The Good That Happens Even In the Middle of Evil: The Boston Marathon

It’s been six years since the Boston Marathon. This is what I posted that day. It’s about what I saw and heard and felt.

So, I was at the Boston Marathon today to take pictures of my friend, Lori, running and then crossing the finish line. Before the marathon I had lunch with my daughter Em. She was nervous.

“I have a bad feeling,” she said. “You need to be careful.”

“You have no faith in me. I am a perfectly capable person.”

“I just am worried.”

“I will be fine,” I told her. I insisted it, actually.

But I did several things that I don’t normally do. I didn’t take the T. I chose to walk from Cambridge to mile 25.5 or so of the race route. I figured out the T route and everything, but I just didn’t want to go on it. Walking was healthier, I figured. I was going to watch a marathon.

So, I walked and set up for taking pictures. I didn’t expect to see Lori for an hour, so I hung out with some people from New Jersey, talked to some cops. I took some pictures and kept wondering if I should walk the rest of the route to get ready for when Lori crossed the finish line. Logically, I knew I should, but my gut kept me back. I moved up a bit, but not as much as I should have. One of my friends called, and as we talked the first explosion went off.

About 15 seconds after the explosion, .25 mile away or so.

“What was that?” he said.

“That was bad,” I answered. “It was an explosion. It was absolutely an explosion.”

The Second Detonation

Then the second explosion happened. And I hung up. And I looked at the cops. And the cops both lifted up their portable radios to their ears. That was not a good sign. Then they began to run towards the finish line along a parallel road. That was a worse sign, especially since one of the cops looked like he never ran. Ever.  

I followed them. It smelled of smoke. It smelled of fear and confusion. Cops and medics and volunteers swarmed the area. Blood pooled on clothing and the ground. Debris was everywhere. People were crying and hysterical.

The police turned me around. So, I turned around. I regret that now. I don’t know how I could have helped. I am not a trained emergency medical technician. I regret that, too. There were cops and medics everywhere. Their shiny, reflective yellow vests were like pieces of good and brave in a smoky land of pain. I wanted to tell each of them how heroic they were. There was no time for that. They were busy saving people.

The timing of these runners put them right about the finish line when the explosions happened.

Runners

So, I went back to where I had been taking pictures. Runners were wandering around still, confused, cold. They had a combination of runner’s fatigue and shock. Shivering and stunned, they were desperately trying to contact family members. Some walked in circles because they didn’t know how not to keep moving, but they also didn’t know where to go. They had spent 25 miles moving forward, towards this one destination called the finish line and now they were stuck, aimless. Their ultimate goal was suddenly gone, devastated by two bombs. Those of us who were there to watch, gave them our cell phones so they could call family members who were waiting for them. They were waiting for them right by the bombs. We gave the runners money so they could get on the T when it worked again. We gave them our coats.

“How will I give it back to you?” one runner asked as she shrugged on a dark green fleece.

“You don’t need to. You never need to,” a man next to me told her.

“I have to,” she murmured. “I have to.”

I gave away my coat. I passed around my phone. The service was in and out.

One woman said, “Please tell me it wasn’t the subway. My kids are on the subway.”

“It wasn’t the subway,” I tell her. “It was the finish line.”

She cocked her head. “What? No? How?”

How?

That was the question: How? We knew by then that it was probably a bomb, and the hows of making a bomb are easy, but the ‘how could you” is a harder question. How could someone kill runners and spectators? How could humans ever think it’s okay to hurt each other? How could anyone commit violence in big acts with bombs or small acts with fists.

How could we? How could humanity?

“How?” she kept saying. “How?”

And then the police moved the runners out, detouring them down another street. And then they told us, the watchers, to go. So, we left, a massive exodus towards the bridge and Massachusetts Avenue. People were still sobbing. A man on a corner was reading from Boston.com on his iPhone trying to find out exactly what happened. People stood around him, strangers listening to him say the words, “explosions… injuries…”

Three girls were crying, young and scared and broken inside.

“They are so hurt. They hurt them. They are so hurt,” one girl kept repeating. We kept walking.

