Guest Column: Reflecting on a one-year journey filled with kindness

10/29/2017 6:00 AM |

Her name was Meghan. She had seen an article about how I was traveling the states in search of stories of kindness and reached out to me via Facebook to offer me a place to stay. She told me she had a home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I had just left the Portland area but was due to return a few days later to meet an amazing woman for a story so I asked if I could spend Thursday night with her. She replied, “Of course,” but mentioned she actually had to work that night. I began to wonder if I should just stay with my original Portland hosts to not be a bother to her, but she insisted I come stay and that maybe I’d be able to get some work done since no one would be around.

She had a point. I had just finished my wedding season when I packed up my car on Oct. 29, 2016, and there were very few opportunities to sit down and edit the thousands of photos waiting for me on my hard drive. Every day was spent driving, meeting new hosts, meeting new people with their stories. If a bride reached out for a certain photo, I was Googling the closest Starbucks and pulling over just to upload and edit that certain picture and send it over to her. It wasn’t the best plan, but it was the best I could do living on the road and being in and out of strangers’ homes.

I arrived at her house just as it was getting dark. A small lamp lit up the big blue door. I knocked. “Come in,” I heard a voice say and pushed open the door to the smell of a home-cooked meal. Meghan was making eggplant rollatini and the wood stove was burning. Her little dog ran over to me to greet me, and I noticed Eva Cassidy’s voice was gracing the house. My mom loved Eva Cassidy and I remember her often playing her as she cooked my family dinner. I had taken two steps into a house I’d never been to, into a woman’s life I’d never known, and instantly felt home. Safe. Comfortable. And like I could start crying … which would be awkward since she didn’t know me yet, so luckily I was able to pull myself together. The next morning she made me fresh scrambled eggs she got from the henhouse and raspberry scones made from the raspberries in her garden. I drove away that morning and felt like I was driving out of a fairy tale. I couldn’t be more hopeful for the next few connections I’d make, for the stories I was about to get, for the experiences I was about to have.

The day I took off for this journey, in a way, was very similar to what this entire year has been like for me. The morning of Oct. 29 began with my best friend, Erin, taking me out to a lovely breakfast where I was able to consume only about two bites of toast due to my anxiety at beginning this endeavor. One of those bites somehow caused me to break my tooth. A phone call to my sisters later, I was rushing to their dentist, where I was lucky to get it fixed enough to be able to still leave that same day. Once the car was completed packed, my father jumped in the front seat to join me for the 10-minute drive to the ferry. We stopped at my mom’s grave on the way and he asked me what I’d be doing if she were still here … I told him, “Well, not THIS crazy thing.” A few minutes later I waved goodbye to family and close friends and took off. And while I’ve been back and forth a bit for work, my heart (and my car) have been on the road and in this project for a year now.

And maybe it is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s also been the most extraordinary. I’ve heard hundreds of beautiful stories. So many stories of hope.

When I drove my mother’s old Subaru onto the Cross Sound Ferry a year ago I had no idea what this journey would really entail. I just knew I had to do it. I wanted to go out and show people how much good was out there. I wanted to prove that if you believed in that message, you’d see it more clearly. And I think we all need that opportunity to see more good out there right now, and that is what I’m hoping to provide with this mission. I created this project for many reasons, but one was to help myself heal. When my mother died, my heart broke into a million pieces. And over the past year, with the assistance of so many strangers and friends and family, I’ve started to put myself back together again. By changing my focus and constantly looking for the good, I’ve been overwhelmed by kindness and comfort from others. I can only hope by sharing my stories of this journey, a journey that has led me into 79 homes across 23 states so far, that I can help heal others too. That I can shine light on all of these incredible people and all of the kindness that gets masked by the bad we are shown on our screens.

A lot of people see a country full of broken hearts right now; I see it too. But I also see a country full of hope.

It’s amazing when you do change your focus, when you perform little acts of kindness, you start to see things so differently. You might have a broken heart, but so might the person next to you. Be the light for them. Show them they aren’t alone. Buy them a cup of coffee. That’s what I’ve learned on my journey. We need to trust each other more. Support each other. Love each other. Make each other realize we are in this together. That we matter.

So a year ago when I stood at my mother’s grave, tightly grasping my father’s hand, and told him this was crazy … maybe I was wrong. Because I think this may end up being the most important thing I will ever do.

Mary Latham is a Long Island-based wedding photographer who grew up in Orient. She has lived in Manhattan, St. John, USVI, and Florence, Italy, and now resides in her mother’s old blue Subaru. Since Oct. 29, 2016, she has been on a road trip across the U.S. For more information visit www.moregoodtoday.com.

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