DOWNTOWN — Today, Matthew Mezza would have turned 15.
The Santa Monica High School freshman, known for his joking nature and quick smile, might have had a birthday party, and celebrated with the many friends that populated his life.
But that was not to be.
In January, Matthew’s life came to an abrupt end, one that left his friends and family seeking reason in a seemingly senseless act.
The bright boy who lived attentively and kept the needs of others constantly at the forefront of his mind could not be the same one that fled the baseball practice field and jumped to his death from the tenth floor of the Sheraton Delfina.
“The reason why when we think about his death it’s difficult to understand is that it’s completely antithetical to the way he lived. He was, in a sense, a first responder in training,” said Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, a spiritual leader at Beth Shir Shalom who first met Matthew in 2005. “He would run into life, not away from it, which is why I’m sure that it hit him suddenly, like an emotional tsunami.”
But while he lived, Matthew did so in a way that changed others’ lives for the better. He was the kind of friend that shared his lunch with the hungry, the kind of person that communicated his excitement and passion with others and the kind of son that made his mother proud, even if his room was a total mess.
When his birthday got close, his mother, Ellie Schneir, began considering how best to celebrate the memory of her son.
“I wanted it to be something that would really honor him,” she said. “I don’t want him to be remembered for how he died. I want him to be remembered for who he was.”
That person was a positive, upbeat young man always willing to help people out, or, in the verbiage of his Jewish faith, perform mitzvot — moral deeds done out of a sense of religious duty.
“Matthew was the kind of person who actually fulfilled what we would call mitzvot, or keeping of mitzvot, which is ‘commandments,’ in a very beautiful way,” Comess-Daniels said.
Therefore, to honor the boy lost too soon, Schneir decided to put out a request to friends, family and acquaintances to live for a day as Matthew did, aware and open to the possibilities of reaching out and touching lives.
“If someone asks you about your generosity,” Schneir said, “tell them that it is to honor a boy named Matthew, who was a great son, brother, cousin, teammate and friend, who would have turned 15 on May 31.”
To spread the word, she created a Facebook profile page for Matthew, and reached out to as many of his friends and classmates as she could using the feature that suggests likely acquaintances.
At first, Schneir received a tepid response.
“They were very suspicious,” Schneir said. “They would send back messages that said, ‘Who is this?’ and ‘This isn’t funny.’ But when I explained it to them, they said ‘Oh, OK, cool.’ He has over 400 friends now.”
One of those friends, Max Spivak, will be participating in the informal event. Performing mitzvot, even a simple act like giving someone a compliment, could change someone’s perspective on the day, and perpetuate positivity in the world.
“It’s like a ripple effect,” Spivak said. “It isn’t going to be going around the whole world, but it could possibly make someone, or even many people, happy. It will give you self pride, and give Matthew’s memory a lot of dignity, which he deserves.”
In the end, Schneir doesn’t believe that this day of kindness would have thrilled its inspiration.
“I don’t know that it would make him happy. It’s about honoring him,” she said.
So today, if a person opens a door for you, buys you a cup of coffee or in any way reaches out in an unexpected or unnecessary fashion, ask why. It might be a small deed done in the memory of a boy who would have turned 15, but left this world too soon.
Pay it forward.