"Meet me in the middle of your story where your soul is worn but wise."
SEPTEMBER 16, 2020
Here I am benning the week the ends with my 45th birthday celebration. This time last year I launched my 44 Letters project. The idea behind this project was to photograph 44 women who were willing to write letters back to their 44 year old selves. My personal goal was to share the beauty and the wisdom of women over the age of 40. At the time I created the project, I had no idea how much their words would come mean to me.
I had so much interest in the project. The response was incredible. I got started. I was meeting with women and hearing their stories while planning how they wanted to be photographed. The project was starting to come together, and I was so excited for a gallery style event displaying portraits and handwritten letters the women were writing back to their 44 year old selves.
Then the wheels feel off. A health situation overtook our family. The health situation became a crisis. This happened toward the end of October and that crisis, along with a global pandemic, defined the rest of my 44th year.
It is difficult to explain what it was like for our family to go through this crisis. I use to think of "crisis" as a short period of intense need with high risk. All of this was true for us except for the word "short."
As the leaves started to change and display fall colors, our lives became defined by a dire, desperate need to keep our beautiful teenage child alive, safe, and well. The leaves fell, the snow fell, the frozen ground began to soften, and yet, the crisis did not ease it merely changed changed shape as the seasons shifted from one to the next.
There were so many lonely nights at the hospital when I slept in chair or on the hospital floor. To keep myself holding on, in my mind I replayed stories that women had shared with me and I felt comforted with their powerful, meaningful messages.
"It was such a difficult time in my life. I sewed. Looking back, I realize that sewing was balm. It was balm for my soul. It got me through."
"A year ago today, I had a plan to end my life. In the last moments, a part of me that wanted to live emerged, and I called for help instead."
"I would tell my 44 year old self that I would find love again."
In the spring, the nights became lonely in a different way as the pandemic took hold. We watched covid transform the hospital during our visits in March, April, June, and August. In March, I was the first parent to request telehealth visits with the psychiatrist. By April they were required.
And now, as our level of crisis is beginning to settle and as the leaves are preparing to change colors once again, I am feeling the return pull to the 44 Letters project. A full trip around the sun later, I have new wisdom I would share with my 44 year old self.
So I am choosing to regroup and continue. I will be reaching out to those of you that have already expressed interest in being part of this project and getting times and dates on the calendar.
A couple of you may end up with the same date but a year later... I feel both grief and sadness that I was not able to do more, and yet I hear the words of another wise woman that told me this beautiful project would take on a life of its own. She told me she had a feeling it would feed me in ways that I could not possibly imagine as I was starting it. She was right.
Though I cannot have a gallery style showing with beautiful portraits anytime soon, I know that I can still share the words that so many women have spoken to me. Maybe these words can be your salve as they continue to be mine. Maybe these stories of hope and power can stay with you through dark times as they have traveled with me.
I will begin accepting new applications once I get the women who have been so patiently waiting on my schedule.
All my best. I look so incredibly forward to sharing the knowledge, wisdom, and beauty of all of the women that go on this journey with me. Thank you for your love, and thank you for your patience.
Love and light,
Michelle Massey Barnes
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Would you like to follow along and get updates on this project? I will send out an email announcement when applications are live again and as stories get posted to the blog. You should anticipate 1-2 emails a month. I would love to have you follow along.