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  • Pam Hassett

The Power of a Positive Attitude

Have you ever met someone, who has a forever impact on your life? Not someone like your mother, father, siblings or spouse. Those characters in the cast of your life are logical impacters of who you are. I’m talking about someone who, by either a short or random interaction, does something that changes the foundation of who you are, or at least who you aspire to be, in a dramatic way.

I have, and her name was Melissa Penn (1955-August 4, 1995). 24 years later and, not only do I still think of Melissa, but I tell many people about her, as inspiration for how to live a life of appreciation and positive attitude.

Ok, let me explain the back story. Melissa Penn was a volunteer on the same ambulance service I was, in Scarborough, Maine. (I’ll tell you the story about why I became an EMT in another blog someday). Melissa and I weren’t friends. She was 12 years older than me and the only thing we had in common was the rescue...we were colleagues.

One night my husband, Stephen, got up to go on a rescue call in the middle of the night.  I didn’t go because I had to work my finance job the following day. When Stephen returned from that call he turned the light on in the bedroom and sat down on the edge of our bed. Blinking, I woke up and groggily said “What’s up”. He said, “It’s really bad.” Perplexed, I said, “What, the call you were on”? And he responded, “No, something I found out while on that call. Melissa Penn is dead.”

I was dumbfounded, and shook my head. “No, that can’t be right. I don’t understand.” Stephen said, “No, it’s true. She was on vacation and at the O.J. Simpson trial in California with friends and traveling back to the hotel after being at the trial, the van they were in crashed and all three of them were ejected from the vehicle and killed.” I was shell-shocked.

There were over a thousand people at Melissa’s memorial service, called a “celebration of life”. Melissa had all these different pods of friends, and only a few people knew about any of the other pods of people she collected around her. I thought I knew her...had a sense of who she was. I only knew one little part of her life. I knew she was amazing. I knew she was kind. I knew she had a knack of resolving conflict between people.

There were big boards of photos at the service which was held at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth...the home of the famous Portland Head Light. Pictures of Melissa in a hot pink wet suit. Who knew she was an avid scuba diver? She had a whole group of friends she did that with. There were pictures of her at work at L.L. Bean where she had traveled the ranks from call center operator to management responsible for hiring the thousands of seasonal workers during the holidays. It was said at her memorial service that in every year before she took this task over there were lawsuits filed by people believing they were discriminated against if they didn’t get hired. Not with Melissa. She had this amazing way about her that you felt seen. Respected. Appreciated.

Not once, EVER, did I hear Melissa complain about another person. She was a complete optimist. Positive beyond reason. Can you imagine it? Never to bitch or moan about some real or perceived offense? So incredibly impressive. I’ll give you an example. If I went on a call with Melissa and the call before us the crew didn’t clean the ambulance effectively, I might say “Grrr. Why can’t Joe ever clean after a call? It’s such incompetence”. And Melissa’s reply would be, “Yeah, but he makes great chili”. She ALWAYS found the positive in every situation. I suspect this is the reason Melissa always seemed so happy. She lived a life of gratitude. Way before this concept ever became popular. This way of living is probably why Melissa was good friends with her ex-husband. They respected each other, even though they realized being married wasn’t working. Can you imagine that?

Today, I am curious about what made Melissa the way she was. I wonder what her parents were like. Her childhood. Her relationships with her siblings. Was she always the way she was when I met her, or did she learn to be that way? Considering the fact that I REALLY took to heart what I knew of Melissa and wish, so much, to emulate her...yet I fall short so many times, I believe it was just who she was. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not totally surprised she died at such a young age. I believe it was because she impacted so many lives and God was pleased with her, and brought her home.

I hope you are lucky enough to meet someone in your life who impacts you to be better than you were before. To live life in a profound way.

Thank you Melissa Penn...for the amazing gift you never knew you gave me.

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