Connections

As I walked across the bridge, a woman on the phone sobbed to her friend, “It was so big. The explosion was so big. I dropped everything in my hands. I dropped my lens cap. I dropped my purse. I dropped it all. I called my sister. I called my friend. I called everyone. I just need to talk to someone. I feel so alone. It was awful. People were missing their legs. It was awful.”

And then she saw me, this talking woman, and I nodded at her and I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back. We kept walking.

A leather-jacket guy next to me was telling another guy in plaid that he had no way home. I gave him my cell. We kept walking.

I made sure that Lori’s husband and daughter were okay even though they’d been waiting right across the street from where the bomb exploded. They were. I knew Lori was okay already because I’d been tracking her route. I’d never been so happy that she was running hurt and that was making her slower than normal.

The Sobbing Man

As I was feeling thankful, a man in front of me went down on his knees on the sidewalk. It looked like he was praying, but he was really sobbing. We all stopped walking. People pat his back. People murmured things. He stood up and we kept walking again. We walked and walked and gradually the crowd thinned, and gradually the sobs lessoned. But the sirens? The sirens grew louder and more continuous. They were forever sirens. They did not stop.

And so many people will not be able to walk ever again. And at least three people are dead. And so many people have had their hearts and bodies broken at this marathon that should be a celebration of human endurance and spirit and will.

And so many people helped others, making tourniquets out of yarn, carrying the injured, soothing the shocked, giving away their clothes to keep runners warm. And so many people have hearts of goodness. We can’t forget that. Not ever. Not today. Not in Boston. Not ever. Because that is exactly what the Boston Marathon is about: It’s about not giving up, not giving in to pain. It’s about that celebration of surviving and enduring against all odds, against everything. It’s about humanity. No bomber can take that away. Not ever.

After the Marathon

That same night, I was sitting in a restaurant in Cambridge with my daughter and we learned that my dad (a volunteer firefighter) had tumors surrounding his lungs. He died 13 days later.

That week, I was besieged by internet trolls who insisted that my daughter’s gut feeling meant that she was part of a giant conspiracy or that I was part of the same giant conspiracy about an event that ‘totally didn’t happen.’

It happened.

I’ll post this thread, this memory, to make sure that I never forget that it happened.

Sometimes, we spend too much time forgetting, not letting the good and the horrific inspire and motivate us to make change in ourselves, our community, our world.

Violence kills people every day. In big ways that make the news. In quieter ways that we rarely hear about.

And good happens, too. In big ways that make the news. In quieter ways that we rarely hear about.

Three Years Later

I became a volunteer firefighter for our town. I was terrible at it and it’s not my way to help save the world. But I helped our town a little bit for a little while. I did it because I was tired of not being able to help, to respond. I did it because I wanted to pay tribute somehow to the people who were hurt at the marathon and my dad, my little hobbit dad, who spent his whole life trying in big and little ways to try to make this world a better place.

Writing News

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, PREORDER NOW!

My next book, IN THE WOODS, appears in July with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

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READ MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

On February first, I launched my Patreon site where I’m reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more. Come hang out with me! Get cool things! 

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WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

Art

You can buy some of my art. I paint to help inform my stories and some of the prints are available now. There will be more soon. You can check it out here.

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Changing the World. You can do it, too. How Rotary and Writers Make Stories for Good

What does it mean to find story? And what are the key elements to success as a writer and Rotarian?

This is the speech I give to Rotarians when they ask me for an inspiring speech versus straight-up public image training. 

I’m sharing it here because:

  1. I think more than Rotarians should hear it.
  2. I don’t know how often I’ll get to give it.
  3. It’s important to me.

Since 2007, I’ve traditionally published about 15 books, including an anti-bullying anthology, an internationally and NYT bestselling series, and medal-winners. I’ve learned a few things about story since then and I’ve learned a lot of things about people. One of the things I’ve learned is that:

Rotary and Writing Kids Books Have a Lot in Common. 

Why?

Because we are both telling stories and we are both using those stories to make a better world, to build connection and community

So how did I get published? How does anyone get published? That’s a big question people always ask. I quit my job as the editor of the Ellsworth Weekly, went to VCFA to get a master’s degree, a year later submitted my first book to an editor I knew nothing about other than he seemed super cool, and got lucky. 

