This image is of Mark Montgomery - a prominent figure here in the Nashville startup and biz scene. He lost his wife to cancer in July 2015. She left him and his four-year-old red-headed wild child behind.
It's his story that started what I'm currently calling the "All of Us Project," though I have no doubt the name will change.
I knew him peripherally and I knew his wife because we were in a show together called "Listen to Your Mother." She was - as many people will say about someone who has died tragically too young, but hers is one of the truest ones - a light to everyone she knew. You can view her story from the show HERE, and the one I read at the show HERE. Hers is much more powerful.
Mark and I are friends on FB and I saw his grieving on there as much as he would show it, and I believe I read into it deeply, imaging this powerful man, a man known for his no-bullshit approach to life and business, I imagined him and his daughter (having two of my own, I know what he was up against and I can barely handle it with the help of my husband some days), that he was barely surviving. I imagined that, through his brokenness, that he would have to change somehow. He would see what it meant to be a parent through and through - in the dark hours of the night and when the daylight shines on her youth. Everything was probably breaking, I thought. And, in my storyteller mind, I imagined that it would have to be put back together carefully, softly, so as not to break or topple the tower as it got clumsily mortared back together.
And as I continued to imagine, Mark took a trip to the beach in October 2016. For quite a good number of weeks, I believe, and he was able to take a lot of it alone while have others who love him care for his daughter. He would write on FB and subsequently on his blog about going there wanting to die, but then the cleansing of the ocean. It was magical. It was "washing away his grime," he said.
And I thought of this image. Actually, in all honesty, I originally thought of painting his face to look more like a cartoon of a stern businessman, but as I made my own paint (normal face paints wouldn't drip) and I bargained with my six year old to let me practice on her, I saw it did not drip in telltale droplets from the crown of the head like I pictured, but it peeled. It peeled like paint, like grime, and I thought: PERFECT.
I sent him a message in October with my idea. We finally shot it in March. In those months, I started to have other ideas for other people with their own stories - stories that were uniquely their own, but, like most, completely universal. I have always had a passion for helping people to not feel so alone - either through humor or through sharing of stories. So, the idea of a book came about. A book of images like these paired with original poems. I contacted the son of a lawyer I used to work for, Noah Leventhal, who recently graduated and has studied poetry in very prestigious institutions. He wrote this poem for this story of loss and a gradual rebuilding.
I want to make more and more of these and share them in a book so that people everywhere can see and read and find some that make them say, "That's me, too. Someone else understands." And it might be WINS or LOSES, UPS or DOWNS.
So, I'm open to hearing your story. Where have you struggled? Felt alone? Left for dead? Or so far at the top no one could hear you? If you would like to be considered to have your story told in image and poem, send it to me.
Share this post with anyone you think might want to share their story. And, thank you, Mark, for trusting me and being the first to give your story to my lens and Noah's words. (And thank you for letting me pour too-hot and then too-cold water over your head. Ha!)