Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mel Long: 1947 - 2008

The following was originally posted In July 2008:

Because of an excessively busy and sometimes complicated life, I haven't blogged in quite awhile, and have been procrastinating about finishing some posts on issues that seem important to me.

Right now, though, issues don't seem so important. I feel compelled to say something about Melanie Dee (Mel) Long, a woman whose goodness and vitality very much deserve to be celebrated. Mel died on June 28th in an automobile accident in Brattleboro, Vermont. I learned of this through a phone call from a mutual friend two days later.

I haven't seen Mel in 35 years or more and had only the most minimal contact by mail over the past decade. Yet news of her death came as a terrible blow. To give you a sense of who she was, I am going to draw on a published obituary, a blog item about a memorial for her, and a couple of pieces of her own writing.

The obituary for her was published at the Brattleboro Reformer's website. Lest this obituary someday disappear from the paper's website, I would like to quote it here (minus information on surviving family members that they might or might not want me to quote:
Melanie Dee "Mel" Long, 61, of Brattleboro, died in a car accident on Saturday, June 28. Mel worked as a gardener and pruner in the area and had also done work in the fields of reflexology, massage and dance. She was a regular at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market, offering hand and foot massage. Mel leaves her sisters...her nephew...and nieces. She was predeceased by her parents, Arthur and Dorothy Long. Mel especially enjoyed contra-dancing at the Greenfield Grange. She loved singing and harmonizing, and she played fiddle and guitar. She was deeply drawn to beauty in nature and loved hiking Mount Monadnock, and one of her very favorite places was Sunset Lake. Mel recently said that she loved growing her own vegetables at her new home on Black Mountain Road because it made her feel connected. Mel was very spiritual, feeling one with living creatures, and she had an affinity for aspects of Native American traditions. In the past couple of years she had enjoyed studying and practicing Spanish. She also cared deeply about other women who struggled emotionally as well as financially. FUNERAL NOTICE: Mel's sisters are planning to hold a memorial remembrance/celebration of her in the Brattleboro area at a later date.Friends and acquaintances who would like to come and/or would like to be in touch with her family at this time are invited to contact....

Mel apparently had quite an impact on those who met her at the Brattleboro Farmers' Market, for they held a memorial service for her (separate from the one that is planned by her family as mentioned in the obituary). This memorial was documented at the blog Rara's Market Watch. If you link to this website you will see two photographs from the memorial. One of these photographs includes a picture-within-the-picture of Mel herself. She is the woman in the picture on the white table who is wearing blue and is pointing at or touching her heart.

A number of other things about Mel are illustrated in a letter she once wrote to Communities Magazine. I'd like to quote that letter in full:

Dear Communities,
I was thrilled to discover a magazine about community living--thank you! I was very excited to read "The Reunion of Souls," by Nann Emerson Chase in the summer issue, about a community based on spirituality and in which the focus of relationships was to assist each other spiritually. ... As I read I started to get an uncomfortable sense of a lack of humility in the author, but brushed it off in my eagerness to find kindred souls. I've frequently experienced connections with people from other shared lifetimes and was deeply identifying with the words of the author.
Suddenly I read a sentence that stopped me short: "Here we mean someone of the opposite sex, as we believe homosexuality is not of the divine pattern." I've been "out" as a lesbian for 21 years, and though I'm quite familiar with this narrow kind of thinking, it always startles me coming from people who claim to be spiritually "evolved" ...
It's easy to bring our old beliefs about right and wrong to our new spiritual paths without realizing it. I come up against this again and again as I pray for humility, and for Love to be the strongest force in my life. In this society we learned that self-love is wrong, and so we don't want any part of humility because it feels like self-deprecation. It took me many years to realize that this isn't so. It's an aspect of true love of self, accepting the humanness and fallibility of the ego along with the divinity of each person.
In closing I'd appreciate it if you'd print the address of M.A.I.Z.E., the lesbian country magazine from Serafina, New Mexico.
Mel Long
Brattleboro, Vermont

This letter feels to me like a great example of who Mel was. It certainly illustrates her enthusiasm: After all, her first sentence began "I was thrilled...", the second began "I was very excited...". In the time that I knew her, Mel didn't use those words lightly, though she used them often. She really was "thrilled" and "excited" by people, by ideas, and by the possibilities of spiritual growth. The letter illustrates her lifelong interest in community, and explicitly mentions her "eagerness to find kindred souls."

The way she pointed out that writer of an article "lacked humility" and had "narrow ideas" was typical of Mel as I knew her, in that it was forthright to the point of bluntness, but still kind (Read it again, with all the surrounding material to see how she is seeking points of common ground with those she critiques). Her similar forthrightness about her own sexuality was also typical of her. She believed in her own humanity and dignity and defended the same for everyone else, regardless of their sexuality. She carried a special "concern" (as Quakers would call it) for the rights of women. And finally there are her wonderful and subtly balanced words about Love and humility. I had never heard her thoughts about humility before, and I see that she says it took her many years to come to the view that she expressed.

One other piece of her writing (literally her actual penmanship this time) is at this URL. It is a letter written in 2005 to the Water Resources Panel of the State of Vermont urging some restraints on the size of engines in motorboats in the Somerset Reservoir. "It is so important," she wrote, "to have wildernesslike waters for people to have quiet, solitude and see wildlife. It is also important for the wildlife itself!"


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