IN MEMORY OF MELISSA
I didn’t know her well. I saw her several times a week, whenever I worked out at the Santa Monica stairs. A trainer, she was a dependable presence there. We always said hello, and occasionally we had brief, casual conversations. After I ran into her outside my dermatologist’s office one day, we had a lengthier conversation about various vanity treatments.
Yesterday I arrived at the stairs to find candles and flowers, a string draped across a tree, hung with sweet notes, photographs of Melissa. She had a heart attack Saturday night, in the late hours between midnight and dawn — the loneliest hours of night. She was 40 years old. There are some theories about what could have contributed to her death, but that doesn’t really matter now.
What matters is that her death has touched many people who, like me, didn’t know her intimately but who assumed she’d be around for many years to come. We brush past so many lives in our time here on earth; some of those lives become fixtures of sorts. We just get so used to seeing certain people that we forget how unpredictable life can be, and then when they aren’t there anymore we find ourselves stunned at the emptiness.
Maybe the lesson is to always keep in mind life’s fragility, whether it’s with people close to us, or people who inhabit our lives on a more casual basis. Carlos Castenada wrote, in one of the Don Juan books, that we should always keep death over our shoulder — not in a morbid way, but so we will remember to savor life. It’s stunning when someone so young dies so suddenly. It does make us look over our shoulder — at our own mortality, at the capriciousness of fate and at the moments when we grazed the life of the person who is now gone. Maybe if we kept that focus all the time, those moments when two lives touch would be just a little sweeter, a little deeper, leave a deeper imprint. Maybe that’s one of the lessons Death has for us, if we care to look into its shadow.
George Elliot wrote: “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand. The angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.”
Life is always trying to teach us; so is death. And I think the lesson is the same — slow down and pay attention to each and every moment because you never know what endings may come, or when.