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Andersen: As light as an angel

Nancy Pfister was one of the first people I met in Aspen. It happened purely by accident in one of those innocuous meetings that change your life. Nancy had a knack for this kind of thing.

It was October 1984, almost 30 years ago. I had just moved here from Crested Butte for a reporting job at The Aspen Times. After settling into my apartment, my feet were itching to get a feel for this place. I headed into the mall.

It was the off-season. Town was hushed and quiet. There was no one on the mall except for this strangely appealing woman. She came sauntering toward me, casually eating with chopsticks from a Chinese carry-out carton.

I was drawn to her instinctively, and she did not change her course. Soon we were standing a foot apart, face-to-face, just looking at each other. What I noticed most was her eyes — mesmerizing and mischievous, like cat-eye marbles.

Without a word, Nancy scooped up a clump of rice with her chopsticks and pushed it toward me. I opened my mouth, accepted the morsel and knew I had arrived. I was struck dumb by the flirtatious serendipity of the moment — immediately smitten, not only by Aspen, but by Nancy Pfister.

From that moment on we were friends — and more — sometimes close, sometimes apart, but always friends who had met in a Neil Simon stage set on the Aspen mall, one quiet day in October.

Almost three decades later, I am again face-to-face with Nancy, recalling her "trust the universe" faith in the good of all things. It is impossible to fathom what happened to make that universe spin away from her and betray her naive trust.

In this column I write about what's on my mind. This week I'm writing about what's on my heart. It is the crushing, leaden weight of sorrow. I don't want to burden readers with that, but I can't write about anything else.

I'm not alone in this. The community is as crushed as I am for losing a glimmering meteor that knew both the brilliant sun and the dark side of the moon; a celestial figure who imbibed in fatalistic fantasy.

Nancy was unapologetic about who she was. Her cavalier ways were accepted by friends, some who celebrated her eccentricities, others who struggled to cope with them. She was a ward of the community from which she derived enough love to fuel herself with the raw energy that exploded in shrieking laughter.

Bright meteors fall, sooner or later, to the inevitable pull of gravity. They fall out of orbit and flare through the atmosphere with a bright, all-consuming glow. Suddenly, they're gone. The glow vanishes. Earth absorbs them. Their fire goes out.

Back on Earth, arrests are made. The frightened, solemn faces of the accused are in the newspapers — a tear-streaked face, a blank, dispassionate stare. Justice may be served and the crime punished, but there is no real correction, no rearranging the awful facts.

What of the laughter, the caring, the wildness, the sweetness? There is no restoring any of it through a criminal trial and prison sentences. There is no rationality to any of it. But then rationality never factored much into Nancy's life — or her death.

A mutual friend suggested that there is no other place Nancy could have come from than Aspen. She personified this town with her reckless extravagance, deeply trusting that good comes of all things that originate here.

I wonder what good will come of this. How does a community that has just mourned a beloved writer find peace with the brutal loss of Nancy Pfister? I can only look up at the mountains with a deep sigh, a wondering gaze.

Nancy searched for meaning in the world and discovered countless paradises. She searched humanity for love and made thousands of friends. She exposed her heart to all — to be touched and to touch in return.

Nancy liked to say, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." I have to think that she now flies like an angel, aloft in her trusted universe.

Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He can be reached by email at andersen@rof.net.