I have this theory...
We are all put on this Earth to learn,
To teach that which we have learned,
and through this process find our passion
and spill that passion onto others so that they may taste it.
Sometimes, we are faced with learning very hard lessons and we may never get to finding our passion. Those of us who do, have much to be grateful for as we get to experience life in all of its gritty, raw and uncensored beauty.
This brings me to my Lady in Red: The soul in search of the 'Sunlight of the Spirit', as this series is so appropriately titled. She and I crossed paths late last year through a passion in life that we share: our work and our service to others. We are both School Social Workers here in sunny Florida, working with at-risk youth and youth with disabilities and their families. I have many times heard Melissa say out loud, as if to share her gratitude with the world: I LOVE MY JOB! The path that led her to her job, as Melissa so humbly states, "..was long and winding but was rooted in a love for people and a desire to help others."
"I was born and raised here in St. Petersburg, in a loving yet often chaotic home." She further shared that she, like many of the students she works with every day, could have used the support of a social worker. You see, Melissa didn't just 'know' she wanted to be in the business of helping people, she left school at the age of 15 and got her GED. As a teenager, she experienced many highs and lows that would later lend to a sequence of events that would catapult her search toward the Sunlight.
At the age of 21, after the death of her Father, Melissa realized she was an alcoholic. A life lesson, where the first step toward recovery is to 'admit we are powerless', she was humbly beginning to learn.
"I got sober in June of 1998 and have remained so. I soon became a hairdresser and worked my way through school. Next, community college, then USFSP for my Bachelor's Degree, then USF Tampa for my Masters.
I am floored every day I go to work. I can hardly believe I am working in the capacity I am. I just love it."
In the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step Eleven discusses the importance of Self Searching as a means to bring 'new vision, action and grace to bear upon the dark and negative side of our natures'. It further explains that our very growth depends on finding our 'Light' in order for the good that is in us to flourish.. to thrive. Even the very worst of us all can grow their good, if only they find the Sun.. as 'nothing much can grow in the dark."
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style." Maya Angelou's words light Melissa's Spirit and live in her bones. Her desire to thrive permeates every aspect of her life, now more than ever, and is captured in this photographic series.
"I have never participated in something like this before but I truly enjoyed it. It was a morning filled with excitement and a kind of magic which comes through the images she has rendered. Thank you, Amanda, for allowing me to be a part of this vision." Melissa was joined by her partner, Niki, who she describes as 'the love of my life'. Niki is also sober, and is a large part of Melissa's life as it is today: special, satisfying and a full circle from where it all started.
Melissa has found her 'Light'. She feels a sense of not just surviving, but flourishing and thriving in the present. For her, everything has come together.. She experiences passion in not only her work, friendships and love, but also in her recovery.
To be honest, I had no idea that Melissa would be such a strong fit for my vision until I asked her to be my muse. I was drawn to her in a way that was unclear, yet I knew she would be a perfect image of strength. The vision I had for this series was one in which a Woman was searching for something elusive. And through this search, she became strong - powerful and she did so through connecting with nature. The wind in the trees and the ground below our feet guide us on our journey in life. We MUST release our fears, flaws and insecurities to the world, no matter how much we dread others' perceptions of our struggles. For THAT is how we grow up from our roots, blossom and share our Sunlight with others so that they may begin their road to thriving.