Mary Latham just finished “the craziest thing she’s ever done,” the three-year More Good Road Trip.
More Good was inspired by a conversation Mary had with her mother on the morning of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: “The same time the shooting was taking place in Connecticut, a coworker of mine told me he was being bought a coffee by a stranger down the street in New York City. When I told my mom the two stories and continued to harp on the shooting and all the bad out there, she reminded me, ‘You have to focus on the coffee story. There will always be horrible tragedies in our lives and in the world, but there will always be more good out there. You just have to look for it.”
A few weeks later, Mary’s mother died of cancer.
So Mary carried her mom’s words with her as she began the More Good road trip, a 50-state mission across the United States to compile stories of human kindness: “After I finished, my plan was to put these stories together in a book I would donate to hospital waiting rooms across the country. I spent a lot of time those when my mom was sick, and I thought they could use a book of hope. I know I could have.”
Mary packed up her mom’s old blue Subaru in the fall of 2016 and hit the road on October 29. She’s just finished traversing the country, and shared what she’s seen with Bare it All.
Q: Tell us about you and where you were coming from when you started More Good.
A: I was raised in a really small town at the very end of Long Island. I started photographing weddings after I graduated college, but I wasn’t making enough to afford my New York City rent, so I got a 9-to-5 job and worked as a nanny for two different families for some health insurance and stability. That gave me enough of a sturdy ground to take a leap of faith after my mother died.
Q: How did you handle life on the road?
A: Like anything else, you just kind of figure it out as you go. It was a learning process, and I’m really not sure if I ever got the hang of a lot of it, but you keep getting up, you keep going, you keep spreading the mission, and whatever is supposed to happen happens. You have to be easygoing and capable of being “on” all the time since I was always with strangers, including staying in their homes.
Q: What was your most memorable state?
A: In one way or another I loved every state, but I had a really good impression of Alaska. It seemed like everyone was involved and aware of what was going on in their communities. I didn’t find that everywhere. It wasn’t that people weren’t kind and wonderful, it’s just that we all exist in a bit of our own personal bubbles: work. Home. Social media. In a lot of places I stayed, I would go out and dig up these amazing stories, then bring them home to my hosts to tell them what this outsider learned about their own town and neighbors.
Q: What’s the common thread despite our differences in this fractured era?
A: The most important part of what I learned was to take to heart to the last words my mom told me. It wasn’t just about focusing more on the good, it was the part where she said, You have to look for it. It would take work, more work than I’ve ever known in my life, but if we focus on the positive, we find it. It finds us. The second we start looking around and seeing what and who needs help and taking action is the second we start making change. What I saw in the 154 different homes I was in, despite all of the different political and religious views in each, is that they all wanted to be a part of something good.
Q: What convinced you go from idea to implementation? Why were you the person to go out and do this?
A: The idea was born the day I lost my mom, but I needed time to heal first. After her funeral, I slowly started taking leaps of faith to get me into the car. I moved myself out of Manhattan to St. John, USVI. I knew exactly one person there. I started over. It was terrifying, and the culture shock was overwhelming, but I did it. I survived. I met a strong, beautiful community. I learned to trust strangers. And eventually, I was ready to go.
Anyone with a strong passion for something is the right person to do it, and I had that passion for finding the good.
Q: How did one idea become something so much bigger?
A: News coverage along the way was exciting—it helped get the word out and gave people an outlet to read something nice for a change—but I never really saw it as something really big. I saw it as something small and authentic. Word-of-mouth connection, one person at a time.
My relationship with Subaru is very special because they knew how much I wanted to keep this mission focused on human kindness. I didn’t connect with them until my 45th state so by that point, I had built this on my own with the assistance of so many angels feeding me, housing me and fixing my car along the way. It was much more important to me to keep it sponsored by human kindness. And they made time for me. The vice president of the company hosted me in his own home with his family; the president took me to lunch. For me, kindness is time, and they gave me that.
Q: What challenges did you have to overcome along the way, and how’d you do it?
A: While I was in California, I ended up feeling very sick. After seeing a lot of different doctors, I found out I had been suffering from undiagnosed Lyme disease for the past few years. The symptoms were so close to things I thought were normal when you sit in a car for so long, so I never thought anything of it. I was exhausted all the time and battling horrible leg pain that landed me in a few urgent cares before I found out about the Lyme. Continuing on despite the pain was a pretty big moment for me. I had heard so many stories of people who had been through worse that I figured I could keep going, too. I had more work to do, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.
Q: In big ways and small, how can we all do more good today? Why is it important that we do?
A: I think if we walk around our neighborhoods with our eyes open and our phones put away, we’ll be presented with what needs more good. Take time to lend a hand where it’s needed; give time to our friends and family who need to be heard. Listening and time are the most valuable ways we can all start spreading more good today.
Q: Now that you’ve visited all 50 states, what’s next?
A: I’m heading back to St. John this month. I thought it would be nice to come full-circle and go back there to write my book proposal. St. John was where I learned how to overcome challenges and connect with new people. They have a lot of stories after the 2017 hurricanes [Irma and Maria], so I’d love to have my epilogue be stories from the place that helped to heal me before I ever got in the car.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MARY
Favorite attire: I could live in comfy, satiny, soft PJ Harlow pajamas.
Personal mantra: Fake it ’til you make it.
Best way to de-stress: Calling my sisters
Best trait: Optimism.
Best compliment: Being the “funnest person” they knew.
Current obsession: Hart of Dixie and Schitt’s Creek.
Happy place: With happy people.
Comfort food: Mashed potatoes and a Martini.
All-time favorite book: Le Petit Prince.
Mood-boosting song: “Don’t Give Up on Me” by Andy Grammer or “Beautiful” by Carole King.
In a word: Hopeful.
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