My Valentines.

Update: Jonathan left a comment about the evening that you should read as well.

Humor me while I tell this story, because I promise you that it serves a purpose.

My sisters and I are all married and that means five weddings.  Each wedding very different from another.  There were church  weddings, beach weddings (mine!), living room weddings with jeans, just out-of-the-shower wet hair, and no guests because we’re just doing this one for the INS (ALSO MINE!).  There were restaurant receptions and fire hall receptions.  Weddings with one half of the chairs filled with Mexicans.  Weddings with one half of the pews filled with deaf guests.

But there were constants. Cookie tables. Certain family friends.  My father performed every ceremony, including one with a Spanish interpreter and one with a sign language interpreter.

Another constant was the conversation that we would have with our father or mother, whoever got the short end of the straw I suppose, on the day of the wedding.  That conversation would start out something like this, “Dear child. I spent a small fortune on this wedding.  I have listened to you talk about this wedding for a year now.  I have watched you weep over this wedding, much as my wallet is weeping, because of this wedding.  I know things about flowers, and fabrics, and hair product, and strategic undergarments that I never really wished to have to know, because of this wedding.  There are 250 people sitting out there waiting for this wedding.  If you don’t want to go through with this wedding, you absolutely do not have to.”

You can take that as, “Boy, her Dad really hates the men they chose,” or you can take it for what it really was, a father understanding pressure, and being sure that we truly were doing what we still wanted to do.

Fast forward to last night when I sat down at Las Velas with my Valentines, Jonathan Wander, and Jamie and Ali McMutrie.

There we sat, one last time for who knows how long, before the girls headed back to Haiti today to care for the last 12 children the French government did not give clearance to enter the country.

There Jonathan and I sat, peppering the girls with questions, laughing with them, listening as they described raw emotions, as they told us things we hadn’t yet heard that they had witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Horrifying things.  We talked about Pittsburgh; what it means to them, particularly the people.

And I told them the story of the five weddings.

I said, “I can’t really look at the pictures Michael has been taking yet because I’m not ready to be unable to sleep again.  Haiti’s changed. It’s going to be harder.  Harsher.  Has anyone yet come to you and said, ‘If you don’t want to go back to Haiti; if you can’t do THIS anymore, you absolutely do not have to?'”

And Ali said, “Oh, yes.  Lots of people have said that.  We are doing what we want to do.  That’s our home.”  Ali then gave me the example of if Pittsburgh was met with some great natural disaster, collapsed in upon itself and its residents, and I left for a time to be safe, wouldn’t I want to go back?  Wouldn’t I feel the NEED to go back and help those people I hold dear to me?

And I was all [LIGHT BULB!].  I get it.

So I asked them another question. “Could you be happy HERE?”

I’m not exaggerating when I say the looks on both of their faces as they shook their heads NO! sent me and Jonathan into a fit of hysterical laughter.

Their mantra, “Haiti is our home.”

They don’t know what’s going to happen when they get to Haiti.  They explained the best case and the worst case scenarios to me.  They explained how angry they were when they heard one of the children died.  They explained what they’ll do when they get there, what needs to happen in order to bring the 12 here to live, how they’ll care for the children of the crumbling orphanage while they’re in Haiti, and they also talked a little bit about their plans for the future, beyond BRESMA.

They have lofty, selfless goals to save as many Haitian children as they can.

They tell me they’re not heroes, because, “What did we do? We didn’t DO anything.”

This was where Jonathan and I burst into a NEW fit of hysterical laughter and it wasn’t just because I was on my second mojito.

“ARE YOU CRAZY?!” I asked.  “You kept them alive.  You stayed calm in the face of danger, in the face of no food and water, in the face of sickness.  You worked 24/7 for one solid week to get those kids here.  You refused to leave ONE SINGLE child behind even though that meant one of you had to jump off of an airplane to sure safety, not knowing if you were going to ever get out of Haiti. Now that there are children left there, you’re going back without a care for your own safety.”

If I had my way, they’d have left the U.S. looking quite silly as they tried to scrub off the word “Hero” that I Sharpied onto their cute little foreheads.

The last question I asked them.  “Are you scared?”

And I was surprised when Ali said, “Yes.”

I asked her what she was scared of, and she said, “The airplane ride.”

They’re in Haiti now.

They’ve left behind their new brother Fredo, who I’ve met and who has a smile that really just turns on light bulbs all over your heart.  He went to his first Penguins game recently, where Jonathan bought him that little Iceburgh he’s clutching.

They’ve left behind their mother and their father, their brother, their family, their friends, their safety, and on Jamie’s part, a husband, and they’re not sure when they’ll be back.

But they’re where they want to be — with their children in the dangerous, harsh, chaotic Haiti that they still call home.

That’s heroic.





24 Comments

  1. Political Party Pooper
    February 15, 2010 6:16 pm

    Rock on, Haiti! Rock on, heroes!



  2. SpudMom
    February 15, 2010 6:25 pm

    No good words. Just hope for the future.



  3. bucdaddy
    February 15, 2010 6:37 pm

    No words — none — for this level of selflessness and compassion.

    Godspeed.



  4. GF
    February 15, 2010 7:01 pm

    SHEROES… proud and strong.

    God Bless, girls! Keep up the awesome work!!



  5. Bojack
    February 15, 2010 7:20 pm

    Awesome!!!!!



  6. annietiques
    February 15, 2010 8:02 pm

    Godspeed Jamie & Ali!!!!



  7. Beatrice
    February 15, 2010 8:38 pm

    Wow. Thanks for sharing, Ginny. Prayers and good wishes to Jamie and Ali.