But it’s about more than that.

It’s about content, craft and contacts

Content is what you want to say

Craft is how well you say it

Contacts are the final step of getting it out there in the world. And everyone is hyper focused on that step, but it’s the least important one. What matters is Character, Plot, Theme, Process, Beginnings, Middles and Ends. 

And that’s pretty much it. Have something to say. Work on saying it well. Send it out into the world. Cross your fingers. 

But writing is truly bigger than that, and deeper than that and it reminds me a lot of Rotary. 

The purpose of writing is to tell a story for motivation and engagement. It’s your purpose as a Rotarian

You look into this world, the one we are living in now,

Beyond our walls, beyond our borders

Within our walls, within our borders

And you know that the incredible exists

Incredible hate

Incredible love.

Incredible need.

And we sit here, the creations of this world of love, this world of pain and hate, of guns and bombs, of poets and artists and Rotarians

And our hearts scream for goodness

And our brains long for logic

And ours and others bodies break and mend and break again.

We are the creation of the world of stories around us, a world of the incredible.

And our children are too.

And This leads to more questions and wonderings about both the people we work with and About ourselves

What does it mean to find story when you are the one who is oppressed?

What does it mean to find story when you are the one who is barely surviving in your own life?

When your mother cries to sleep every night because she can’t find a job, pay bills, fix the furnace. 

What does it mean to find a story full of magic when you are dying for magic in your own life?

When your body doesn’t work the way other kids’ bodies work? When your body gets used in ways it is not supposed to be used? 

When people make fun of your clothes, your sex, your gender, the way you say your s’s, the shade of your skin, the curl in your hair, your last name, your first name, the way you see letters backwards, the way you see or don’t see at all, the way you learn, the way you love?

What does it mean when there are these stories out there – these magical truths – these enchanted people and places when you are just barely managing to survive? 

It means there are tiny life lines. 

It means there are little pieces of help. 

That’s what Rotary’s story is and that is what children’s books are about. 

Story is powerful. We’ve know that for forever.

Books are burned and banned because people fear them. 

Books are powerful because they are (as Ben Howard sings) information wrapped up in empathy, they are reflections of our world as it is, how it was and how it should be.

And people fear that. 

The world of fantasy is a world within books and without and the evil creatures that kids meet in these books? 

The only difference for some of them? 

The only difference is one is on the page and one is in their house. 

The only difference is one is in a book and one is in their street, their church, their classroom, their playground.

Monsters and heroes are everywhere. Fantasy novels just make those monsters and heroes bigger, the stakes seem higher when you are fighting a dark wizard or the god of war. 

Books and Rotary offers hope. They show us that there are other ways of living. There are lives and worlds greater than our own and if these lives can imagined, what does it mean about our own lives? It means we can reimagine our lives, too. 

My father was the truck driving son of a communist stock broker.

As a toddler, my father stood on the streets of Staten Island passing out political pamphlets that he couldn’t read. People spat on him for views he could not even read. They threw his pamphlets in puddles, in horse excrement in his face.

He never made it past fourth grade.

He was the smartest man I ever knew. 

He could read people’s souls, understand their stories, their sorrows and explain to you about quantum mechanics.

But he thought he was dumb.

All his life.

Because he couldn’t read. 

Sometimes, I get so sad because I think of all the things he could have become if he could read a bit better.

Knowledge Empowers Us to Want to Help

That knowledge only makes me want to work harder for all the kids I write for. I want them to have the ability and story that my dad didn’t get to enjoy

And that knowledge, I know, does the same to you. 

The thing about Rotarians and writers is that we can’t be “contained.”

We have to sing out our stories, sing out our advocacy, give voice to the powerless, because our hearts… our hearts won’t let us be quiet.

We are the people who protect the enchanted, until they can protect themselves. 

We are the ones who say – You are the girl in the story who will one day save this world. We say –  you are the boy who will rid us of the monster beneath the bed. 

It’s our responsibility. We must lift as we climb. We must lift as we teach. We must lift as we write and as we live and as we flip pancakes.

