The stories that I have been posting about Libby’s and my relationship are enjoyable to relive, but one of the consequence of such reflections is the tendency to become self absorbed in our history and in our own lives, but failing to see that others are hurting. Most of the time it was Libby is who reminded me to keep my head up and my eyes opened to the needs of others. I thought of that admonition the other day when I saw an article about a friend of ours:
I first met this girl over thirty years ago at East Ridge High School while shooting senior portraits for Olan Mills. Because of camera problems earlier that morning I was running behind schedule as she sat on the metal posing stool ready to begin our session, her back was turned to me as her friends in the line behind her were laughing and joking with her about the awkward black drapes that all the girls were required to wear for senior portraits. From behind my camera I asked her turn toward me so we could get started, but she ignored me; typical, I thought she was pretty, popular and stuck up, I had seen her type many times and looking at her name on the card I said sharply, “Marty, you need to turn toward me so we can get started”. I was loosing my patience as the snobby senior ignored me again as she continued cutting up with her friends.
Although just barely out of my teens myself, I knew I had get control of these “kids” so I grabbed her shoulders and turned her so she was facing me, explaining slowly in by deepest manly voice “I’m sorry but, if you don’t want to have your picture made today then you are free to leave”. That move really startled her and now she looked shocked, and it seemed as if I had made my point. But then she mocked me, trying to imitate my deep voice, she said haltingly, “IIII’mmmmm Soooorrrry, IIII diiid nooot knooow yooou weeaaar reeeaaady!” Then, this smart aleck girl just sat there smiling at me like nothing had happened.
That was the last straw, I glanced at her card just before handing it back to her, “Here Marty, the girl at the desk will refund your money, you can come back on re-take day”. I turned around to the table behind me and picked up the next card while continuing my rant, ” I’ve got a lot of people behind you who came here today to have their senior picture made, and…”.
When I looked up, I was face to face with Marty, too close in fact. She had now gotten off of the posing stool and had come to my side of the camera, staring at my mouth awkwardly. I don’t mind telling you that I was slightly intimidated and so I called for the teacher. Just then, one of her friends in line behind her looked at me and yelled, “Hey man, she’s deaf, you have to look at her when you talk so she can read your lips!”
Oops, now I felt like an idiot! I mouthed an apology to her and she shook her head waving it off, then she responded in that deep halting voice, “Dooon’t woorry aboouut iiiit, I’mm fiiine, iiit haaappens aaaall thhee tiiime”.
Marty’s friends continued to tell me things about her while she sat for her senior portraits and my opinion of her continued to be changed 180 degrees in 15 minutes as her friends (quite literally talking behind her back) explained that Marty was the prettiest, most talented and sweetest girl in the school, full of optimism and everyone there loved her.
That afternoon I told Libby about the girl who had unwittingly taught me a lesson about making uneducated judgments of others. Libby and I would see Marty and her husband at different events around Chattanooga over the next 30 plus years. Over time, I have shot literally thousands of senior photographs but I remembered that particular incident so well because of the lesson I was taught by the girl named Marty Browning who went on to become Miss Chattanooga, Miss Tennessee and eventually that “smart aleck” girl was named Miss Congeniality in the Miss America pageant.
Which brings me back to the reason for this post; Marty Browning Dunagan is now battling breast cancer and I contacted her recently via social media to tell her that I would be praying for her, her family and her students at Marty’s Center. We briefly discussed Libby’s illness and I gave her directions to Libby’s Caring Bridge website, but it reminded me that it is easy to become so focused on your own problems that you miss the ongoing hurt in this world and how that, sometimes, we can impact others for good without even knowing it.
You can read more about Marty Browning Dunagan in this article: David Carroll: Marty Browning Dunagan Is Much More Than A Beauty Queen
Here is a video of Marty being given a local award: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsumj0sD1is