  8. ye filwiha lij
    February 15, 2010 8:57 pm

    You know another thing that’s heroic – your golden heart!!



  9. KGC
    February 15, 2010 9:00 pm

    I cannot understand how anyone could make the sacrifices Ali and Jamie have and will make. I admire them. But, I simply cannot understand.

    BTW, can I ask a stupid question? Which one is Ali and which one is Jamie? The picture captions on many news sites have been inconsistent.



  10. gunnlino
    February 15, 2010 9:33 pm

    True heros do not look at themselves as heros, most will tell you they just did what had to be done, nothing more. They have the view that it’s what anyone would do, which is ,of course not the case.
    That is why they are who they are, truly unique and humble. Good and true people. Good for you ladies, may you be blessed and guided with grace and care.



  11. Kim Lyons
    February 15, 2010 9:48 pm

    Ginny,
    Sometimes as a writer, I feel a little daunted when writing about a given topic, because I am not sure my skills are up to the level that the subject deserves. If you ever have that worry, it is not apparent in your work. A lovely story made even easier to appreciate by really fine writing. Kudos.



  12. red pen mama
    February 16, 2010 8:14 am

    God bless and keep those women.



  13. Elmer Fudd
    February 16, 2010 8:38 am

    The world needs more people like these two beautiful and amazing ladies.. Godspeed girls!



  14. Dan (Not Onarato)
    February 16, 2010 9:10 am

    Thanks for the update Ginny.

    Ali and Jamie…Be safe



  15. Erica
    February 16, 2010 9:23 am

    I wish your website had a like button like Facebook. Ali & Jamie, you rock!



  16. Woy
    February 16, 2010 9:42 am

    Invoking the old Irish prayer:

    May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    The rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

    Godspeed, Ali and Jamie.



  17. tim
    February 16, 2010 10:47 am

    wow. nothing else but wow.



  18. Ginny's Mom
    February 16, 2010 10:56 am

    God be with you Jamie and Ali……..



  19. Kathy
    February 16, 2010 11:12 am

    Ginny: The way that you expressed the story, comparing it to the five weddings….it was just….fabulous. Thanks for sharing. I’m thankful I have been able to know the McMutrie’s story through you.

    Kathy



  20. Jonathan
    February 16, 2010 12:24 pm

    Ginny,

    You captured our experience with Jamie and Ali perfectly beautifully, as always. I have so much to say about those two, and I will at some point soon, but a few comments I want to share with everyone about your post:

    1. First, sitting at that table with you, Ali and Jamie, it was impossible not to say to myself, “Dude, you are the luckiest guy on the planet right now.” I do not know three more impressive people.

    2. During their time back in Pittsburgh Jamie and Ali became absolutely addicted to Las Velas (or, as they call it, “Ginny’s Place.”) Warning to all those who haven’t eaten there yet, it is addictive, and David and his staff and warm and welcoming on these frozen nights.

    3. Ginny wrote, “They tell me they’re not heroes, because, “What did we do? We didn’t DO anything.” Let me assure all of you–this is not false modestly. If I ever saved someone’s life I would publicly say I wasn’t a hero because that’s the right thing to say. But inside I’d be, “Damn straight I’m a hero!” Not them. I have known Jamie and Ali for some time now, spent hours and hours talking with them. Sunday night was the third time in four nights I had been with them. I have seen them jubilant, exhausted, stressed, frustrated, carefree, and with a margarita or two in them and I can tell you there is nothing false about them.

    When they said they didn’t really “do” anything, Jamie continued, “You two did what you could, we did what we could, everybody did what they could.” The only point of disagreement Ginny and I had with them? They said they only did, and continue to do, what any of us would in their situation. And they believe it! That was one of a million times Ginny and I looked at each other, incredulous, shaking our heads. And we set them straight.

    4. Ginny ends by saying that Jamie and Ali going back to Haiti yesterday is heroic. So true. We’ve all heard stories about the person who runs into a burning building or jumps off a subway platform into the path of an oncoming train to save someone. Usually, afterward, they say something like, “It was just a reflex. I didn’t have time to think.” They are heroes, to be sure. But then there are Ali and Jamie. Their going back to Haiti to fight to bring those kids to Pittsburgh is not a reflex. They did have time to think, and plan, a lot. But there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation, not a question or a doubt.

    5. Joining us at the table Sunday night was my 18-year-old son, Alex, who’s known Ali and Jamie for almost as long as I have. He didn’t say a word (and I mean not one word) for two hours. Later I asked him why. “I was speechless. Dad, I’ve just never met anyone like them.” I’m a lot older than he is, but I never have either.



  21. Joe K.
    February 16, 2010 2:49 pm

    Can’t really add anything other than this is an amazing story on many levels.



  22. ScareHouse Scott
    February 16, 2010 3:45 pm

    I met Jamie, briefly, a little over a year ago at casual fundraiser on the south side and can confirm what both Ginny & Jonathan have said … no ego, no false modesty, and no sense of just how heroic and inspirational they are to others. Thanks for posting this.



  23. Susan/TogetherWeFlourish
    February 16, 2010 7:47 pm

    I’m just another one of the many who want to express how much I admire you friends. I’m old enough to be their mother and I’m sure their mother has just a few reservations about them going back. At the same time, I’m sure her heart is also filled with pride. Thoughts of success and safety travel with your friends.



  24. ali
    February 16, 2010 10:51 pm

    hey guys…

    i have a little message from jamie and ali… please follow this link for a few updates from haiti…

    http://tinyurl.com/ylz38f3