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Carrie Now
First off, I need a disclaimer: I am not a good person. I screw up all the time. I lose my temper. I make huge mistakes. I am impatient. I ignore people if they use me too much instead of just embracing the fact that at least I am good enough to be used.

And I am writing that disclaimer because I am totally okay with letting everyone know how flawed I am. This blog post isn't about me saying I'm a wonderful person. I know I'm not. I'm just a person. What this blog post is really about is me trying to figure out why people are so afraid of being good, being kind; why so many people rejoice in putting other people down.

So before I went on vacation, I wrote a blog post about the tremendous community response to a fire at a local restaurant that also provided housing upstairs. Link here: http://carriejones.livejournal.com/371399.html

IMG_6921 There is no way to go "over the top" when your post is about volunteers and professionals doing dangerous things for others.

Today, a man told me that the post (which reran in our local newspaper) was "over the top" and that it was "schmaltzy."

There was no point in him telling me that. It wasn't good-natured kidding. It wasn't kind. It was meant to make me feel badly.

To make it even better, he then asked me, a writer, if I knew what schmaltz meant.

And I wanted to say, "Yes, it is chicken or goose fat used for frying," but I thought that would be showing off so instead I just tried to joke it off and say, "Yes. I am good at schmaltz."

"That's an oxymoron," he said.

I gave up. I just wanted him to go away.

The thing is, I don't mind being good at being sentimental, which isn't an oxymoron. I'm actually the least sentimental person in my family, not counting my daughter. So, my sentimental threshold is pretty high.

What he saw as schmaltzy, I saw as seeing good in people and applauding them for it. I don't mind acknowledging that while people can suck, that they can also be self-sacrificing and brave and kind. That the drug dealer in the trailer down the street can be the same guy who runs into a burning building to wake everyone up before the fire department comes. And in the case of this specific blog that Mr. I Love to Be Mean was mentioning, I REALLY didn't mind embracing how brave the firefighters in so many communities were that night, or how great the people in our community were about coming together and helping those who were now jobless and homeless.

But that didn't matter to him. What mattered to him was making me feel low. And he did.

IMG_6883 The people that I talk about in that post deserve all the kudos they can get. They deserve more kudos that I can hope to give them.

I helped him find his name button (We were at a meeting) and he said, "Well, at least you're good for something."

Lovely.

And I thought for a second, "I am not good for anything."

And I thought for a second, "Why is he so mean? Why does he love hurting other people?"

And I thought for a second, "I must deserve it."

But instead of saying any of those things or telling him that his words hurt, I just laughed.

As soon as I could, I went into the bathroom and hid for awhile (two minutes) because I didn't feel like I was good enough to be there any more. All the brave in me vanished with his words.

IMG_6777 One fireman holds a ladder, surrounded by smoke. Another is on the roof. This man is the support for the other. He will not let go of that ladder until the other guy is down and safe.

I did not want to go back into that room and see him or anyone. I wanted to hide because his words hurt. I should have been tougher and braver, but I wasn't. And even that flaw made me feel small, insignificant, someone who was "at least good for something" menial and trite, fetching another person's name tag/button.

But even though I am so far from being a good person, a perfect person, a mistake-free person, I don't deserve random acts of meanness anymore than anyone else does. And he doesn't deserve to be able to do that to me, to other people, to anyone.

Later on when people were eating, and I was going from table to table doing random official duties, he turned to the man next to him and said, "Did you read that bullshit she wrote?"

And I whirled around and spat out, "You need to be nice."

Thrilling, brilliant come-back, I know. And yes, I was shaking. And yes, I finished what I needed to do and left the meeting early. And yes, I am easily hurt and sensitive and all that stuff. I am a big wuss. I am the first to admit it.

The thing is? That "bullshit" that I wrote? That was part of my heart. And he stabbed right through whatever invisible forecefield I might occasionally have and pierced me.

