Thursday April 10th 2008, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Maybe if he googles, somehow he’ll find this and I’ll get to reconnect after all these years and say hi. But I’m not going to breach his privacy by adding his last name in.

I was following some of Stephanie’s links, and came across this one. Scroll to the gorgeous steeked Norwegian sweater that the blogger had bought at a thrift store, even if it didn’t fit her–it was such a notable work of art, and for two dollars! My first thought was, your little girl will grow into that before you know it. It’s a cliche, but they do, little ones grow so fast.

My second, was, Jonathan.

I have no idea where in the world he is now. Jonathan was a lifeguard at the pool at the Betty Wright Swim Center, a place where you could only get in to swim with a doctor’s prescription to do so. I mentioned (shameless plug alert) in my book my going to swim therapy–Betty Wright is where I went for four years. Since everyone there had something going on that had brought them there, the place offered a deep sense of community; if a regular didn’t show for awhile, people started asking each other and the more outgoing ones would phone, just to make sure you were all right.

Most of the clientele was elderly. I was one of the babies of the group and my kids were little back then. My lupus diagnosis was quite new.

Then one day I happened across a garage sale at a church in our neighborhood and found a handknit Aran sweater, in the long lean style of the late 70’s at the time when the oversized 80’s had not finished fading into the future: knitted for someone tall and thin, well made, densely handknit on small needles proportionate to the yarn, quite warm. I had a 6’8″ husband and a 6’7″ uncle, so our kids were going to get height from both sides and our older boy looked like he had definitely gotten the tall genes. I looked at it and thought, I could put it away for ten years and wait, sure. At twenty-five cents? Goodness, if it only fit for ten minutes during his future growth spurt I’d still come out ahead!

So I bought it and carefully put it well away. There was certainly no hurry.

We were remodeling our old fixer-upper soon after. We packed up and moved into one end of the house while tearing apart the other, then six months later reversed the process. Everything not in immediate use was inside cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling. I’d written the contents on the outsides, but it seemed like every time someone dug through to retrieve something, what those boxes said and what they had no longer really matched, especially after a year.

One of the first complications I had had with my lupus had been the equivalent of a stroke that to this day messes with my visual memory, which before had been superb. It’s nowhere near as bad now as it was in those early days, when, on days when I was really tired, I wasn’t sure I could pick my own husband’s face out of a crowd if he held still–but give me the cues of his mannerisms, though, make him start talking and moving, and I had it. I remember my rheumatologist’s incredulous, “You recognize me by how I *WALK*?” I shrugged, Doesn’t everyone? When you don’t have the cue of the person’s voice? Worked for me.

So. I had one day where I was swimming laps, minding my own business, having a quiet morning and a little time off from the kids while my friend Lisa babysat them, when the thought came to me that I ought to offer Jonathan, one of the lifeguards, that sweater.

I resisted just a moment’s worth of strokes through the warm water, the thought passing through my mind in response, as if I were having a conversation, that, well, hey, I had been going to save that for my older son. The tall one. But the thought persisted, and it felt a happy one; okay, then. I’ll do it. I’ll offer him.

As soon as I decided to, I felt instantly quite cheerful and–this was so striking to me in the context of the recent and brutal-to-me agony over my new memory deficits–I knew EXACTLY where that sweater was! The box, the location, the sweater inside it. It had been moved, too, it turned out, from where I would have expected. But somehow I could picture it and I absolutely knew that my inner image was right. I couldn’t wait to see to confirm that. I mean, I just absolutely knew it was so, but, how, how could, and how did it get there… I hurried out of the pool, thanked Lisa, and ran to the spot.

Exactly there. Exactly inside. There it was. I wanted to jump up and down and shout for joy. Only thing is, I didn’t….really…know..why.

So now I was excited, but then how do you tamp that back down and go make the whole thing a reality without making a fool of yourself? And why should I? That, I had no idea of. Huh. Well, whatever, here goes.

I went back to Betty Wright. Jonathan was still there. I told him I had a beautiful handknit cream wool sweater, my only regret being that I hadn’t knitted it myself–I would have liked to have. But I thought it might fit him. Would he like me to get it? Would he like me to see if it might?

He was surprised, and touched, and said, warmly, Sure!

And so I gave it to him. I watched him handle it reverently, stroke its cabled textures, admire it, and put it on. And that moment he and I saw! If only its knitter could somehow have seen him. If only the knitter could somehow have known. It fit his long, tall, thin young frame absolutely perfectly. Not too tight on him at all. Not too long, not too short, not in the body, not in the sleeves, he totally Goldilocksed it. It was just right. And he loved that it had been created by some individual somewhere out of love for someone, and that he was somehow now the inheritor of that.

It wasn’t till awhile later, till he’d gotten over the surprise of it all, that he told me. Right before he left the second time.

His father had been a Jew from Iraq who had ended up in a WWII Japanese concentration camp (yes, Japanese). His mother had been English. He, with his lovely British accent, had actually been born and raised in Singapore, where, his parents not being native, he was not accepted as such either. He had no country to claim as home, no place to belong.

His father had come away from his wartime experiences angry at the very idea that there could be a God and if so that He’d let such things happen in His creation–no, there couldn’t be. And a loving God? With what he’d seen? Gimme a break.

