My friend Mel and I last spoke a year ago. I had just finished reading his newly published book and wanted to talk about it. It had been preceded by a new book the year before and another a few years before that – each written in his 90s.
At 98 years of age, Mel said he had been thinking about an experience he had while driving home at some point in his past. Alone in his car, he heard a voice telling him he would live to be 105. He wondered if that would be true.
Today as I write, I received the sad news that my friend had passed at 99. I had been counting on 105.
The Impact of a Life
Mel was a prolific writer (fiction, nonfiction, plays) as well as a theatre director, teacher, and mentor. I first knew of him when I was in high school and he was directing plays in Phoenix. One incredibly talented person he often cast became a life-long friend, and my friendship with Mel followed.
He was with me through two marriages and two divorces – and my years in Arizona, California, South Africa, Connecticut, and now New York City. I was with him through the loss of his wife and two children, and the gift in his life that has been his second wife. What a richness of shared history as we celebrated life together!
It was Mel’s previous role as a high school and college English teacher that prompted a request to him when I lived in South Africa in the early 80s. I had a lot of time on my hands and new books were extremely expensive. Knowing there were gaps in my knowledge of classic literature, I asked Mel if he could suggest a few books.
Mel heard my request and elevated it, suggesting a comprehensive study of literature. For each targeted period, he listed an array of reading that included history and philosophical writings to more deeply understand the context of the times.
I mailed him my thoughts and impressions after finishing each list, and he wrote back with additional information and a list for the next period. Yes, mailed – the 80s were, of course, pre-internet!
We started with the Greeks – plays, fiction, and non-fiction. I still remember reading The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides and loving it!
As we progressed through time and location, I remember being delighted in discovering The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, which had never even been mentioned in school. I was in awe of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy – all three books read for pleasure rather than to pass an exam.
My local library also benefited from Mel’s reading list, where the head librarian was always excited to see me. He had long wanted to have these great works available, but the requests he received were for lighter reading. Mel’s impact had extended to a new continent.
Mel was immediately supportive of my writing. He always made himself available to be of help or to simply send a virtual hug.
One day I reached out to him with a writing struggle. His response lives on my computer desktop so that I can be reminded often:
“No, you’re not overthinking it. You’re just in the elevator now and trying to tap the right button. Stay with it…never give up, NEVER!!!!” – Mel Weiser
Rest in peace, my wonderful friend. My life has been enriched beyond measure by having you in it. Our conversations will change now, but I will always listen for your voice and cherish your wisdom.