Every time we write or speak honestly about how we see the world, we open ourselves up to hurt. We are vulnerable to the meanness. And that's why it is so much easier to be mean. When you are mean, you build a wall. When you are mean, you can't be vulnerable. When you are mean, you hide, you attack, and you make that first strike because seeing good? Applauding people for their good parts and not just bitching about their bad? That's what makes you vulnerable. You're vulnerable because you open yourself up to the possibility that people can be good, that you can be good, if you try harder, if you love harder, if you care more.

Sometimes when you do that? People who are supposed to exemplify bringing good will and friendship to others (as bode by their club affiliation) will strike at you.

Because the truth is that if you try to see the good in others or your community, you might make others realize how much meanness has clouded their own sight, their own hearts.

If you pride yourself on taking other people down? If you are the type of person who tells others to "toughen up," or who thinks bigotry is funny, or who thinks that seeing good is "schmaltz?" I am sorry for you. I hope some day you can learn to be consistently kind, to others, and to yourself. I hope that you don't spend your life making other people upset, shake, or cry, or just freaking avoid you. Because you are missing out in the good that is in this world, in other people, and even in yourself. 

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September 11th

Carrie Now
This is what I post around Sept. 11 of every year. I am so sorry if you’ve read it before. A lot of things have changed in my life in 13 years. I went from being a newspaper reporter and city councilor to an editor to unemployed to a novelist. But how I feel about heroes will never change.

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It's hard not to think about September 11 without thinking about loss. That’s how it should be. But I do know that so many heroes that we never hear about worked hard on that day. It's important to remember them too, because they are, I think, what it truly means to be an American and a person.

My uncle, Charlie, who lives in Maplewood, NJ was just across the shore when he saw the plane go into one of the tall towers in New York City. He is over 80. He is a doctor. He was in World War II. He hates war.

He told me when he saw that plane full of people go into that tower full of people he said, "Jesus Christ... Jesus Christ..."

He mumbled it for a second, a prayer, a plea, a name, a hope. He said his heart sank right into the bottom of his feet as he stood there watching. He said like he felt like he stood there on the shore forever. He didn't. He moved after a second. He went right over towards the towers, towards the death and the hurt and the terror and the screaming, and the whole time in his head he kept repeating those words, that name.... Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.

He started to help people. He was over 80 breathing in all kinds of horrible things into lungs that were already tired and aged, but that didn't stop him. He'd helped people all his life. He had served his country all his life. Nobody would have thought anything if he had turned around, walked away, got in his car and drove back to Maplewood.

Charlie would have thought something though if he did that.

He could have never done that.

My former father-in-law, Ben, also over 80, is an EMT. He became one when he was 65.  After years of being an executive, he wanted to feel like he did something good in his life, something helpful. He was part of the Red Cross disaster team. He went over to the site too, got grit out of people's eyes, helped them breathe, helped them cope.

You ask him what it was like and he shakes his head slowly and says in his deep/hoarse voice, "God, that was an awful scene. Just an awful scene."

Charlie and Ben weren't firemen on duty or police officers like so many heroes that day were. They weren't official first responders. What I love about them is that they made the choice. They chose to go. They chose to help and they didn't give a poop about how old they were, about how many people they'd already helped. They didn't care about the ache in their bones or the fact that both their hearts are starting to fail. They cared about something else. They cared about people. So they went.

They will always be my heroes. They are just two of many, many stories that happened on that day and on others. People can do awful things. We can hurt our loves, bomb each other, scream words of hate, glorify ignorance with bats and cars, ignore a smile of a cashier, be too busy to pay attention to a child. But we can do beautiful things, too. We can love, and heal, we can put other's first, rush to a scene of mayhem, put ourselves in peril on the off chance that we might be able to save a life, get grit out of an eye, give comfort, give a hug. And that... that is what makes people worth it. That is what makes people magic. That is what makes people heroes over and over again. So, I will remember Ben and Charlie and so many others today. I won't ignore the hate and pain and sorrow that happens on Sept. 11 or on any day of war or violence, but I choese to remember the good, too. I choose to remember the heroes.

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