the two of us, down through the field and into the woods to play our special game of boat races.

It was not an easy game. The "boats" were actually small sticks, and the race was actually a competition between my stick and my mother's to see which could go down the stream fastest. So the first challenge was to find a good stick—one that floated well and didn't have any protrusions that would get stuck on a leaf or a rock. A good boat was small enough to be quick but hefty enough to catch the current.

Once we'd picked our boats, the second challenge was to throw them into the stream at the count of three, hitting the water in just the right place so they would catch the current and go. Then came the breathless part: watching my boat wiggle and wash its way down the stream toward an imaginary finish line, cheering like crazy, encouraging it on its journey toward (I hoped) victory. And then heaven's most often repeated exclamation: "Let's play again!"

I loved the ritual of the game—the long walk down the field holding my mother's hand, the passage from the open grass of the cow pasture into the shade of the huge Maryland oaks, the crunchy path across the leaves and twigs of the forest floor to the edge of the stream, and the furious search for high-quality boats that I could race against my resolute opponent, Mummy. We were all alone in those woods, Mummy and me: quiet, beyond the reach of the hated phone, beyond the city, the cars, and all those people asking Mrs. Shriver what she wanted, when she wanted it, and where she wanted it. All I had to do was pick up a stick and I had the power to make a boat come to life. I could bring the only eyes and ears and heart and mind in the world that I cared about—those of my mother—to focus on my little boat as it navigated mighty rapids, skittered around treacherous leaves and pebbles and occasional whirlpools, and glided toward a win.

They say a child can believe in anything—like Santa Claus with his elves; like leprechauns with their rainbows and pots of gold; like boats made out of sticks and their daring races against the hazards of the elements; like a child being the center of his mother's life. In those days of boat races, I believed. I believed in things I couldn't see and in the secret power I had to change the world into a place of love and mystery and eternity. It wasn't that I didn't know about the monsters with grotesque faces and devastating strength that could attack. I did, and from an early age. It's just that the magic of the game was powerful enough to defeat them.

Those are the kinds of things I believed as a child. It took a long time for me to find my way back to them, but I believe in them still.


Much Is Expected

My understanding of belief goes back to my grandmother Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. She was a woman of warm elegance, impeccably punctual at family meals, fond of long walks (which we grandchildren were often invited to join), and full of witty stories. She went to mass every day and frequently alluded in conversation to her faith and to the teachings of the Catholic Church. She would sometimes speak of the role faith played in the public events of her life—visits with the Pope in Rome, gifts to the Archdiocese of Boston in support of Catholic causes, the political careers of her sons.

But she also had private lessons for her grandchildren. She was especially fond of paraphrasing Luke 12:48, the parable of the faithful servant: "Of those to whom much is given, much is expected." "Expected" was a word that had clear implications for her and for everyone in my family. Expectations were serious business, because, as I could easily discern from the large houses and plentiful possessions and ambitious people all around me, we had been given a lot. It was my job to figure out how to fulfill the expectation that I would give back.

Figuring it out, for me, took place in the midst of some rather extraordinary events. My family was immersed in politics—not just any politics, but the politics of the Democratic Party in the second half of the twentieth century. My grandfather became involved in the campaign of Franklin Roosevelt, but his role in that campaign, and his subsequent chairmanship of the fledgling Securities and Exchange Commission, was driven not so much by idealism as by pragmatic ambition. Joseph P. Kennedy was a conservative man in an administration many feared to be too leftist, hired because he spoke the language of Wall Street and could make SEC regulation palatable there. The business world had found Roosevelt's thundering inaugural words ominous:

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

My grandfather's work, often as not, involved sending a more moderate and diplomatic version of this same message: "Don't worry, he didn't mean it that way." The SEC was about restoring public confidence in the free market, not about shutting it down.

