A list truly worth checking twice

We've been so busy trying to fulfill holiday orders that I was fairly certain I wouldn't have a chance to write again before the holidays. But then I happened upon Oprah's annual "Favorite Things" installment last week and I couldn't wait to get to the keyboard.

Now I like Oprah as much as the next guy. As wildly successful and rich people go, what's not to like? Her show is always fun to watch, whether it's Dr. Mehmet Oz dissecting a spleen or Tom Cruise self-destructing in mid leap. And her charity efforts in places like South Africa always get me teary-eyed. Oprah's okay with me.

Except, that is, for her annual holiday episode, in which the art of giving is always reduced to its most vulgar form. To see grown adults flailing away and gasping for air after being told that they're all receiving a set of plastic juice tumblers or the latest Mp3 player is just too much for me to handle. Yes, I know Oprah always handpicks the audience for this day of material worship, just like Willy Wonka and his golden tickets, and yes, I know the audience is always comprised of deserving people, but none of that lessens the degree of cringeworthiness I feel when watching each year. Perhaps it's not so much that audience members faint over being given juice tumblers; it's that they cheer and stomp usually only after being told the retail price of said gift. It's the declaration of price--the proof that their gift has value--that prompts the hysterics, not the gift itself.

There's not a lot more to be said about Oprah's Favorite Things episode. Saturday Night Live did the definitive parody years ago, complete with bodies being launched into the air, and not much has changed since. Oprah does spend a lot more time, it seems, reiterating that her favorite gifts are the ones that have no commercial value--"appreciation" is the greatest gift, she recently said--as if to lessen the obvious distaste that this one episode can conjure.

Seeing people hyperventilate over a free panini press (from Williams Sonoma, $99.95!) can only help focus oneself on the truly important things in life. We don't have a list of cookware we endorse here at Matt Mendelsohn World Headquarters, but we do have a list of favorite people who are deserving of your thoughts this holiday season. Forget about applauding for iPods--let's hear it for these people.

Lindsay Ess

Over the years, I've been fortunate to work with a lot of fun and talented professionals in the wedding business. One of my favorites is Kim Giammaria, the best wedding make-up artist in the region. I've been bumping into Kim for years and years, from messy bedrooms in private homes to presidential suites at the Four Seasons. I always smile when I see her upon arriving, because I know that we'll have lots of good gossip to catch up on.

A few months back, Kim began telling me about an extraordinary young woman she was very close with named Lindsay Ess. Lindsay, 24, is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where she majored in fashion design. From all the stories I've heard from Kim, Lindsay is the kind of person you don't forget--beautiful, full of energy, and, most of all, always exuding kindness.

Lindsay went into the hospital this August for what should have been routine surgery to help her manage with her Crohn's Disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. But a few days later sepsis set in, an extremely serious condition in which organs begin failing. I'm no doctor, obviously, so I will instead direct you to a story about Linsday's condition in the Richmond Times-Dispatch here. The bottom line is that as a result of the sepsis and the circulation loss caused by it, Lindsay lost both her arms below the elbows and both her legs beneath her knees.

I know from Kim's frequent emails that Lindsay is both struggling and fighting mightily, something one could only expect from such a catastrophic event. Her emotional swings will be as tough to conquer as her physical needs. Lindsay was recently transferred to a rehab hospital in Baltimore where she will begin the very long road to recovery. She will need all the support she can get. A fund has been set up to help her family deal with what will likely be staggering medical costs. Visit her page at www.loveoflindsay.com. You can make donations to help directly online at the site. And even if you can't make a financial contribution, please sign the guest book and let Lindsay know you're thinking about her this holiday season.

Alexis Goggins

Alexis Goggins is not your average seven-year-old kid.

Earlier this month the young Detroit girl threw herself in front of her mother in order to protect her from a carjacker, a former boyfriend of her mom. When the gunman shot her mother in the front seat of their SUV, Alexis instinctively lept from the back of the car to protect her. Mom was shot twice, but it was little Alexis who bore the brunt of this violent crime. She was shot six times, with wounds to the temple, chin, arm, cheek, chest and eye. She lies in a Detroit hospital right now in critical condition, her eye already lost, though able to squeeze her mother's hand.

When I read about Alexis' plight last week I was amazed at her selflessness, even at such a young age. In the split-second before being shot those six times, Alexis yelled out the words that would make any parent weep: "Don't hurt my mother!" We live in a very sick society where roles are reversed and children must sacrifice their bodies to protect adults from gunmen.

In a world in which the word hero is applied perhaps a little too liberally these days, Alexis is the real deal. In reading editorials about her acts in newspapers around the country, I came upon these words by Lester Holmes, a writer for the Journal newspapers in Wayne, Michigan:

During the holidays we are told to express our love by buying the most expensive gifts we possibly can. While receiving a nice gift is memorable, there are expressions of true love from the young people in our lives that we pass by every day without acknowledgement.

The way your daughter seems to give you a hug after a hard day, even through you didn’t mention one word to her about what happened. How about the way your son tries to help you with the groceries despite the bag weighing more than he does?

While we are busy in our lives and sometimes view the eagerness of our children, nieces/nephews to help as more of a nuisance than assistance, maybe we just need to be grateful that they think of us so much that they want to help.

Just like Alexis, your child has no income. Just like Alexis, the child in your life finds a way to give an expression of love that trumps any gift money could.

Please keep Alexis in your thoughts this Christmas. Donations to a fund set up for her can be sent to the Alexis Goggins Hero Fund in care of Campbell Elementary School, 2301 E Alexandrine St, Detroit, MI 48207. And you can read more about her story here and here.


Everyone who helped with Photo Marathon

I know I've said this many time before, but I really do feel incredibly lucky to have such a great client base. Over the past few years you guys have helped us raise money for MS research, tsunami relief, and, most generously, the college funds of several young children whose fathers were killed in Iraq. I can't believe that I'm even typing this, but we're right around $45,000 in money donated to these great causes. $45,000!!!

I want to thank all of you who have pitched in to help, from strangers donating money to friends buying coffee and doughnuts. I never dreamed that giving away money would become part of my job description as a portrait photographer but now that is, I couldn't imagine doing it any other way. To Laura Gonzalez, Julie Newell, Bill Auth, Carolyn Alers, Matthew Girard, the folks at Alpha Fotoworks and Black and White, and all the wedding and portrait clients who keep returning each year to donate money, I thank you deeply.

A special thanks to Charlotte Freeman, the wife of Capt. Brian Freeman, who was killed in Iraq this past January. We don't deposit any money raised from our Photo Marathons, instead opting to send our beneficiaries all the checks we collect. It ends up being a lot of checks, mailed in one FedEx shipment. I've been getting a lot of calls of late describing the touching thank you note they've received from Charlotte. I never expected--or wanted--her to have to write so many notes. But the fact that she has speaks volumes about her character.

Lastly, to my wife, Maya, who not only puts up with my crazy ideas on things like Photo Marathon but has to process all the images to boot. I wouldn't be able to do it without you.

Happy Holidays to all!!!



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