He wasn’t a simple man, but he wanted simple things in life. He didn’t have a bucket list. Instead he had a vision for his future and goals he wanted to achieve and… he was quick to give thanks.
I first noticed him because he carried around a “Franklin” planner. Do you remember those? I was impressed because it was very thick. Even from across the room I could see that his pages were filled with detailed notes and a penned in schedule as he hurriedly leafed through it.
I had a similar planner, only mine contained drawings scribbled in the sidelines and half written stories and notes from recent interviews. My calendar was filled in too, but with pencil.
We knew of each other because we attended the same class at the Institute of Religion at Cypress College. Though I was studying at California State University, Long Beach, I took a few classes to augment my schedule at the local community college, too. One of them was a religion class with one of my favorite teachers, Larry Johnson. I always sat in the front row, thankful and eager for his wealth of stories and knowledge.
One day in class the instructor was discussing the importance of facilitating friendships and making connections and suddenly called out this man’s name. “Jared Johnson,” he said, “Do you know my friend, Jennifer?” The instructor then continued to say nice things about me and concluded with, “You should get to know her.” Everyone in the room laughed a bit and class resumed as normal. I’ll forever be grateful for that impromptu introduction.
I can’t remember if it was that night or the following week, but Jared took that advice to heart. He introduced himself formally and invited me on a date. Like everything else in his life, he had it all planned out. We were to go into Los Angeles to a restaurant called Ed Debevic’s for dinner with his group of friends and then head to 3rd Street Promenade for the street fair in Santa Monica. It sounded fun and I agreed to go.
He laughed out loud when I opened my calendar and erased the plans scheduled for that night so I could book our date. He thought it was pretty amazing that I would cancel plans to go out with him, thanked me, and walked away with a smile on his face.
I mentioned earlier that the things he wanted in life were simple, or at least seemed simple to me. Jared was grateful for simple things in life, from spending time with his family to gardening. He loved watching flowers and people grow and he loved good food and music.
As I got to know Jared that night and throughout our life together, I learned more about his goals. He desired an education and a job that would provide well for his future family. He wanted to be married to the same person forever and raise children. He especially wanted girls, having grown up with 5 sisters. Jared wanted to own a home with a garden.
He had served a church mission, living and serving two years in France, and wanted to return there to visit the families he had taught. Jared also wanted the best technology possible, as he loved computers, but understood the need to wait until he could afford his “toys.” He loved to connect with his friends and have people over to visit. Aside from that, his daily life consisted of serving others at church, work and home, and he didn’t desire for much more.
I, on the other hand, saw myself evolving into a career professional; taking the news media world by storm, traveling internationally (Nikon in hand), changing plans and planes as assignments dictated. I wasn’t sure I was entirely ready to slow down, get married, or start a family. Yet the more time I spent with Jared, the more real his “simple” goals seemed and the more I wanted to be part of that vision.
To the shock of many, I said, “Are you kidding? Yes,” when he proposed. The next week I resigned from my job, since we had agreed that I needed time to transition away, and we were married a few short months later. It was a whirlwind of an engagement for me as it was my last semester before graduating from college. We were married on April 29, 1994 and I graduated in May.
Nine months later our first daughter, Avalon, was born and she brought a joy into Jared’s life that he never before knew was possible. We worked hard and creatively to establish our little family. Jared worked full-time in the IT department of a large aerospace company while attending school full time through an extension program at the University of Redlands. I was a full-time Mom, learning to change a diaper for the first time, reading up on any parenting article I could, and calling my Mom when I needed help. We were busy, but happy and I was grateful for the detour my life had taken.
Soon I was pregnant with our second daughter, Wrigley. We were excited to be building our family, I was getting used to motherhood and had started a small publishing business out of my home, to keep my writing and design skills honed. Life was moving along quickly and well.
After Wrigley was born, Jared graduated from college and I surprised him with a 3 week trip to France and Italy as his graduation present. He was grateful, excited and thrilled to be going back. He immediately started making calls to share the news overseas. It was a dream come true!
About a week before we left for Europe, Jared noticed a bump on the side of his neck. He kept talking about it and we both discounted it until I finally told him to go in and see what our family doctor said. He did and the doctor prescribed antibiotics, believing it to be an inflamed lymph node from the last time Jared had been sick. Jared took his antibiotics and we left for our trip. It was a magical time.
When we returned to the states, Jared went to see the doctor again as the bump seemed to be increasing in size. His doctor referred him to a specialist for an ultrasound and we went to the appointment a few days later. On exam, the ultrasound tech mentioned that Jared was lucky that it was not anything serious, saying he was ruling out scleroderma, and that it looked more like Hodgkin’s Disease.
We walked out clueless, but unconcerned. I remember calling my mom from the elevator and asking if she knew what Hodgkin’s Disease was and hearing the phone go quiet. She related that one of our long-time family friends had had it as a teenager but that it hadn’t affected his life much since. We weren’t worried and went out to dinner.
The next day Jared received a call from an unknown doctor’s office requesting an appointment. Knowing that it was way too soon for test results to have come back, I dug a little and found out that the doctor was an oncologist. Something seemed strange, so I asked Jared to stop by our doctor’s office and ask why we had gotten the call, thinking maybe it was a scam.
We met at the doctors office, but since Jared didn’t have an appointment and was told to wait a few minutes, I decided to drop the girls off at grandma’s house. I returned to the office just after Jared walked in and found Jared sitting across from our doctor, who was in tears. He was telling Jared that he had cancer, a specific type called Hodgkin’s Disease, which explained why the oncologist office had called us so quickly. Apparently insurance authorization procedures resulted in our doctor receiving the news minutes before Jared walked into the office, though the oncologist referral had been granted that morning.
We were stunned and not sure what to expect at the next morning’s appointment with the oncologist. Once there we were told there was a 97% cure rate for Hodgkin’s Disease and that we would look back upon this time as a “speed-bump” in our lives.
The years that followed were filled with doctor appointments, conventional and experimental treatments, and in 1998 we finally received the news that Jared was in remission.
We threw a huge party. We decided to have another child. Jared interviewed for a new, better job. We were ready to move on and forward with our lives and we gave thanks.
Three months later we discovered that remission can be “loosely” interpreted. A follow-up scan showed that the cancer had returned, with a vengeance. Surgery was ordered, treatment was resumed, and eventually we were referred to the City of Hope. Jared checked into the City of Hope for a bone marrow biopsy an hour and a half after our third daughter, Autry, was born in January, 1999.
Bone marrow and stem cell transplants, isolation units, chemotherapy, and radiation all whirled into our world once again. Expensive vitamins, raw foods and dried mushrooms, yoga and Tai Chi, European cure-alls, macrobiotic counselors, chiropractors, shaman, fasting and prayer were all embraced as well. We literally tried everything. However, it wasn’t meant to be.
Jared had lived his life, fulfilled his goals, battled to maintain health and passed away in 2001, at 32 years old. The brass plaque at his grave reads, “Adored husband, father, son, brother and friend – You learned, you taught. You laughed, you loved. You served, you inspired.” It contains the handprints of his three young daughters, reminding all who see it the simplicity of what was most important to Jared. His legacy was his family.
I am grateful for the simple truths Jared brought into my life. He lived a lifetime of service and taught me that gratitude for small things makes life sweet and worthwhile. On a daily basis he made a difference in the lives of those who knew him and his simple acts continue to touch the lives of many. His example inspires me to do and be more, and to give thanks every day.