Friday April 04th 2008, 11:16 am
Filed under: Friends,Life

UV sensorI’m grieving, and today’s entry is sad. There’s a hero; there are villains. Skip it and wait till tomorrow’s, whatever it may be, if you’d rather; I certainly understand.

I wrote recently about my friends whom I brought dinner to when the wife had pneumonia, back when our kids were in elementary school together. Some may have noticed I put their first names in, when I did not do so for the other person in that story. It’s because Albert would have loved it, because that part of the story was complimentary to me. Writing about dinner is one thing; writing about the time in their lives when a caravan of satellite-uplink news vans was stalking their front door is another, and I have edited his wife’s name out now.

Albert would have been abashed, though, if he’d heard me mentioning the day they were late coming to our then-kindergartner sons’ school parade way back in the day, protesting that anyone else would have done the same thing: they were late. And when their car came to the tracks for the commuter trains that run up and down the Peninsula, the lights flashed and the warning gates came down, so they were going to be even more late. Well, crum.

There was a young mom with a toddler in a stroller on the sidewalk next to their car. Suddenly, she decided she was in too much of a hurry to wait, she could beat that train, just go. Albert and his wife stared in disbelief a moment, and then horror–the wheels of the stroller had gotten caught in the tracks. Stuck. The mom looked up at that oncoming train and froze, knowing full well in that instant what she had just done.

Albert instantly leaped out of their car, exclaiming, “She’s not going to make it!” while his wife sat frozen herself, sure she was about to witness the terrible death of all three. But Albert was an athlete, and he grabbed that stroller upwards and out while shouting at the mom, “I’ve got the baby!,” pulling her as well as her strapped-in child away just in the seconds the train was bearing down on them. It was right there. They were right there. Somehow they survived.

And they went on to the kindergarten parade. And the toddler, whoever it was, lived to see kindergarten himself. (Herself? Don’t know.) Plain old ordinary life. He would be in high school now. I wonder if his mother ever told him who saved him, and whether she saved the newspaper clippings of that day. I so much hope so. We all need true heroes, growing up.

When I was so ill at Stanford Hospital five years ago, I found comfort in praying for my friends, trying to keep my focus from being entirely centered around myself, that being one of the occupational hazards of being sick. I specifically prayed for Albert and his wife and their kids. It felt important that they be on my list. Enough so that I remember that, and I not long after that was marvelling over it with his wife.

What I’d had no idea of, was, Albert was in the emergency room at Stanford Hospital being treated one of those first few nights that I was doing that, probably at close to the same time. Because: that night, someone had reported a suspicious-looking man. The rookie cops had driven down the street, found a man sitting in his car, and decided he was clearly trouble. Because he was black. He was also 59. They later told the judge their behavior was justified because, when they’d ordered him to get out of his car–without cause or warrant or legality for the search they had decided to do–he’d opened it “too hard.” They beat him so viciously that, when he was finally able to tell me about the experience a year later, choking and tearing up at the memory, “I was sure I was never going to see my kids again.” His teenage kids needed him, and he hung onto that thought as the blows rained down, as they broke bone permanently out of his knee.

One of the by-then-grown kids he had once been a volunteer coach to happened by and saw it happen and recognized his beloved coach and testified against the cops. One Palo Alto Weekly newspaper account noted that half the children in the southern half of this city had had Albert coach them as a volunteer one time or another. He was good at that, he was a good man, he was actively committed to this community, and he cared deeply about all his kids.

Those two cops tried hard to find something they could charge him with but found themselves on criminal trial instead. Good. Albert worked hard at forgiving them completely and without reservation, actively praying for them, not half-heartedly; I told him I wanted to be him when I grew up. I think he did a far better job of that forgiving than I did. Me, I kept hoping those two cops would at least gain the basic human decency to apologize for what they did to my friend.

Last summer, Albert was playing basketball with his buddies, suddenly keeled over of a heart attack, and he was gone.

I still can’t fathom it. I still keep thinking I’ll run into him at the grocery store sometime. Or that I ought to stop by the high school.

He’d run our high school’s academic help center. I’d gone in there from time to quite infrequent time just to say hi for old times’ sake, and he loved the visits but the kids always came first. If any of them had a question or needed help, I had to wait. As well it should be. I remember his daughter coming in one day and watching his face light up when he saw her.

They are planting an oak tree in his name at that school today where my kids used to eat lunch outside. I want with all my soul to be there with them. I want to hug the family. I want the reunion and the tears that I know will be going on amongst so many old friends so dear and far too far with our kids now grown, to have the solace of company in my own grieving as well as to give solace. But you can’t rightly go to part of a memorial service, it’s got to be an all-or-nothing. I thought of all the things I can do, all the layers and sunscreens and shades and and and to protect me from the effects of the UV rays on my flaming autoimmunity, and I know from many years and many experiences with this lupus that I–just. can’t. go. Can’t be there for them. Not in person. It could be suicidal. It might very well cost me my eyesight. It could so easily put me back in the hospital with the Crohn’s when I’m on a last-ditch med already for it. It’s not *if* going would make me sick, it’s whether I would survive how sick it would make me.

His wife got a soft kid mohair lace shawl from me, large and cuddly and intricate and warm, probably half a dozen years ago. I will wrap thoughts of my dear friend Albert, of his wife, and of each of his children around me, and I will knit in his honor during the time of the ceremony, knitting on behalf of a young couple he would have loved had he gotten a chance to meet them. Two young people who have been through a hard time themselves and have been coming out the other side now to light and love. I will knit to continue the support that shows them they are deeply cared about. Albert would have loved that. Maybe I should bring them a chocolate cake, too. With sprinkles.

