She travels the country, searching for acts of kindness

Published 6:37 am Saturday, April 27, 2019

By Heather McElhatton

MPR News/90.1 FM

Mary Latham is 32 years old, and she spends much of her time on the road. She’s in the middle of an epic trip across all 50 United States, looking for acts of kindness great and small. She’s finding them, too — everything from small moments of sudden generosity to powerful stories about love and forgiveness. So far she’s traveled through 38 states and stayed in 126 homes across America.

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Latham’s been on the road for three years, driving across the country in her mother’s sticker-covered blue Subaru. She began this journey in honor of her mother, who died of complications from cancer. They’d spent a week together in the hospital, surrounded by people struggling to cope.

“You know, it was the worst week of my life, but it also was such an eye-opener to the fact of how lucky I was. It just made me realize how grateful I was for what I had, still,” she said. “And there were people in there alone, and there were people in there that were fighting and divorced over their daughter who was dying, and it was just so hopeless.”

“So, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a book of hope in this room?’ … These stories, whether they’re little-act-of-kindness stories or stories of inspiring people who’ve gone through something tragic and turned it into some positive thing, to kind of help these people that are sitting in there next. And so that’s kind of how this all started.”

After her mother died, Latham decided to create something in her honor: a type of book. Stories of hope. Inspiration. Something beautiful she could put in these hospital waiting rooms to help others who would wait after her. A book to show them that even though there was so much sadness, so much heartbreak, there would always be more good. We just had to look for it.

Early on, Latham “collected” one of her favorite stories, of a small act of kindness in a bank. One of the tellers was having a bad day at work, and a customer came up to her window to make a withdrawal. The customer looked at the teller and asked if she was all right. The teller, embarrassed, laughed and said, “It’s nothing a bag of M&Ms can’t fix!” The two women laughed and the customer left. Thirty minutes later, the same customer walked back into the bank and slid a big bag of M&Ms under the teller’s window.

The teller never saw the customer again, but she never forgot that sweet, small act of kindness. She told her kids and grandkids about it, and 30 years later she told the story to Mary Latham.

“We have no idea how much we can impact another person’s life,” Latham said. “That bank teller never forgot those M&Ms, not even 30 years later.”