[21/100 Strangers]: Maureen


[21/100 Strangers]: Maureen

It was the morning of the dojo Karate tournament. I arrived early to allow my children a chance to warm up before the other competitors started to crowd the floor. A small area of chairs had been arranged where observers were permitted to view the goings on. One person was sitting alone who had arrived prior to my arrival. Since I didn’t already know her, I introduced myself. I am at the dojo several times a week, and am acquainted with most families who have students training there. Somebody new is an easy mark. We had 15 minutes before the noise level would become unruly, so our conversation started naturally.

Meet Maureen, 21/100 in my Strangers project.

The moment she began to speak, I was pleasantly astounded to hear a familiar accent; one that is uncommon to Albuquerque because it comes from more than 2200 miles/3688 km away. Though she was born in New York City, Maureen had later lived in a city North of Boston named Lynn, Massachusetts for 20 years, before relocating to ‘Burque. I grew up in a small town with only one other municipality in between us and Lynn. My own accent is far less distinguishable although I use a few expressions in common speech that reflect an upbringing from that same area, known as Boston’s North Shore. We had a serendipitous connection. It was one of those wild, “It’s a small world,” moments.

Maureen is a retired Psychiatric nurse who used to work at Lynn’s Union Hospital, a small facility now part of the North Shore Medical Center. She was involved with the care of schizophrenic and dually-diagnosed patients. After she finished graduate school, she divorced and a friend invited her to move to Albuquerque for a change of scenery.

“Why not? I can always go back,” She thought. Never did she move back east; she has remained here. Her adult children now also live in Albuquerque and they have given her the pleasure of nearby grandchildren. She pointed out two boys in belts of yellow, the first level that beginners may test into. They were going through some basic movements. Those were her grandchildren and she was excited to watch them compete.

In 1996, Maureen decided to learn Shotokan Karate, and in fact, she studied under the same Sensei with whom my own children are now students. She became a black belt at 60 years old. While it gave her a sense of confidence in her surroundings, she has never used martial arts to defend herself in the world outside the dojo. Around ten years ago, she had to quit her Karate practice. She had been a long time cigarette smoker, and was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I’m all clear now,” she said, “But a large portion of a lobe of one of my lungs was removed.” Since the operation, Maureen finds it frequently challenging to breathe at our high altitude; we live a mile high (1.6 km) above sea level. She is planning a move to Florida, which is sea level, where breathing should be easier for her.

I asked if she had any thoughts to impart to other strangers:

“To live in the moment. Self-discipline leads to self-understanding, but living in the moment is the way.”

Once she retired from Karate, she enrolled in art classes. She has learned oil painting and clay sculpting. She is now taking drawing classes and acrylic painting to enhance her appreciation of form. Her opinion is that her work in 3-dimensions improves by creating in 2-dimensions.

After all of this candid sharing, I asked if she would allow me to photograph her for the 100 Stranger project. She wanted to hear more about it. I then shared my own images of the other strangers already in my set. I told her that I would appreciate being able to include her, and we would still have time before the competition started.

In agreement, we walked outside and she paused in a few areas underneath the roof line where I could find indirect sunlight. I wanted to avoid the glare that I experienced while making my 17th portrait since this was being taken in the same location.

When I finished her photo session, we returned to our original seats. I asked her if in addition to her portrait, she would want me to take a few photographs of the grandchildren while they were called on to compete. She thought that was a grand idea.

A day after she received the pictures, Maureen replied and told me her portrait, and the action shots of the boys, were all great. She told me, “my son-in-law ‘practically demanded copies.'” I enjoyed a way to share something extra with Maureen after her time with me. I found her to be quite remarkable.

3 responses to “[21/100 Strangers]: Maureen

    • Thanks so much, John. Meeting Maureen proved to me that 100 Strangers was going to offer unexpected but memorable human stories to enrich the portraits I would request. I never know what will be revealed. If I try to guess, I am never even close!


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