Resourceful. A leader. Pretty. Generous. Purposeful. Supportive. Tough. Upbeat. Organized. Self-Assured. Fair.
Our friend Ann passed away on January 22. Maybe she was your friend, too. She pretty much knew everyone.
Ann was one of the first women who volunteered to be photographed for Of Scars. Back then, we had no idea what we were doing, really. We did know it was important to learn a bit about people before asking them to take off their shirts, though, and so we designed this cutesy little questionnaire that we asked models to fill out and bring to their photo sessions. On the first page of our packet was a list of words, and instructions to “Circle the words that describe you.”
Ann was too big to fit in our little list of words, so she added a few of her own: Resourceful. A leader. Pretty. And on and on…
It was a huge turning point for us. It seems so obvious now, but we learned that day that people are beyond definition. Ann didn’t let our words define her, and she didn’t let cancer define her.
I knew her well enough to tell you just a tiny little bit about the things that did define her. See, her participation in Of Scars was a happy accident. We’d just posted the only open call for models we’ve ever posted, and somehow that resulted in a phone call from Ann to me, but I’d known her before. When I was a kid, I was in a choir, and Ann was our manager. She was an extraordinary leader, and a wonderful mom to her daughters, both of whom were also in the choir. As the years went on, she also became something of a mom to everyone else. If a kid needed someone to chat with, or a ride, or anything, really, Ann would reliably fill that gap. And as kids, we responded to her because she was a leader, and because of that big, pretty smile she so readily shared. Those things defined her.
Today, at her memorial service, hundreds and hundreds of people gathered to remember her. There were so many things to celebrate. Ann literally wrote the book on how to provide incredible customer service. She had an enviable career. She volunteered for every organization under the sun. She helped people when people needed help. In the wake of the tragedy at Columbine, she founded a program that works to make school a safe and welcoming place for students. She loved the hell out of her husband. She loved the hell out of lots of people, actually. She traveled. She made people laugh all the time. She raised successful and happy and compassionate daughters with smiles just like hers.
As the minister listed each of Ann’s accomplishments and affiliations, he’d ask for a show of hands from the people who knew her in that way. “Raise your hands if you knew her from high school,” he’d say, and a dozen or so hands would appear in the air. “Raise your hands if you know her from work.” Some hands raised again and again.
In closing, the minister said, “Ann lived her whole life drawing intersecting circles, and filling them with love.”
And there we were. In that room were hundreds of the friendships and projects and ideas she’d created, all intersecting at that very same point, in celebration of a woman who made our lives better.
Cancer might have taken her body, but it’s not quite accurate to say that Ann died from cancer. She lived through cancer, defining herself by the things that she wrote into her circles.
Thanks for showing us all how it’s done, Ann. This world is gonna miss you.