Life has countless ways of reminding us what’s important, but it is mortality that forces us to act upon it. For many, our greatest fear is leaving with our song unfinished, the music still ringing in our ears. Each unexpected death reinforces this, and we lost a good one two weeks ago when Melvin Mason, editor of the Stratford Star, passed away far too young at the age of 43.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why people would say that those who passed on in their 40s or 50s had “died too young.” I didn’t think of that as young at all. Perhaps it was due to so many of my musical idols dying before they ever reached 30: Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Biggie Smalls, Janis Joplin, Tupac. Surely anything interesting that was going to happen would happen before we turned 40?
Gratefully, I’ve lasted long enough to understand the folly of that line of thinking. Even Pete Townshend would live to regret the line in “My Generation” where he boasted, “I hope I die before I get old.” Grapes don’t turn into wine by sheer force of will; they require the passage of time to soften the acids of youth and acquire their taste. Some, like me, need an awful lot of time to become palatable.
So much of our lives is spent sacrificing the present in pursuit of tomorrow. We put things off to save for a future that never comes. If we’re lucky, we find happiness at work and in the arms of another while we build that life to come.
Melvin was a sports junkie and fan of the New York Yankees, an unpardonable sin in my book. An alumnus of Syracuse University, he once had the gall to root against UConn when the Huskies played Syracuse for the national title in the 2016 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. However, he was also a tireless worker and a fixture at town events and meetings, often staying late into the night with deadlines looming. When asked why, he replied that he loved what he did.
He was just beginning the most interesting part of his life, having taken on the roles of husband and father last year. As anyone who knew Melvin would attest, he knew how to write a good lede. It’s painful to realize he won’t have the ability to complete it.
On the other hand, we’re all part of a bigger story and none of us knows what our role will turn out to be. I’m reminded of a line from Richard Bach’s classic book Illusions: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” Melvin was a gift for so many in his short time with us. His passing merely changes the way he’ll continue to inspire and challenge us as we struggle with our own roles.
Godspeed, Melvin. Your song still rings in our ears.