HARTFORD -- For Mary Latham, a double dose of tragedy spawned a new mission in life: to highlight kindness across the country.
This October she is taking a movement she started on the internet on the road. Soon after the Newtown school tragedy, Latham heard a story about an individual at Starbucks who had bought a host of gift certificates and was treating people in the line behind him to free coffee. Latham, 29, depleted by the news of the tragedy and casting about desperately for word of a kinder humanity, shared the story with her mother, Pat.
Pat, long revered in their hometown of Orient Point, Long Island, for her compassionate nature, had been working to keep her own spirits up during her second bout of breast cancer.
“Not many people knew she was sick,” Latham said. ”She was always smiling; she didn’t want others to worry about her, especially her children, so we never really realized how much pain she was actually in at the time.”
An idea began to percolate in Mary Latham’s head. She and a friend, Laura Levin, created a Facebook page, the GrAttitude Project, and asked readers to send in their own stories of random acts of kindness. With a week, the page’s inbox was flooded with emails.
A young single mother who had been at a diner with her children received the bill for their meal, only to find out that a kind stranger had paid for it already. A neighbor with no children of his own discovered a father unable to pay for his child’s college tuition, and offered to cover the cost.
Sharing these stories, the pair wrote on the project’s Facebook page would be a reminder “that our attitude toward a situation is sometimes the only thing that stands between us and our ability to be truly happy.”
Two weeks later, Pat made the two-hour trip from Orient Point to Memorial-Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan for what was expected to be a routine procedure to remove excess fluid surrounding her heart. When Latham and her father, Jim, arrived at the hospital the next morning, they were told that something had gone terribly wrong. Pat had just a few days to live, if that.
As the family sat in the waiting room, taking turns sitting beside Pat during her final moments, Latham began reading aloud stories from the GrAttitude Project’s Facebook page. At an especially dark time, the tales lifted the family’s spirits.
Three days later, Pat Latham died. Latham promised herself she would not let her mother’s gratitude about life die with her. Starting October 29, Latham is driving her mother’s 2008 Subaru through each of the 50 states, to more fully do what the GrAttitude Project’s Facebook page has started – to collect stories of random acts of kindness.
Her goal: to compile the stories into a book that she plans to distribute to hospital waiting rooms, to lift the spirits of those waiting to hear news of their loved ones.
"Maybe these stories of hope could provide healing for others like they had for me," Latham said. "I want to prove there is more good out there than bad, and to put that knowledge in a place where it is so desperately needed." Those who wish to become involved may do so in a number of ways.