It doesn’t always happen that way

I was in the 7th grade, when a teacher told me,

“Carrie, you will never become anything with those s’s. Nobody will ever take you seriously because of those s’s. Nobody will ever hire. Nor love a girl who sounds like you.”

He made me afraid of my own voice.

He took away my heart. He took away my story.

A writer’s job is to build worlds for children that reflect possibility and magic. We are to make the best worlds we possibly can, piece by piece, word by word, symbol by symbol.

We are to put our souls in them. So that the kids can grab on and soar. If the boy wizard can survive. So can I. If the girl can stop time. So can I. 

So can I. 

Kids need to know that there is darkness around them, that this world is incredible, but that they are enchanted. That they can overcome what they need to overcome. That they can not only survive, but that they can light up the world with their magic. 

So can I.

So can they.

So can you.

Stories create potential outcomes. 

We have to expand worlds, not shrink them. We have to include and empower. We have to open our mind and our hearts as writers and teachers so that there are possibilities and hope. 

Let me tell you why I am a writer. I write because I want to make connections. I write to try to understand the world and help kids or adults understand it too. 

The Marathon

I went to the Boston Marathon to cheer on my friend Lori who was running to raise money to fight cancer the year of the bomb. I walked and set up for taking pictures. I didn’t expect to see Lori for an hour, so I hung out with some people from New Jersey, talked to some cops. I took some pictures and kept wondering if I should walk the rest of the route to get ready for when Lori crossed the finish line. Logically, I knew I should, but my gut kept me back. One of my friends called, and as we talked the first explosion went off.

“What was that?” he said.

“That was bad,” I answered. “It was an explosion. It was absolutely an explosion.”

Then the second explosion happened. And I hung up. And I looked at the cops. And the cops both lifted up their portable radios to their ears. That was not a good sign. Then they began to run towards the finish line along a parallel road. That was a worse sign, especially since one of the cops looked like he never ran. Ever.  

I followed them. It smelled of smoke. It smelled of fear and confusion. Cops and medics and volunteers swarmed the area. Blood pooled on clothing and the ground. Debris was everywhere. People were crying and hysterical. The police turned me around.

So, I turned around. I regret that now. I don’t know how I could have helped. I am not a trained emergency medical technician. I regret that, too.

So, I went back to where I had been taking pictures. Runners were wandering around still, confused, cold. They had a combination of runner’s fatigue and shock. Shivering and stunned, they were desperately trying to contact family members. Some walked in circles because they didn’t know how not to keep moving, but they also didn’t know where to go. They had spent 25 miles moving forward, towards this one destination called the finish line and now they were stuck, aimless. Their ultimate goal was suddenly gone, devastated by two bombs. Those of us who were there to watch, gave them our cell phones so they could call family members who were waiting for them. They were waiting for them right by the bombs. We gave the runners money so they could get on the T when it worked again. We gave them our coats.

“How will I give it back to you?” one runner asked as she shrugged on a dark green fleece.

“You don’t need to. You never need to,” a man next to me told her.

“I have to,” she murmured. “I have to.”

I gave away my coat. I passed around my phone.

One woman said, “Please tell me it wasn’t the subway. My kids are on the subway.”

“It wasn’t the subway,” I tell her. “It was the finish line.”

She cocked her head. “What? No? How?”

That was the question: How? We knew by then that it was probably a bomb, and the hows of making a bomb are easy, but the ‘how could you” is a harder question. 

“How?” she kept saying. “How?”

And then the police moved the runners out, they told us, the watchers, to go. So, we left, a massive exodus towards the bridge and Massachusetts Avenue. People were still sobbing. A man on a corner was reading from Boston.com on his iPhone trying to find out exactly what happened. People stood around him, strangers listening to him say the words, “explosions… injuries…”

Three girls were crying, young and scared and broken inside.

“They are so hurt. They hurt them. They are so hurt,” one girl kept repeating. We kept walking.

As I walked across the bridge, a woman on the phone sobbed to her friend, “It was so big. The explosion was so big. I dropped everything in my hands. I dropped my lens cap. I dropped my purse. I dropped it all. I called my sister. I called my friend. I called everyone. I just need to talk to someone. I feel so alone. It was awful. People were missing their legs. It was awful.”

