“Melissa loved to sit quietly in her room and write down her innermost thoughts and feelings.” Her sister, Laura, told me.
I never knew Melissa, but I relate. I relate because of how as a teenager I, too, wrote to let the words comfort me and help carve my sense of place in the world. I relate because my son also has a vivid imagination and his stories flow from him like water from a spring. The hours he spends sorting out characters, adventures and conflicts.
One more way I relate is that I relate with her art itself. I have only recently discovered the poetry Melissa created, the lyrics put to music and sung by Rachel Fuller, fill me up.
R is for The Ring
Last week we shared a post entitled, “R is for The Ring” on the website The Road We’ve Shared. The Road chose the theme “The Music in Me” for the A to Z challenge of the month of April. Each day a new song, most every one with a video, has been featured that in someway demonstrates, includes, or is important to, the Down syndrome community.
Here is an excerpt from that post: Miss Riggio, a young woman with Down syndrome, wrote “The Ring” while a student still in high school. Her website has two blog entries. The first is from January 2007 about the musician and vocalist Rachel Fuller:
“Rachel is a good friend – she has helped me develop my talent as a singer songwriter. Without her encouragement and wisdom, my dreams would have stayed just dreams. Thanks Rachel, you’re the best.”
After the post on The Road, I learned more about Melissa, and how her poetry came to become songs, from her sister, Laura:
“When we read Melissa’s poetry we were all overcome and impressed by how profoundly she expressed herself and how poetic her words were. Our dad has been a good friend with Pete Townshend of The Who for many years.
One day he spoke to Pete about Melissa’s poetry and Pete asked to see a selection. He was so impressed with her talent that he suggested we share some of Melissa’s poems with his partner Rachel Fuller.Rachel is a classically trained musician and a songwriter. She was so taken with Melissa’s poem ‘The Ring’ that she wrote music for it and recorded it with her band.
When the cd arrived at our house, we had no idea what to expect. When we heard the beautiful and plaintive piano opening, then Rachel’s angelic voice, we were overcome with pride and joy.
Melissa and Rachel struck up a long distance friendship, which resulted in Rachel recording another of Melissa’s poems, ‘Love is a Potion’. Many people have commented on the lyric’s obvious similarity to 1st Corinthians. Perhaps, Melissa heard those words one day in church but we think it more likely that her feelings burst forth from a fierce belief in the power of love. People from all over world have discovered the beauty in Melissa’s words.”
You can see and hear some of this power of her art in this video, as three young girls perform a dance routine to “The Ring” – It’s short and lovely; check it out:
You can also listen to “Love is a Potion” by heading to the website, riggio.net.
Melissa was an advocate for herself and others with Down syndrome and although I never knew her those years ago, I was very sad to see the second entry on her website, from April of 2008:
“As so many of you know, Melissa was diagnosed with leukemia last summer and since that time she fought long and hard to overcome the disease. Last June, she graduated from Bernards High School in Bernardsville, New Jersey, where she was crowned Prom Queen. Melissa was so grateful to the many people who reached out to offer their support by donating blood, platelets, and sending cards and letters. Through it all, Melissa remained strong and optimistic. She was an inspiration to everyone who had the opportunity to know her.”
The full obituary ran in the NYTimes on April 9, 2008.
Melissa Riggio’s legacy lives on.
Her sister told me,
“A year after Melissa passed away, a request arrived from a high school teacher in South Korea. He wanted to use Melissa’s poem to teach his students about poetry. It was immensely gratifying to our family know that she was able to touch people and inspire them in ways that she could never have imagined.
But then again, she probably could have imagined it. She knew she was talented, and her creative spirit flowered in a way that gave her confidence and made her an admired self advocate.”
Writing about another artist and her art is a tricky balance because I want this piece to be about her, about her art. That said, how her art affects me and has woven through the tapestry of my world, that has value and is now part of the greater story as well.
I will leave you with Mellissa Riggio’s lyrics so that you, too, can take them within you and thread them through your heart, too.
I’m in the Ring outside
I’m following my belief
I’m looking at the sky
I saw God following my heart
I’m an ordinary woman
The Ring is falling down my way
The wind is blowing me away
The Ring is falling down, down my way
The wind is blowing me away
And so I came back to
The center of the Ring
Am I just a broken angel?
God has sent me here to heal
To be an ordinary woman
*It is with deepest thanks that Melissa’s sister, Laura, shared more of the story of Melissa and her work with me.