When I was in fifth grade my mother sat me down beside her on our couch. She proceeded to explain to me that her sister, my aunt, had been diagnosed with cancer. My young, carefree spirit was no match for that melancholic word. Cancer. I could hear the despair in my mom’s voice. My family piled in a car and we drove to visit her in Ohio. Before we went in, I remember my parents telling me that she may not appear as she did last time we saw her. We cracked open the door and slowly filed into the dimly-lit room. When I laid my naive, inexperienced eyes on her, a flood of emotions, too deep for a 10-year old to process, permeated into my memory and have resided there ever since. Her skin tattered, her hair weathered and wispy, her body weightless, her eyes beaming an intense joy. I couldn’t make sense of it. Misery was just an ingredient in the beauty of a life well-lived. Her condition did not deter her character. Cancer sucks. I hate it. The image of seeing my aunt in that condition will never fade. She passed shortly after. This event affected me in a real way that I truly haven’t processed until recently. It contributed to my understanding of this world, the heartache of losing a family member, the tragedy of an injustice but the remarkable joy that can make its way through the cracks.
Just as this event shaped me, everyone on this crazy planet has endured an experience that has the ability to transform our perspectives and cultivate a world full of reflective and beautifully enriched people. People who better understand tragedy, hope, struggles and know how to encourage and grieve. An essential part of working to see this type of world come to fruition is sharing these experiences with others. Dear World is an award-winning portrait project that shares meaningful stories through photography. Robert Fogarty, the project’s founder, says, “We explore stories of hope. Stories of struggle. Stories of a brighter day. We’re working towards a beautiful, wonderful world where more people send a message to family, friends and strangers in this way.” The process if simple, yet empowering. Photographers from Dear World paint messages that represent your identity, an experience or a meaningful message on your skin and then take your photo. They want to see communities connect over meaningful stories and experiences. So why am I writing about this?
Because you have the opportunity to take part in this project! Dear world is here, at JMU, today! Anyone from the JMU community is welcome to come get their picture taken, today, March 29, from 9:00am to 4:00pm in the Student Success Center, Room 1075. Following this, there is a keynote celebration and the photo release in Wilson Auditorium at 7:00pm. This is an awesome opportunity for professors, students and staff to intentionally connect with each other and hear stories, experiences and meaningful messages. Share your #DearJMU messages and don’t miss out on your chance to be apart of a project that is beautifully shaping our world.