And then she saw me, this talking woman, and I nodded at her and I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back. We kept walking.

A leather-jacket guy next to me was telling another guy in plaid that he had no way home. I gave him my cell. We kept walking.

As I was feeling thankful, a man in front of me went down on his knees on the sidewalk. It looked like he was praying, but he was really sobbing. We all stopped walking. People pat his back. People murmured things. He stood up and we kept walking again. We walked and walked and gradually the crowd thinned, and gradually the sobs lessened.

Life is about connections. 

As writers, we know that we have to connect with our readers. We have to make them care about the characters’ stories. 

And Rotary was built on that need for connection and the need to do good together. 

But the question is, how do we make those connections, those positive connections? Talking about Polio isn’t going to work for everyone.

We make connections by embracing and protecting the enchanted.  We do it by taking chances, by caring, by looking into the eyes of our readers or the people we’re giving wheelchairs to and seeing that spark, that magic, that hope that is there despite this world of the incredible.

We do it by giving ourselves to other Rotarians, readers, people we’re helping, over and over again and expecting nothing in return. 

But we always get something in return – We get connections.

It’s because of those connections and hope that I’m a Rotarian and why I am a writer. It is the only reason that I don’t quit either of those things. 

Content is what you want to say. What does Rotary want to say? What do the clubs want to say?

Craft is how well you say it. How do we help them to say these things? In Toronto, it’s about billboards. In small town Maine? Not so much. It’s about local people and friends inspiring others locally and doing good. 

Contacts are the final step of getting it out there in the world and here we can improve too. But not via email streams and unmotivating newsletters. Not if we want millennials. Not if we want young professionals. 

Our job is to tell the stories, make the stories, protect the Enchanted and realize that the Enchanted our sometimes ourselves.

We can’t give up. Why? Because the world needs good stories when all it hears is bad.


OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

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WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

ART.

I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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TIME STOPPERS!

You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Time Stoppers Carrie Jones Middle grade fantasy

MOE BERG 

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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FLYING AND ENHANCED

Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.

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WRITING COACH

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn

THERE ARE ONLY TWO SPOTS LEFT AND SIGN-UP ENDS JANUARY 18TH.

So are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

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Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

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We Need More Hobbits In this World, Drugs, My Dad, Cancer and the Boston Marathon

The first time I blogged the first section of this post back in 2013, I checked with my dad to make sure he was okay with it. He was.

My dad is dead now and reposting this is hard, but also good. Because that’s how life can be – hard and good.


So lately, thanks to brilliant blog posts by writers like Jo Knowles and Tim Wynne Jones, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to love life and to really live it. Jo’s post ponders Maurice Sendak’s NPR interview where he implores people to live their lives, and the sadness and urgency that he has as he expresses that thought as he, himself, is in the last months of his own life.

And for me, that is even more poignant as I listened to my own father sob on the phone last Friday, lamenting a family member who is still alive with us, but whose personality has been twisted by drug use. 

“Where is that person I used to know?” my dad asked. “Where is that person I was so proud of?”

I told him that the person is still there, buried beneath the drugs, that their soul is still a bright light underneath all the layers of drug dependence and anger and need. 

But it made me wonder about how people can change for good or for bad, about how we are all a product of our choices and our intentions. 

“Our family is shrinking,” my dad said, “and I am so alone. In the mornings, when it is bleak, I look out at the cold trees and I am so very lonely.”

I listed all the people my father has, all the people who love him. My sister and all her grown kids live near him. My brother, his son. My dad’s brother and his sister-in-law have him to dinner every single night. My dad has friends still alive that he has gone on grand adventures with, but the worry about his drug-addled relative has devastated him. All the good things don’t matter any more because he has chosen to only look at the horror of the present.

And that’s sad.

And it’s easy and normal to feel that way. 

