A Film, A Friend and a Beautiful Life: Shooting Beauty & Kerri Miceli

It’s rare that I blog about people in my life.

However, my heart is heavy this week at the passing of my dear friend, Kerri Miceli. As I plan to attend her memorial service this week, I couldn’t help but do a post on our friendship. We met when I was not yet in Kindergarten and have been friends ever since. I learned quickly from this little girl, who happened to be in a wheelchair, to never judge a book by its cover and that the word “disabled” applied to her body but certainly not her mind or her heart. Little did I know at age 5 that this girl would teach me some of the greatest lessons of my life. Kerri’s smile would light up a room, as it did at family events and holidays and at my wedding in 2002.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” No one embodied this concept more than my friend Kerri.

Photos copyright Melissa Hawks – That’s me with Kerri Micelli at my wedding in Boston, Photo at bottom right is Kerri dancing with her father.

As my mother noted, “from the first moment of meeting Kerri, she had a twinkle in her eye, a creative mind full of potential, and a spirit to enjoy everything life had to offer, in spite of severe physical limitations. Kerri was the essence of a gifted young woman who turned a personally difficult world into one of continued adaptability and enrichment”.

Her smiles never ceased, despite incredible obstacles and certain discomfort resulting from Cerebral Palsy. Her thoughtfulness was constant and she treated us to beautiful letters and poetry, as well as gifts in the mail for my children – even though I knew the act of getting somewhere to buy something and then send it with a card that was difficult to write was a feat. The physical act of doing simple acts was a level of difficulty that few of us can imagine and frankly I’m confident in saying, we take for granted. Her giving spirit was always present. She epitomized purity of heart and soul. If God sends down angels, I am quite certain she was one.

Life from a wheelchair, offered her a unique perspective and Kerri was featured in the documentary film, “Shooting Beauty“. 

Shooting Beauty, is an eight-time audience award-winning documentary.  The film tells the inspirational story of an aspiring fashion photographer, Courtney Bent, whose career takes an unexpected turn when she discovers a hidden world of beauty at a center for people with significant disabilities. Shot over the span of a decade, the film puts the viewer in Courtney’s shoes as she overcomes her own unspoken prejudices and begins inventing cameras accessible to her new friends. Courtney’s efforts snowball into an award-winning photography program called “Picture This”—and becomes the backdrop for an eye-opening story about romance, loss and laughter that will challenge what you thought you knew about living with a disability—and without one.  My friend Kerri was one of the people featured in the film.   Please watch the trailer here.

Shooting Beauty featured on the Making a Difference segment of NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams

What I most loved about Kerri was that she never complained about her limitations, but focused on the positives. She excelled at poetry and writing and being a good and steadfast friend. So many times since meeting Kerri I wished that I could take her place for a while so that she could walk, run, swim, ride a bike, hike a mountain or simply just get around with ease — let alone have a meal or take a shower without help. She was always happy for her friends’ health and good fortune. I was well aware, as I was giving birth to three healthy children, that my good friend desperately wanted to have this same experience. I knew that physically, this might be unlikely, however she was always there with a smile. She loved children. I was truly in awe of Kerri’s “goodness” and her ever enduring positive outlook.

Her parents set the example to me of what family is and the incredible power that devoted parents can infuse into a child who needs help or assistance. They taught Kerri that she could achieve and accomplish despite any physical limitations that she might have. I’ve never met two more compassionate, selfless or devoted parents than Tony and Jemi Micelli. Their level of organization and attention to detail in the care of their daughter was the well-oiled machine that enhanced her life so much. I know that the world is filled with good people and everyone has their angels, but in my world, they simply are as good as it gets.

I will never get over the loss of Kerri — she has and will have an incredible impact on my life. Her presence most definitely shaped me and the way I look at others. It’s because of her that I volunteered time in both high school and college with disabled children. Kerri had a will and personal motivation in the face of adversity to wake up each day and “do”, it was her ability and not her disability, that mattered — and I know so many people who laze about and “don’t” or “can’t” or “won’t” (there’s always some excuse, is there not?). I close this personal tribute with two quotes by Helen Keller that remind me of my friend:

“If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.” – Helen Keller

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” – Helen Keller

Thank you, Kerri!  We’ll miss you.  A special thank you to all of the warm hearted caregivers and friends of Kerri at UCP of MetroBoston in Watertown, MA.

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  1. Butterball

    You have just inspired my heart to live a better life. Had not been able to wrap my brain around any resolution for 2012 until reading this heartfelt tribute to your friend. I can tell her life was richer for having you a part of her life. Well done!

  2. cityfarmer

    this touched my heart …
    of course, you would stop and blog this wonderful story. may she rest in peace …

    haven’t been here in a while, but so glad I revisited today

  3. Fresh Local and Best

    Melissa I am sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful tribute to a very special woman. I have also note that it tells me a lot about how compassionate you must be as a human being to be such a good friend to Kerri.

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