Erica Chase-Salerno was a rush of fresh air, specifically the ionized oxygen created by a waterfall, those charged particles that scientists have found mysteriously alleviate depression. With her gentle-scamp ways and her ecstatic heart, Erica pulled you in at first meeting, grabbed your hand and flew.
I wasn’t alone in noticing the “Erica Effect,” which drew not only individuals, but whole communities, to love her: She was written up in Psychology Today. Erica is “one of these rare, special individuals who gives to others in a way that is beyond what she could possibly receive in return,” wrote psychologist Dr. Glenn Geher back in 2015.
Like a speedy electron, Erica touched the lives of all she knew — and even those she just met. “When I have a smooth customer service transaction, I never take it for granted and ask to speak to the supervisor to report it,” she once explained.
Erica looked at the world with fresh eyes. Inclusivity was important to her, and her heart opened to many causes including the rights of the disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, veterans and our local churches. But most of all, she was a champion for the small. “Every time I meet a kid, I think ‘help me learn, help me see, help me grow,’” she said.
Six years ago, I asked Erica to write Kids’ Almanac because I wanted the world to wake up to the way she saw it. Later, she wrote Erica’s Cancer Journey because she couldn’t close her eyes to a world that people were afraid to see.
“I’ll play more… this final piece is important to me,” she said during the last weekend of her life, as she resorted to flashcards to remember the difference between a “b” and a “d” and she began to lose her charge. “I need to get that oxygen going. I’m seeing a cascade of loss and change. I’m fading, but I appreciate how you hear me,” she said, leading me to yet another insight into her short life of sparks.
Erica loved to write, but she lived to be heard.