A Matt Hasselbeck Moment

One of the things about getting older is that you live long enough for things to come full circle. Years pass. Seasons come and go. Things that happened once tend to happen again. And this past weekend one of those moments came alon.

First a piece of history, one some of you may have read about before. My son-in-law, Jon Jance (Yes, he took our daughter’s name when they married.) waged a valiant nine-year battle with malignant melanoma. During the last grim months of his life, one of the few bright spost came in the form of the guy who was the Seattle Seahawks’s star quarterback at the time, Matt Hasselbeck.

Jon served two tours of duty with the US Marines in the Middle East during Desert Storm. After that he joined the US Coast Guard where he remained on active duty until four months before his death. While he was hospitalized at the University of Washington Hospital (We call that U-Dub Hospital around here!) someone with connections to both the Seahawks and the Coast Guard made arrangements for Matt Hasselbeck to come do a hospital visit.

It was supposed to be a half hour photo op moment. Instead, it turned into an incredibly uplifting two fulls hours, a highlight of Jon’s last months. Matt showed up with an autographed football and a pair of cleats for Jon’s son, Colt, who was only eight months old at the time. Yes, photos were taken, of Matt and Jon and Colt. But there were also photos of Jon’s doctors and nurses. Then Matt stayed on in Jon’s room for the next hour and a half, talking about sports, faith, and family. When Matt left, Jon was absolutely beaming, and that glow stayed with him to the end.

Two years later Matt and another Seahawk were doing an appearance at Joint Base Lewis McChord. My daughter, now a military widow, was there on a shopping trip to the PX to stretch her budget. Since Matt was on the scene, she hitched Colt to her hip and got in line. The handlers went up and down the line, saying it was a photo op only. Get up there, get your photo, and then get the heck out of the way. When she approached Matt, she began, “I don’t know if you remember me, but …”

“Of course, I remember you,” he said, “and look how much your boy has grown.”

Matt hadn’t phoned in that hospital visit. He had meant it. He was there, and he hadn’t forgotten. And our family owes him a huge debt of gratitude, one I attempt to repay from time to time. And this past weekend was one of those times.

I was in Santa Ana for a writers conference called Women of Intrigue. Visiting participants were housed at the local Embassy Suites. On Saturday night, I went to the front desk to make sure they had my Hilton Honors number. The confusion stemmed from the fact my listing was under J.A. Jance rather than Judith. “

Oh,” I said to Amy, the young woman behind the desk, “they have me under my pen name rather than my real name.”

“I know,” Amy replied, fanning her face and coming to fainting. “I’ve been reading your books for years!”

Amy was a real fan—a genuine fan, someone who was incredibly excited to meet me. A little while later, when the group was gathered for a pre-conference dinner, she came into the room to check on some detail. I was at the far end of the table in a very noisy, hard-surfaced room, so I didn’t hear what was said, but the next day, at the conference, there Amy was. Somehow or another, during that dinner conversation, the powers that be at the conference had learned that Amy was a would-be writer and had invited her to attend.

During the conference luncheon, the place next to mine happened to be empty, so I invited Amy to come sit with me. During the course of the luncheon, I learned that in addition to working long hours at the hotel, she is also caring for her mother who has now been given not one but two separate cancer diagnoses. So that Sunday writer’s conference was an incredible gift to her—a place where she didn’t have to be at work and where she didn’t have to be a caregiver. All she had to do was be there, listening to people who are doing the job she has always dreamed of doing herself.

By going there to pursue her dream, Amy had a chance to visit with one of her heroes—who, I’m happy to say, just happened to me yours truly. I’m sure it’s as unlikely an outcome for her as it was for me to meet and become friends with two of my heroes—Janis Ian and Joe Kenda. It was also every bit as unlikely as it was for Jon Jance to have a chance to meet and visit with Matt Hasselbeck.

And you know what? My visiting with Amy may have helped to pay back the debt our family owes to Matt, but believe me, it was only a drop in a very large bucket—and the closing of another one of life’s incredibly amazing circles.