And I have felt this way too — times when I am impossibly sad even though I am one of the luckiest humans in the universe — times when I think that the days are too cold to leave the bed and walk the dogs and eat. But the thing is, you fight through them. It isn’t that life is a gift. It isn’t that life is a curse. It’s just that life is. It is. And we are meant to experience it and travel through it and we can choose to make that journey have meaning like poets do, like Jo does, like Tim does, or we can choose to just manage, to slug through. Our choices can change. Our intentions can change. Our purpose can change. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are meant to experience this life – this great big is — and how we do experience it is up to us. 

And so in that phone call I had with my dad I told him, “I love you. What is happening to our relative is not your fault and not all your responsibility and whatever choices you make, you will make with love, and that is all that matters. What matters, Dad, is that you love, that you have always loved, and that you always will love with all your heart.”

He said with a shaking 83-year-old hobbit man voice, “I am such a coward. I am so scared. I am so scared for them.”*

But my little dad isn’t a coward. He faces his pain, his sorrow, his worries, his life head on. He touches the sad, hurt parts of his own soul and knows them. My dad doesn’t hide. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he isn’t. 

“Being scared doesn’t make you a coward,” I tell him. “You have never run away from life, Dad. You will never run away, and that makes you one of the bravest men of all.”

*I changed the pronoun to ‘them’ because that makes it even more difficult to identify the person but also because them is a pretty cool pronoun.

And then less than four months after that post, I posted this:

It is Thursday and an oncologist whose last name is Snow has just told my father that he has a few weeks to live. Sometimes poets use snow to signify death. As I wander through the tiny patch of woods off the Glen Mary Road in Bar Harbor, I think that this is appropriate in a bad way. The doctor’s name is Snow. Snow. A lone crow alights from one pine tree bough to another, leading me down the trail. There are superstitions about crows. One crow is meant to signify death.

“I already know,” I tell the bird as he lifts his shiny wings, “but thanks.”

And about five hours away from me and the crow, Doctor Snow leaves my dad’s hospital room and my sister hands my dad the hospital phone so that I can say hi.

“Carriekins,” he says to me and his voice is cheerful somehow.

“Hey Dad! I love you!” This is the only thing I can think to say. I try to make my voice cheerful, too, but it isn’t strong like pine boughs and it can’t hold up the weight of me. I try again and manage to sound chipper. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says. “How is your day going?”

The first thing he asks, moments after he finds out that he is about to die, is how my day is going. This is how my dad works. He asks people questions. He wants to know how they are doing, what they’ve done, what they think, why they think it. His favorite thing to say is, “I don’t know enough about you. What can you tell me?”

And I never know what to say. I never feel like I have anything to tell.

“My day kind of stinks, Dad,” I tell him, stepping on a fallen pine cone. Crushing it  will help to scatter its seed, but I still feel badly about it somehow. “I mean, it does stink because of what the doctor just said, but it’s good because I get to hear your voice and talk to you.”

It is the last time I have a real conversation with my dad. The next day they fill him with morphine and move him to a hospice center. He can’t talk because of the drugs. That is Friday. On Saturday, he can only wheeze into the phone.  I tell him he sounds like Darth Vader and that I will be there Monday after a wedding I have to go to and after I drop my daughter, Em, off at college.

He dies that night or really early Sunday morning right after the sunrise. He loves sunrises.

Doctor Snow had given him weeks. He lasts two days because of a fast moving, wildly spreading small cell cancer that has already officially claimed the area around one of his lungs.

Before we knew he had cancer he said, “You know I would go down on my knees and kiss the ground and praise God if I could breathe again. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something you’d never expect to hear from me?”

And it was.

My dad was a hobbit kind of man. He believed in breakfast and laughing. He believed in second breakfast and laughing even more. He believed in dancing and smiling and telling stories and listening and a third breakfast that included cake. He believed in life and people. He was capable of looking straight into someone’s soul and getting right to the core of what made them special and because he had that gift, he forgave everyone everything. He forgave people all the time and he loved them just as much as he did no matter what they put him through.

Two weeks before he died

Right after the Boston Marathon bombings, I am sitting in a Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant with my daughter, Em. People are eating, but mostly everyone is craning their heads, watching the television screen that displays what little information exists about the attacks. My cell phone vibrates and I learn that my dad, who has gone into the hospital three days earlier because he couldn’t breath has tumors. They don’t know if the tumors are cancer. They just know they are there.