Meantime, Jonathan got accepted into Stanford, got the lifeguard job as an internship part of his training, and hoped to settle in the US for good. This is a country that he could happily call home, if he worked hard enough.

And yet. He got a phone call one day from a friend in France, calling to say goodbye: calling to say he was about to kill himself. Jonathan desperately pleaded with him, no, no, wait till I can get there, I’ll be on the next plane, please let me see you, you’re my friend, I love you, you mean too much to me, please! He called whatever version of 911 there is in Paris, he called social services, he called everything he could think of, and then made good on his promise, spending every dime he had on the very next plane.

It worked. He saved his friend’s life. Last I heard, the fellow was hospitalized but at least had come around to see that he was glad for the intervention. Severe depression takes time and work at recovering from, but through Jonathan, he finally wanted to want to get better.

Jonathan returned here after a week and came back to his lifeguarding at the pool. The weather was getting cold. He told me later that he had looked in his closet wishing he owned a jacket, something warm, anything, and he simply didn’t own one. He had no money now to his name and no hope of doing a thing about it in his present circumstances. And he wondered, as he had many times in his life, if his father were right. He wondered if there was a God.

The very next morning, I was swimming those laps and suddenly picturing that box. That was the day I presented him with a custom-handknitted (even if the knitter never knew) warm, thick sweater that for this climate would work well for a jacket. From God’s hands to the knitter’s to his.

Jonathan’s abrupt departure caused a rift with one of his co-workers, and the upshot is that he lost his job. He lost his chance to stay at Stanford. He was forced to go back to Singapore, and where after that, I never knew. He lost everything he had been working towards, but he’d saved his friend’s life by giving his all for him.

I have prayed ever since that he would look at that sweater, wool from the hands of someone neither he nor I knew, each of us playing our part, and know who, at long last, he really was.

18 Comments so far
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What a wonderful story…what a shame though, that his abrupt departure wasn’t understood and he given some leniency. I sincerely hope Jonathan is doing well in life, that he still has the sweater and feels the love.

Comment by marianne 04.10.08 @ 1:58 pm

Being as selfless as he seemed, I’m sure he is somewhere in the world doing something wonderful. If only the knitter of that sweater knew what good it brought to Jonathan.

Comment by Amanda 04.10.08 @ 2:15 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story! It makes me sad and happy at the same time. Glad to have played a little part in this post. 🙂

Comment by Mandy 04.10.08 @ 2:32 pm

wow. wonderful story Alison. Very neat 🙂


Comment by Bev 04.10.08 @ 2:39 pm

what everyone else said and I want to add that I hope he ended up with a knitter … btw google is your friend — bet you could find him 😉 and send his wife a shawl 😀 😀

Comment by rho 04.10.08 @ 8:06 pm

You have an uncanny ability to touch people in need. I want to thank you for being such a kind and caring soul.
I would love to tell your children just what a wonderful mother they have. They probably already know, but I want to tell them anyway.

Comment by Sonya 04.10.08 @ 9:17 pm

…makin’ me cry in the morning…

I love you anyway.

Comment by kristine 04.11.08 @ 6:53 am

May we all be so overtly compassionate. You surely touched more lives than Jonathan’s with your timely gift. I hope that somehow, his story has a happy ending…

Comment by Channon 04.11.08 @ 8:13 am

Oh geez. Here I go, crying again!
Thanks. I mean it.

Comment by Karin 04.11.08 @ 8:29 am

Yet again, you remind me that small graceful giving can move the world.
That listening to those quiet voices brings more beauty than the loudest opera.
Thanks for the eye dews :-}
Thanks, as always, for sharing :-}

Comment by Diana Troldahl 04.11.08 @ 8:29 am

Oh, I *totally* recognize the whole house-packed-in-boxes experience. Agh! How marvelous that you were able to find the sweater that way, when you sensed someone needed it.

And I recognize people at a distance by the way they walk- long before I can pick out a face. Fascinating how the brain retrieves memory! (I just read a great book about it, in fact. Fascinating stuff.)

Comment by RobinH 04.11.08 @ 9:31 am

Proof that knitters are,as Stephanie puts it, “super-givers”. Defintely a way to improve the world. If only more people did nice things to others just because they could.

Comment by Carol 04.11.08 @ 4:17 pm

We never know how deeply the littlest thing can affect someone, how important it can be. Lovely story.

Comment by LeslieJo 04.11.08 @ 6:45 pm

Alison, this story seriously made me cry. It’s so beautiful. I’m sure that wherever Jonathan is, he hasn’t forgotten you.

Thrift stores are amazing places. I love wearing something and thinking about the person who wore it before me – did they laugh in this garment? Did they cry? Did they go on a date or a road trip wearing this? It’s fascinating to think about.

Comment by Ren 04.11.08 @ 8:27 pm

He didn’t leave Stanford for anything other than to go where he was next needed. It was your blessing to be there to give him the sweater/love when he needed it.

Comment by Judy 04.12.08 @ 4:56 am

Thank you for sharing this story!

Comment by Toni 04.14.08 @ 7:13 am

Proff, Gods grace in action.

Comment by Katie 04.14.08 @ 12:37 pm

Really beautiful story. I hope that each stitch was like a hug for him.

Comment by Joansie 10.19.10 @ 2:53 pm

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