And I had not realized till I typed that last paragraph, I am knitting it in yarn that I dyed the same color as what I knitted for Albert’s wife. Somehow, that fits. And I did not realize till after I’d saved this draft to come back to later, that I had, for that matter, started the new shawl for that young wife in the same pattern as CH’s. Wow. We ARE all in this life thing together.

Goodbye, Albert Hopkins. You were a true friend always. This planet needs far more men like you, not one fewer.

21 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Have you ever considered wearing a burka? You are one of the very, VERY few people for whom it might be a good thing. I know you miss Albert, but think how happy God is to be reunited with someone who is so obviously a close friend of His. I’m sure they have a lot to talk about.

Comment by Laura 04.04.08 @ 12:18 pm

Sometimes I think the world doesn’t deserve beautiful human beings like Albert. What an amazing person he was, and he lives on in your words.

Comment by Michelle 04.04.08 @ 12:21 pm

Oh, Alison, What a story this is — of heroism, evil deeds, redemption and forgivenss. Prayers for you — because you are “present” in the world way more than many people who have bodies that can show up.

Prayers for your health too, my friend. What a marathon you have run with this disease — you are a hero too!

Comment by Renee 04.04.08 @ 12:53 pm

What a tribute to Albert you have made with this blog post. I hope that Albert’s family finds comfort in knowing they are loved deeply and well. I am so sorry for your loss and theirs.

Comment by Dee 04.04.08 @ 1:41 pm

Oh, Alison…

Maybe this will cheer you… I was blog surfing, and saw the name “All you knit is love…” and I thought – that’s Alison!! but no…

Comment by Ruth S 04.04.08 @ 2:11 pm

Albert sounds like a wonderful person. My thoughts are with the family. A tree planted in his honour sounds wonderful and fitting.

Comment by Sandra 04.04.08 @ 2:12 pm

Thank you for sharing Albert with us, I am glad to know him even in this small way.
My love goes out to his family and all those who love him.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 04.04.08 @ 2:14 pm

What you just shared – was being there for him and his family… As much as you loved him, I’m sure he felt the same toward you and would have been the first person to tell you to take care of yourself…and you have honored him…what a legacy.
Thank you for sharing,

Comment by Abby 04.04.08 @ 4:18 pm

I think that we come here to learn certain lessons – like going to boarding school – and when we graduate we go home to see our friends and family who went home first – and miss us. And they will be waiting to welcome us home when we graduate.

And sometimes I think it is only too true that only the good die young.

not only were the friends and family of a man like Albert blessed — but the world was blessed by having someone like him in it even if it was too short a time.

Comment by rho 04.04.08 @ 6:10 pm

Amen. That is actually part of my religion: Mormons believe that we lived with God before birth, and come here to gain a body and experience and the chance to make decisions for ourselves when we don’t have that immediate sense of the presence of God, of His love–unless we want to, whether it be by an atheist’s Thinking Good Thoughts or by active prayer and faith. That we are each judged, in the end, by what we did with what we knew, not by what someone else knew. That God sent his Son to suffer every pain of every humanly possible type of ours, so that whatever we might go through here, we have a Friend: Someone who knows what it was like to go through that. We are here to learn how to have compassion ourselves as well. Whether we know Him here or not till the next life, every good and kind deed and decision we make matters. It matters.

Comment by AlisonH 04.04.08 @ 6:50 pm

Alison, thank you for your blog. Thank you for your words of inspiration and kindness. You are truly a light shining on the hill. You are a blessing in the lives of every one you reach and I think they are very much aware of your love.


Comment by Birdy 04.04.08 @ 7:36 pm

Alison, I’ve been thinking about this blog all day, wondering how to say everything that is in my heart. I guess I really can’t. Only that I’m sorry for what your friend went through and that you can’t be at the event today. But I am so very, very grateful for the Love filling up and spilling over in this story and friends and you.

Comment by Linda W 04.04.08 @ 8:16 pm

What a beautiful and moving tribute to a friend. My heartfelt condolences to you and his family. An oak tree is very fitting for someone who was strong and stood proud for his family, friends and community.

Comment by Vicki 04.05.08 @ 1:28 am

Thank you for sharing that story–I am so glad that he had people who could see his true worth & are telling the world about it.

Comment by Toni 04.05.08 @ 6:33 am

Thanks for sharing.

I hope you have plans of collecting all these wonderful stories into a book some day. It would be a treasure for all knitters (and muggles).

Comment by LizzieK8 04.05.08 @ 7:04 am

What a moving tribute to Albert’s life. I hope you know, dear friend, that you, like Albert are a hero. Your strength, your faith, your generosity are unparalleled. I am proud to call you friend.

Comment by Nathania 04.05.08 @ 7:53 am

I must send Amanda Dahl a thank you for steering me to your blog, what an eloquent eulogy to a wonderful human being from an ewually blessed and caring individual. The world needs more Alberts and Alisons!!

Comment by Grace 04.05.08 @ 2:39 pm

I’ve known amazing men like Albert, and the world is better because they were heroes. Such a huge thing to help a person like that and help teens and be there for them to lean on. Such a loving soul is definitely missed by many. Too soon gone.

Comment by Carina 04.05.08 @ 4:52 pm

Thank you for that glimpse into a life well-lived. The world needs more Alberts.

Comment by Channon 04.07.08 @ 6:40 am

once again, a glimpse of life and love that is so poignant. thank you for sharing.

Comment by marti 04.07.08 @ 8:58 am

Albert will understand. The problem is that when we can’t be there, it’s hard for us to comprehend it. A year and a half ago, I had to be absent from a dear friend’s wedding and it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ver had to make.

You’re in my thoughts and in my heart. As is Albert’s family.

Comment by Lene 04.07.08 @ 7:53 pm

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>