Friday, September 20, 2013

On Being a Good Person

The benefit for the park was Tuesday night, and I was duly honored. It was lovely. The weather was gorgeous, the Hudson River glittered in the sunset, the food was excellent. The event was sold out, a fact that made me very happy. I am always ridiculously pleased when people contribute to making the world more beautiful, and our park is indeed, a beautiful place.

Siberian elm and asters in fall<br/>Photo by Marcia Garibaldi
The Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park
Photo from the Fort Tryon Park Trust
To my surprise, both our state senator and soon-to-be city councilman came and stayed for an extended period of time. The senator declared me "an individual worthy of our highest esteem and admiration". The current city councilman's representative said I am "an outstanding individual, one worthy of the esteem of this great city." It's printed up on faux-parchment, so I can gaze upon the words whenever the urge hits. The city proclamation is even framed, with a ribbon and gold-foil seal.

It's moving, but frankly also pretty funny. I mean, how long have you vaguely wanted others to think you are a Good Person? Now I am like the scarecrow from Oz, who thought the problem was that he needed a brain, but found that all he needed was a diploma. I have the documents! It's official! I'm Good! (Heh, heh.)
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On Saturday I'm teaching a class called "What the Dinosaurs Ate in Fort Tryon Park". I taught this class last year on the day Hurricane Sandy arrived. The rain started to fall just as we finished. The trees started to fall 10 hours later.

If you walk through the park today, the only remnants of the hurricane are 100+ tree stumps. The city was a huge mess at the time, but most of Manhattan has long since recovered. Out in Queens they are still rebuilding. I have to remind myself that there are people who will be rebuilding their lives for years. It's easy to forget that, once your own life has moved on.

The impact of disasters varies from person to person. Big Guy has a friend at his therapeutic school whose father was killed on 9/11. When the towers fell, so did her life. She was five at the time. I think sometimes about this girl's mother, who lost her husband and, in some senses, lost part of her daughter. She probably lost some of her own grounding, too. Putting a life back together is far harder than putting up a Freedom Tower.

To my way of thinking, this is part of why we need to build community, build resourcefulness, build each other up every day. We need to be so deeply in the habit of doing and seeing, of caring and contributing, that it's our default setting. We need to give, not because that makes us Good People or because we get thanks or a proclamation, but because we can.

When we get around to consistently doing what we can because we can, I suspect we'll stop wanting others to think we're Good People... because our hearts will be focused on good itself. Which is, really, far more interesting than the adulation of people around us.


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  2. Nice blog Julia and gorgeous pictures

  3. Thanks for writing about community to build each other up...very well said and a great reminder to me. You rock, and aren't you glad you are an outstanding person and not a person of interest. Smiles from south Florida :)

  4. Amen to that! It's certainly nice to have people rise up and call you blessed, but they don't know you like, oh, say, your family does. And yes, building things up is worth doing because it's worth doing, the good itself.