On the screen above my head are news people trying to make sense of a tragedy that I have just personally witnessed because I had been at the marathon. I don’t need the television to see the blood and the pain, the hope of people helping, the determination of doctors and civilians and paramedics and cops.

Tumors.

People before me have compared hate to cancerous tumors, compared the way hate metastasizes and invades a society, taking it over the same way cancer takes over a body. It is not new to think about this, but I do.  The hate isn’t in the restaurant this night though. In the restaurant, the patrons and servers are still trying to understand how things like bombs can happen in their city, trying to isolate the type of hate that this cancer was, trying to understand it.

Some things are hard to understand. You can label all different types of cancers (lymphoblastic, Kapoki sarcoma, fibrous histiocytoma, ovarian, oropharyngeal), and you can label all different kinds of hate (misogyny, domestic terrorism, international terrorism, fear, self-righteousness, homophobic, racist, religious, ethnic, sociopathic) but those labels are just labels, they don’t get at the core of the hate, the essential interwoven elements of it.

“Grandpa Barnard has some sort of tumors,” I tell Emily, “and fluid around his lung.”

“It is cancer?” she asks.

“They don’t know yet.”

It isn’t for another ten days that they tell him that it is definitely cancer, and a bad kind. In those ten days, I spew out a blog post about the goodness I saw at the marathon, I talk to librarians, I attend a wedding full of love.  The doctors aren’t sure where the cancer originated. They just know that it is. My uncle who is in his late eighties immediately starts citing statistics about Raydon. My family has never been a family that has cancer. He wants to find a reason. He wants to understand.

But we won’t ever understand exactly what made my dad’s body become cancerous or where that cancer first struck or even where else in his body that it is.

“There is no point in doing scans,” Dr. Snow says on this Thursday. “The only point is that we have to keep him comfortable, manage his pain.”

And this is where cancer and violence part ways. Because as a society we always have to do the scans, always have to figure out where the hate started, what tools it uses to kill others, what elements it needs to thrive. Because as a society, we need to feel safe and we need to be a place where nobody wants to destroy innocent runners or spectators or children. We have to be a place that understands hatred and actively works to try to stop it, to turn it into something good and peaceful.

When my dad finds out about the Boston Marathon he says, “Humans can be so horrible to each other, can’t they Carriekins?”

And I say that they could, but I add, remembering what I had seen at the Marathon, “They can be good too, Dad.”

“Yes, they can.” He sighs. “I would have liked to been a locksmith. I would have liked to have a nice, simple job helping people.”

“You helped people all the time, Dad,” I tell him. “You are a good, sweet man.”

“I wasn’t a great success.”

“Yes, you were. You were a success because you made people laugh,” I tell him. “You were a success because you try so hard every day to be good.”

And it is true. Even at the hospital he is flirting with nurses, complimenting their bright orange pants, asking them how their days are going.

Even when he finds out he has less than a month to live, he asks me, “How was your day?”

That is what good is. That is what gives me hope when cancer tries to infect our country or even our own souls with blame and anger and bigotry. People like my dad give me hope. It is the hobbits of the world, the ones who find the beauty in breakfast or a nurse’s fluorescent pants, who find the love inside a angry person’s heart, who want to save those who hurt them, the ones who find the kindness and joy and laughter inside a hospital room, these are the people who make our world good.  We need more hobbits like my dad. He may have not have been a famous man or a ‘successful’ one, but he was good. He was unrelentingly good and I will miss him.

I do miss him.


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BLOG BREAK – SORT OF

It’s a big holiday week here and so Carrie is going to be taking a bit of a blog break for the next two weeks. There will be a new podcast next Tuesday, but other than that? It’s a little time for Carrie’s brain to recharge and rest. So, she’ll be posting random blogs from her past. Thank you for understanding!

WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

ART.

I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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TIME STOPPERS!

You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

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MOE BERG 

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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FLYING AND ENHANCED

Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.

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OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

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WRITING COACH

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

WRITING BARN

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

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Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

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