While most people pay no mind to the seemingly mundane ways people become a part of one another’s lives, Ponte Vedra resident and author Mary Ann Hammer Fiorentino is different.
For Fiorentino, those moments are “appointed,” be they with long-time friends, acquaintances or even strangers, and are decidedly fated encounters. She details as much in her debut book, “Connecting Hearts One by One,” in which she describes life-changing, seemingly preordained meetings with 31 people who have weathered life’s curveballs with “faith, hope and love.”
Chronicling acts of friendship and small miracles, Fiorentino weaves a tale of the importance of togetherness and gratitude in each encounter – from recalling the love shared between a grandmother and granddaughter living with cystic fibrosis to the resilience she witnessed in an ailing friend who never failed to ask after the wellbeing of others.
“I would say it’s somewhat of a memoir,” she said. “A memoir told through a series of inspired events. And one that… I could only finish after learning what true adversity really is.”
Picking up the pieces
Fiorentino is no stranger to the ways unexpected events and encounters can shape one’s conscience. The writer lost a host of memories after she began authoring the book in 2011 due to what doctors believe was a transient ischemic attack that blocked the flow of blood to her brain. She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and has since struggled with reconciling what gaps remain in her memory. Like pieces of a puzzle, Fiorentino said, some have been placed together while others are scattered.
But the writer channeled that confusion into her work after her eldest daughter contacted her editor in New York regarding the story her mother had forgotten she’d begun writing. After taking the time to recover, Fiorentino received a call from the editor asking if she was ready to begin reworking her book.
“I felt like I wanted to share my story and the trials that I went through in my life to show others that whether they’re dealing with tragedy, heartache or just simple daily grime, if we choose to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to someone, it ends up not only changing that person but changing ourselves, as well.”
The theme of divinity and fate is one that worked its way into “Connecting Hearts” right up until Fiorentino’s manuscript was finished. In a final “appointed moment” before its publication, the author’s search for a foreword writer came to a halt after she happened to catch a documentary on ESPN by reporter Tom Rinaldi. A self-professed football fanatic, Fiorentino saw the piece detailing a trip Auburn University’s Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs had taken to Schmid Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side and formed an inexplicable connection with him through the screen. Touched by the kindness he’d shown the students, many of whom lived at or below the poverty line, Fiorentino reached out to Jacobs with the manuscript just hours before he was set to speak at an event with the exact same title as her book. Similarly touched by what seemed like a fated meeting, Jacobs agreed.
“My hope and prayer is this book will touch your heart as deeply as it has mine,” Jacobs wrote. “It has the power to help change the world.”
But Fiorentino is content to take victory as big or small as it may come, grateful for the impact her story may have on even one reader. Though she calls on her Christian faith for inspiration, she feels her story will reach everyone; most importantly, she hopes her audience will take away one valuable lesson.
“An appointed moment can be just one simple act towards humankind,” she said. “Through this incredible journey, I have found that God has placed me exactly where he wants me to be every day. That’s where my fear is being replaced by faith...that’s where hope inspires me to reach out to others.”