My parents, however, learned the more idealistic version of New Deal politics. They not only supported FDR, but also believed in his message of courage and justice in the face of weakness and greed, and they raised my brothers and sister and me on it. Their Roosevelt was a man who'd proved that government could be a force for fairness in the economy. He was committed to the ideals of artists pursuing their creative passions, to public works, to the great economist John Maynard Keynes. He sided with the poor and against the rich; he envisioned a country where the elderly could be free of the destitution and stigma of old age. He believed, most of all, in action. His protruding jaw and his energy were as powerful as his legislation. I grew up with role models who were eager to forge ahead in the mold of Roosevelt: never fearing anything, least of all fear itself.

Most of the significant adult men in my life served in the armed forces during World War II. My father, Sargent Shriver, saw heavy combat in the Pacific theater and several times escaped with his life only by chance. One of my uncles, Joe Kennedy, Jr., was killed in a high-risk secret mission in the European theater. President Kennedy's much-heralded heroism in naval warfare was part of my childhood's daily conversational fare, and I wore PT-109 tie clips to every family event. Most of our friends and acquaintances had war stories, which they told more often than they probably realized. A longtime family employee who became a second father to me, Richard Ragsdale, often drove us children to important events, and while he drove he would recount the stories of the shrapnel wounds he'd suffered in the 1st Armored Division under Patton in North Africa. He liked to end his hellish tales by showing us a photo he'd taken upon his arrival in Milan as an intelligence officer: it was a black-and-white of Mussolini hanging upside down from a stanchion, executed in advance of the arrival of American troops.

With the New Deal and World War II as backdrops, my parents were married and started their family in Chicago, where my father had gone to work in the sprawling Merchandise Mart owned by my grandfather—perhaps the most lucrative investment of his storied business career. The wealth my grandfather had created was also a focus of the lessons we learned as children. Among the many gifts my parents gave to me and my siblings was their determination that the comfort and privilege of our childhood would not make us feel self-satisfied or entitled. My father reminded us relentlessly that the children of the rich "usually amount to a hill of crap," warning that such a fate was not an option for us. Both of my parents were vigilant in rooting out any traces of arrogance. One didn't have to go far in treating others with disdain or snobbery to hear a sharp, scowling adult crackdown: "Just who do you think you are, talking that way?" By a strange and muddled calculus, we learned of our privilege mostly in the context of denying it and, even more important, of repaying it.

There was also family grief—often the result of sudden, shockingly painful, enormously public events. In some ways, I was spared the full brunt of these unspeakable tragedies, since my own parents and siblings survived into my adult life. But in other ways, the large, extended, boisterous, and idealistic family system of which I was a small part was repeatedly crushed by violent losses. Through those losses, I learned one of the most problematic lessons of my childhood: grief and other emotional traumas are not to be dwelt upon and in fact are barely to be acknowledged. We had one unspoken rule as children: deal with loss on your own, in whatever way you can. At the slightest sign of sadness, a stern reminder came down from above: "Get on to yourself! Everyone's happy in heaven, and besides, you could be much worse off than you are." Between the benefits of our wealth and the consolations of our faith, we had been given much, and in return we were expected not to show or feel or dwell in self-pity or pain. In the unlikely event that we questioned God's wisdom or wondered aloud why it mattered that children in Biafra were worse off than we were, it would only get worse. "That's enough!" End of story.

In the vacuum left by this emotional hush policy, religion became an outlet. Both of my parents were devout Roman Catholics, attending daily mass, reading extensively in religious ideas, and actively participating in the daily life of religious orders and institutions. For them, faith yielded enthusiasm and even fun, as they would lead debates about religion, poke fun at the eccentricities of this priest or that nun, and try to inculcate in us a sense of the relevance of religious doctrines. At the same time, in a kind of mystical sleight of hand, emotional issues were always converted to religious ones. We prayed the Rosary as a family on many occasions, and I remember hearing my mother dedicate the prayers again and again to the repose of her brothers' souls, intimating that our grief could be channeled through the beads and converted from pain to peace. Sometimes when we rode in the car with my father, he would take the opportunity to remind his captive audience that the Sermon on the Mount was "the greatest speech ever given—the greatest account of how to be happy ever given." Like my mother, he seemed convinced that emotional happiness could somehow emerge from devotion to Christian traditions and liturgical practices. When I once asked him about the insights of psychology, he was quick to remark that Freud and others might be helpful to some, but we had our faith, and it was far better than any therapist.

