It’s hard, no matter how we try, to feel the loss of half a million fellow Americans. We know it, we can see it represented on the front page of The New York Times in clusters of dots, we can …
It’s hard, no matter how we try, to feel the loss of half a million fellow Americans. We know it, we can see it represented on the front page of The New York Times in clusters of dots, we can be horrified by the number, but feeling what we feel can never equal that feeling of loss of one near to us.
Last week, as the pandemic toll in the U.S. hit that noxious marker of half a million souls, our community lost one man who meant a lot to many. No matter how he died (not of COVID-19), his death left a gaping hole in the hearts of many, especially his wife, Hilary, and their daughter, Sidney. Matthew Solomon was too young for death but not because he didn’t make the most of his life.
In our first meeting on Main Street in Narrowsburg, in front of his little storefront, he gave me the briefest of biographies, saying he had been a lawyer in the city but found he had no passion for it. Through gardening, he found his passion in the art of pottery. When I say pottery, you likely think of bowls and coffee mugs. But Matthew’s pottery was less utilitarian and more sculptural. His vases might be three-feet tall with extravagant blossoms of luminous porcelain spilling down the side, or the tiniest vessel meant for a sprig of lavender. Not long after his work was known to Narrowsburgians, it gained an international following. The tulips he was forbidden from cultivating by our scavenging deer population became art objects in Matthew’s hands. He marveled at his creations himself sometimes, as if he had only unveiled the genius of his clay, not created it.
Matthew was also a good neighbor. His community could count on him to take a crucial role in any effort, while many who benefitted from his work never knew it. He did not seem interested in celebrity. Except, perhaps, the celebrity that sprang from his role in Pig Mountain, the festival he created with Heather Carlucci in 2011 supporting local farmers. The event grew from 475 attendees in 2011 to more than 2,500 in 2013. Part of the proceeds went to the National Young Farmers Coalition, an organization that “represents, mobilizes and engages young farmers to ensure their success.” The awareness that it brought to Narrowsburg and environs is still paying dividends to local businesses.
I have been known to spend Sundays reading The New York Times, eventually coming ‘round to the obituaries. Even the tersest notice can evoke the spirit of a life lived. Last year, given the task of placing one for my stepmother, I mentioned her son’s mastery of a skill, her beloved granddaughter and the Bad Hemingway award she won in the ‘80s. A dear friend of my mother’s was recently noted in those pages, enabling me to contact her daughter and attend her virtual memorial, remembering the joy she brought to our lives over many years.
As a young teenager, I lost my father to an accident. Years later, my step-father died of a heart attack while driving to our country house. These stark memories of loss returned to me on hearing of Matthew’s death, so sudden and unforeseen, leaving such a dreadful gap in the lives of his daughter and wife, and so many other friends and family.
Multiply that gap, if you can, by half a million. That is what we have all lost this year.