As the sun rises each day, it gives light and warmth to the dark and cold places of the world. It uplifts our moods while invigorating us to make our days pleasant. On August 18, 1997, the sun crossed our horizon as José Melendez came into the world with a loud cry that spoke volumes. As the sun rose and set that day, I would like to think that a blue moon followed, leaving positive particles of dust in the atmosphere affecting our lives with fierce determination like a volcanic eruption.
I met José many years later at the Cultural Academy for the Arts & Sciences. His warm smile was infectious as he walked through the noisy hallways with his sister and his friends. His genial and avuncular nature earned him both love and respect from his teachers and his peers. I soon grew to love him like a son. He and his family became an extension of mine.
When José was first diagnosed with bone cancer, he was filled with steadfast determination that he would beat this disease. After the first surgery in which his leg was spared, he gained more hope that he would defeat cancer. With each surgery and subsequent chemotherapy treatment he was never in despair. We all knew the mountain facing him, but it never stopped him from doing everything he wanted to do. Although he missed many days of school, he managed to pass all of the state exams with high scores. He completed all of his assignments, even performance based projects. Most noteworthy was his desire to be discharged from the hospital so that he could complete his performance of scenes from Romeo and Juliet. The day before the scheduled performance, he left a voice mail message on my phone that said, “Hello, Ms. DeLoatch. I’m in the hospital today. I will try my best to go tomorrow because Centhya and Kieleek have been working hard and I may not be as good as I am supposed to be, but I’m going to try my best to go tomorrow.” I called him back trying to dissuade him, knowing the severity of his illness. He was resolute. He came to the school as we were beginning the performance. He performed his two scenes with grace, watched his peers perform, and then left the school, unfortunately, never to return.
I learned much from José. He taught me how to persevere in the midst of difficulty. He taught me to not complain, but to smile. From the beginning of his diagnosis, I told him that his life was full of purpose and that he was going to have a high impact on the world. He never outwardly questioned his suffering, for he knew that earth was not his home. He taught me never to run from difficulty, but to face it head on. One day a couple of summers ago, he, his sister Auriana, his brother Marco, and I, along with members of my family, went to Coney Island to enjoy the warm weather and Luna Park. We sat there on the beach soaking up some rays, and enjoying the amusement park rides. We ate Nathan’s fries and hot dogs like they were going out of style. That day, he never complained about his illness. I knew that I was in the midst of greatness, and that José’s hand print would reverberate around the world as fast as the speed of light.
In the final days of his life, he acknowledged the power of God in his life. He had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, and was recently baptized. He told me that he was “still alive because of the power of God.” He did not want anyone crying for him because he knew that on his last day he would rise to be with the Lord.
Thus, on January 27, 2016, José went to be with the Lord. Although the golden sun set, this golden son is still giving light and hope to those he knew. Every day this son, lights up the world with resounding brilliance and melody in our hearts as his voice continues to be heard, and as his countenance gives us hope for tomorrow. This son will never set. Although the sun has physically set, let’s remember words from a Dylan Thomas poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Let’s let José’s mighty life and light live forever in our hearts and minds.
We may never know why José was called home at a young age, but God has a plan for all of our lives. What legacy will you leave? How many lives will your life touch? Long after our deaths, will we continue to live in the hearts of others? If we do, we will live and not die.
May God comfort those who mourn.
For personal meditation and reflection read: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
José’s photo: courtesy of David McGill