Therapists or no therapists, religion drew me in. Prayer was a practice where emotion was allowed and even nurtured. Church was the place where peace was sought as a personal experience in quiet and not just discussed as a political ideal. The Bible was a book about lost souls and escapes to freedom and suffering that was faced and heaven that was achieved. I watched my parents in church and saw my dad pull at his forehead in prayer and my mother look to statues of Mary and try to emulate her example of faith. I was an altar boy by the time I was seven, but I was also more than that: I was on a faith journey and already wondering, "Who is God and how can I find God's answer to my search for what matters most?"

But time in church, no matter how frequent, was still the exception. In the day-to-day, my family exuded restlessness. We were restless to fight poverty, restless to get elected, restless to win at sports, restless to help people with intellectual disabilities, restless to be charming, restless in a million ways. In part, this restless social energy found its healthiest outlet in competition, and competition in everything was the norm. My father would wake early in the morning and challenge everyone to see who was going to be the first one downstairs to breakfast, and the race was on. We would compare our performance on school report cards to see who was smartest, play touch football to see who was fastest, ride horses to see who was best, recount stories of parties to see who was the most charismatic, read the newspaper to see who had the highest poll ratings, work elections to see who could win political power, play water polo on weekends to see who could endure the most physical punishment. We were constantly on the lookout for chances to win and, equally important, for chances to guard against losing. Through it all, we would laugh at our failings and laugh at the world, just as we yearned to overcome both. The only lesson that rang as clear as those of high expectations, social justice, and religious fidelity in our family was the law of competition. Our self-definition and our individual value were measured on a scorecard. We were satisfied only if we were winning at something.

Ironically, this family system—so immersed in the world of politics, so restless in pursuit of power, so intensely focused on action—also kept returning us to the interests of life's most vulnerable. Just as we raced around our backyard and campaigned around the country and journeyed around the world, we were always doing so with an eye on the need to serve those who had neither wealth nor power nor influence. Somehow, this never seemed inconsistent to me and never created any conscious tension in my mind during my youth, but looking back, it was a bit of a roller coaster. We would travel abroad and meet a prime minister or a king and then, on the same day, visit an institution for people with intellectual disabilities or a Peace Corps project focused on sewage. My parents would hold parties for cabinet secretaries and movie stars, and the next day load up our station wagon to deliver canned goods and turkeys to a soup kitchen. At the dinner table, my mother would ask us to explain our position on the rising poll numbers of an incumbent United States senator and then explain what we had learned about how starvation could possibly persist in a world with so much wealth. It was all of a piece—politics, power, wealth, faith, competition, and the outrage of injustice. It was bound together by my grandmother's rule: you have been given much; you must serve others in exchange. "Serve, serve, serve," my father once said in a rousing speech. "It is the servants who will save us all."


Excerpted from Fully Alive by Timothy Shriver. Copyright © 2014 Timothy Shriver. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: A School of the Heart 3

1 Boat Races 11

2 Much Is Expected 14

3 Pity or Purge 27

4 Rosemary 38

5 The Greatest Effort 56

6 Daybreak 78

7 As Simple as Possible 100

8 Being in Love 119

9 Social and Emotional Learning 132

10 Loretta 149

11 Tough World 160

12 The Fun That Lasts 176

13 I Am So Proud 193

14 The Heart off Guard 204

15 Humility and Simplicity 217

16 Fully Alive 234

17 Storm the Castle 251

A Note on Language: Label Me Able 267

Notes 269

Acknowledgments 283

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