A Film, A Friend and a Beautiful Life

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. 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
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 spire 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, the eight-time audience award-winning documentary, 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.

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 to congratulate me and send gifts. 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. One of my favorite quotes that I have in my home:

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”

Kerri, I hope that life with all of us was only the first chapter and that you are that butterfly now and are walking – no, flying in heaven!  We all knew that you were already an angel and now my hope is that you have your wings.  As Henry James said, “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined”. We miss you.

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