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These pictures, taken 15 minutes and 50 feet apart, originated from an email sent by a stranger last spring asking me to donate a print for a fundraiser.

For whatever reason, maybe it was her boldness, or the photo of her smiling behind a face mask, but something about Julie Flynn and her story, made me respond.

Julie, 33, had been a civilian marine engineer on a navy ship in support of the Iraq War. She was the smallest in her crew and a perfect fit for the tightest most hazardous confines of the engine room, where she breathed diesel fumes, exhaust and chemicals. Onboard, she also received the anthrax vaccine.

When Julie returned home, she fell ill, she believes as a result of her service at sea.

Still, she needed work and the one job available was at a refuse power plant, where she spent her days covered in toxic ash.

Her health deteriorated.

In her own words, Julie describes her condition:

Today, I suffer from severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Toxicant induced loss of tolerance. My symptoms are severe and life disabling. When exposed to chemicals found in hairspray, perfume, lotions, deodorants, sunscreens, plastics, inks from papers, car exhaust, chimney smoke and more, I suffer from neurological seizure-like episodes and pass out. Additionally, I suffer from painful neuropathy of my feet; swollen and painful joints; severe pain in my esophagus and trouble swallowing; chronic muscle twitching, painful migraines, confusion, cognitive dysfunction, GI dysfunction, intolerance to most foods, and more. Due to the Esophagus pain and problems I’m restricted to a largely liquid diet. I’m a young 33-year-old woman with an Engineering Degree and a Masters Degree in Leadership, however, I’m for the most part imprisoned in the four walls of my bedroom within my parents’ house. My reactions are so severe that every time members of my family come home from work, I suffer from neurological seizure-like reactions due to the chemicals from other people and room deodorizers penetrating their clothes and hair.

She needed money to remodel her home and make it chemically free so she dreamed up the idea for a fundraiser. I donated a print and traveled to Worcester, Massachusetts for the event.

I spent time with her at her mother’s home, where she lives with her partner. She felt strong enough to venture outdoors in the enclosed porch in the back, where we sat and watched the sun and the summer rain. Through one of the windows, I saw a rainbow emerge. Wanting to get a better look, I found her mother and we went out front and crossed the road.

For 15 minutes, we stood there captivated. It was beautiful. Her mother said she was sure that this was going to be a better year for her daughter. She said blossoms on a tree in her yard, which had been dormant, returned for the first time that year. And now this rainbow.

At that moment, I thought of the freedom that comes with being healthy; to be able to stand in one place, and simply look. I thought about what it means to have a view or be without one: the parameters of one’s life.

I reflected on my good fortune to be standing at this place and at that moment, and witness a mother wishing into a rainbow that her daughter will have a happy and healthy life again. I thought about what it means to appreciate the natural world and the ways we brutalize that world with pollutants, toxins chemicals and poison perfumes. Meanwhile, Julie sat locked in a house, 50 feet away, with an oxygen tank; once a healthy woman, now, a casualty of the modern world.

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