I have been blessed in life. That is, I’ve not suffered. Most of my complaining is about what my friends and I jokingly refer to as “first world problems.” This is an elitist term in most every sense, but, there it is. I don’t worry about where my next meal is coming from, nor whether my route to work is safe from roadside bombs, nor whether this very blog is under government scrutiny as to its content which could land me in prison. Also, my life has been comparatively free from suffering/ Aside from the occasional death in the family or broken bone, I have lived a relatively pain free existence. Still, one decade ago, my life changed in an immeasurable way.
Many of you readers will remember my friend, Melisa. We met online in a chat room back in the nascent days of the internet (Thank you, Al Gore!) and we became good friends. Best friends, even. I looked forward to chatting with her online, sending emails, talking on the phone, and sending actual letters (which people still did back then). We talked about our lives, our futures, even weather patterns. You see, in Kansas and Kentucky, our respective states, even weather can be an interesting topic. As I write this, it’s sixty degrees in mid-December. Anyway, before I met my wife, Melisa was the person with whom I shared everything that my life had to offer, and I believe she did the same.
Still, 10 years ago, all that came crashing down. Melisa was murdered in her own home that morning and the world as I knew it changed. Yes, some will recall that the world was already altered in a post 9/11 landscape, but somehow I stayed insulated from that. But, the loss of my best friend was devastating to me. It changed how I walked down the street; how I thought of other people. Even now, every time I leave the house and I turn to lock the door, I think of her and how she died. And even though we’d only seen each other in person twice in our whole life, I lost part of who I was when she was killed. I know that her family and close (geographically) friends are even more overwhelmed by the loss because Melisa was a bright spot in the universe.
Which leads me to the title of this post. Ad astra per aspera is the state motto of Kansas and it translates “To the stars through difficulties.” Melisa was an ardent defender of her state and, once, in my off-the-cuff manner through an attempt at a cheap laugh, I made light of her state being flat and boring. She treated me to an extended discourse on how wrong I was and even sent me a travel guide for the great state of Kansas to show me the error of my ways. I never made light of Kansas again…at least not for its geophysical qualities. But, the one thing that stuck with me was the motto which I found intriguing. I also like to believe that, for Melisa, the motto became true. I believe she is among the stars, even though it came through difficulty: for her and for those she left behind.
I don’t know what lies beyond. I don’t believe anyone does. I hope that one day I get to see Melisa again, if only for one last chat. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll have to be content with the memories that I do have of a shining example of how life should be lived. I will miss you Melisa, today and always.