"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Person--Big Difference

I have had not so great health stuff going on this week, and felt like I was losing my focus on my "Be the Change" mantra that I had adopted. Then, I get this email from my friend Judith this morning. She knows this woman, Sue, personally, and her husband, David...so this isn't one of those internet sappy scams. This is a true story of one person doing something that might have seemed small, but that had a huge impact on one person's life--and then subsequently on so many other lives. BE THE CHANGE, indeed.
The story begins below, an email that David, Sue's husband, sent to a group of their friends:

Sue is too modest to send this to you, but I kinda think it is a neat story that offers some inspiration. (And yes, I want to brag about her a little, and I didn't tell her I was sending it to you). Sue received the following email from a woman - an abuse victim - who once worked for her at a retail store. Until this email arrived on Saturday, they had not communicated for the past 17 odd years. If you get past the 3rd paragraph without some emotional response, I'll be surprised. Her email follows:

Hello, Sue! This morning I sat down to eat a grapefruit and was reminded of my time working with you at the mall and all those grapefruits we used to eat! I went to Google and typed in your name plus Atlanta, GA and immediately found your website. Good for you in starting your own business! You are in my thoughts quite often. The year that I worked with you at Briarcliff Mall, 1990, was certainly a defining year in my life. While my personal life was tragic, my professional life, working with you, was enlightening. I had married a really abusive man and we moved to Atlanta the day of our wedding. I worked in Visual Display in all the women's lines. Every day, I absorbed your presence and sense of self and learned about my rights as a woman, things they don't teach young girls in the mid-west. Every night, I endured physical, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. My home life was a nightmare. I day-dreamed about the Highway Patrol knocking on my door and telling me that the guy I was married to had fallen asleep at the wheel and was dead. I was in absolute misery and had no idea how to get out. When I finally had had enough and called the police, they took me to a battered women's shelter. The next morning, I called work and told you what had happened and you immediately sent the other Sue to come pick me up. She brought me to your home and you let me stay in your attic. On Saturday, you took me to the airport and said, "We're not leaving until you get on airplane." It was December 19!! We went to the gate and the boarding agent laughed at us when we asked if I could get on a plane. Then we handed him a note from my therapist, a note from the doctor who had treated my whiplash and a sealed letter from a judge stating that I needed to get out of the state immediately. The boarding agent took one look at the letters and handed me my boarding pass and said, "Merry Christmas". I still cannot tell this story without crying. I am forever grateful for all that you did for me in that year. You poured your strength and sense of identity into me every time we were in the same room. I had no strength of my own and I certainly had no sense of self or sense of my own identity so I borrowed yours - I even cut my hair supershort like yours! I needed some pillar of strength to cling to while the waves of being in an abusive relationship crashed in on me from every side. You didn't pause for a moment when I told you I was at the shelter. You took me in like an orphaned child, without question or hesitation. I have no doubt in my mind about the time that I spent with you and the strength and support that you gave to me: Sue, you saved my life. I am certain I would have been dead if not for your support, friendship and mentoring. After leaving Atlanta, I lived with my parents and tried to get on with my life. I went to Biola University when I was 25 and majored in Art Therapy with a minor in Bible. I traveled as much as possible and even did a semester in London where I did my Art History classes and toured the museums and galleries and then backpacked through Europe and toured more museums and galleries. After graduating, I floundered around in very low paying jobs and went from one unhealthy relationship to the next. It really is an addiction! When I finally realized I could not do my life on my own, I started seeing a really wonderful therapist who helped build into me that sense of strengthand a sense of my own self that I saw you living every day. Years of therapy later, I am quite happy, pretty dog-gone healthy emotionally and currently dating only really great guys, if at all. No more wasting time, energy and emotional health with psychos!! Finally!! In the past few years, I have been teaching piano full time. I get to sleep in ... remember how late to work I always was?!? I also travel to Africa frequently. I started going with a group of people from a church here in Orange County, CA. I was the team photographer. I photographed as many people as possible and then brought their stories and photos back to people here in OC so more people would find out about the trips and go to Africa and then do other projects like bring shoes or soccer balls or underwear or build houses or invest in child sponsorship. Along the way, I realized that I would have photos of the folks there in the villages but they wouldn't have a copy of their photo. So, I went to the lab in town and printed out photos and then went back to the village and handed out the photos. Eventually, this turned into a huge project called the Photo Legacy Project. Now, photographers go all the time, giving people their family photos. And along the way, we are able to find out some of the needs of the family and help them get connected to locals who can provide health-care, food, child sponsorship, friendship, support, etc. The Photo Legacy Project has been anamazing tool to meet people and find out ways that we can help. And each person is SOOOOO excited to have their family photos!! They have never had a photo of themselves EVER! It's really cool to watch! If you want to find out more about the Photo Legacy Project, you can checkout my website at: http://www.photolegacyproject.com/ <http://www.photolegacyproject.com/> There is a video of me speaking telling my story. You will recognize part of the story ... it starts when I say, "I started dating a photographer ..." Now, the project has gotten to the place that we will seek corporate sponsorship within the next year. It is amazing to see how that horrible relationship with that photographer that I was married to (I NEVER call him my husband! He certainly was NOT a husband to me!!) left me with the gift of creating photos and now that gift is being used to touch people's lives in Africa. What a tragic relationship but what a blessing to see the good that came from it! This past summer I went to Goma Congo. I have not added those photos and stories to my website. I will send them in the next e-mail separately, incase you would like to read about that trip. I cannot thank you enough, Sue, for the wonderful friend and mentor that you were to me. You kept me sane and you kept me alive. I am forever grateful to have met you and to have had the privilege of working with you. You were just being you but that was exactly what I needed. My life is forever changed by knowing you. Thank you. Laura A. (you knew me by another last name)

Postscript from David: This story proves once again that individuals can have a profound impact without great acts of courage or fantastic sums of money or amassing political power. Sometimes a simple act of kindness, our common sense, our judgment about what is right and wrong and just an ounce of compassion is all it takes to help someone or change a life. The airline employee is another unsung hero, but it really could be any of us at any moment. One reason Laura photographs these families with aids is so the children will have a photograph to remember their parents. Her own mother died when she was a few years old, and she has one picture of her, which she says is priceless. Who could imagine the immense value and meaning that resulted from someone taking that simple photo of a mother and child many years ago. The human spirit is an amazing force and it can become exponentially powerful when it plays forward into others lives. Lets hope that the photos taken of these African families will bring love, strength and goodwill that will play forward again and again. Have a great Thanksgiving. David

Click here to see Laura speaking--thank goodness Sue and that airline employee made miracles happen. Look what she has done with her life!

Kim >^..^<



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