by Ken Budd
Two weeks ago, I interviewed Mary Latham, a wedding photographer turned road-tripping humanitarian, for my “Everyday Heroes” column in The Saturday Evening Post. Since 2016, Mary has driven her late mom’s Subaru across America, collecting stories of kindness. Her goal is to visit all 50 states, and when I met her in Crofton, Maryland, she had six more to go (Mary has driven 38,000+ miles, so I did not bitch about my one-hour drive from Virginia). My profile will run in 2020, but I want to share one of Mary’s recent encounters.
A few days before our interview, she had met Heather White Guillen, the founder of Sheryl’s Heart Foundation, which helps provide pharmaceutical and medical care to children and adults with cancer. Heather was born in El Paso, Texas, and when Mary texted her about meeting, she was at her home in Maryland, crying, watching news coverage of the shooting that killed 22 people.
“I met her at a coffee shop,” Mary told me. “She comes running out to my car and she’s crying and she’s hugging me, and she’s like, ‘I’ve just been so broken and sad, because I’m watching this about my hometown, and I’m not there. And I feel like I’m not doing anything. I just felt so hopeless. And then you reached out to me.’”
And then you reached out to me. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
The call reminded Heather that she was a positive presence in the world, and for Mary, that affirmation, that reminder that kindness is everywhere, is why she’s collecting these stories (which will appear in a book she’s creating for hospital waiting rooms). Even if you do something small—helping a neighbor, smiling at a stranger, buying someone a cup of coffee—you’re creating good. As I wrote in my recent piece for National Geographic Traveler, there is power in small gestures, and small gestures, taken together, become large gestures. Mary has seen that in her travels. The challenge, for all of us, is not allowing the world’s cruelty to overshadow the far-more-prevalent good. In El Paso, that includes the thousands of strangers who lined up for a victim’s funeral after her husband worried that no one would attend. Or the 11-year-old boy who started the El Paso Challenge to encourage acts of kindness.
As she’s traveled, Mary’s host families have included liberals and conservatives, atheists and the devout, and she’s found that despite our divisions, kindness is thriving. It just doesn’t get much publicity. So don’t succumb to cynicism in the face of hate, or as Mary puts it, “Do not stop being a good person because of bad people.” —Ken Budd