“I know you’d want to know that Jesse passed away this morning,” read the text message from my ex-husband, Keith. It started me on a long trip down memory lane last week. And, it eventually reminded me that God has a plan to prosper us.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Jesse and his wife, Eva, were the first friends we made when we moved to Alaska back in 1972. We were all young and invincible—until we suddenly realized we weren’t.
Keith and Jesse met as co-working “tire-busters” at the J.C. Penney auto shop in Anchorage. I went from being a maid at the Anchorage Westward Hotel to insurance report editor, and Eva was a lightning-fast key-punch operator. We rode our motorcycles together, broke bread together, stayed up through the long nights playing pool at area bars with another “tire-buster” friend, Joe. We enjoyed our carefree youth together.
Eventually, Jesse was able to land a job in construction of the North Slope’s Alaska Pipeline by lying about how he could drive heavy equipment. A quick learner, he was soon driving oil-fueling rigs to equipment up and down the haul road for 9-week stretches of time away from home. He was making big bucks on the Slope working as a Teamster. Keith became an Alaska State Trooper, making in a month what Jesse made in a week. We continued having lots of fun together on Jesse’s 2-week breaks at home. Everything changed on March 7, 1977.
On that day, Jesse and Joe drove up to our home in Trapper Creek for a day of outdoor fun with us. Keith and I often rode our Yamaha 440 snowmachines for hours through vast expanses of rural woods, trails, farms, and backroads in that part of Interior Alaska. That particular day, though, Jesse and I decided to cross-country ski with our cameras while Keith and Joe tore around through the deep snow on the snowmachines. They hunted us down after an hour or so to tell us they thought we might like to photograph them taking some jumps up the lip of a nearby gravel pit. Sounded exciting, and we skied off to position ourselves for great shots. After watching them make a half-dozen jumps in the deep snow, we could see that they always landed in the same spot. Feeling safe, Jesse crouched between their landing spots so he could shoot up at the undercarriage as they careened up and over. I positioned myself at the lip, signaling to Jesse when they arrived at the lip so he could get ready for the perfect picture. Okay, in retrospect, it’s easy to see how innocent and stupid we were….
Anyway, Jesse got some great shots in the first couple of leaps. But, then, Joe’s machine inexplicably veered off-course up the lip and struck Jesse. When I reached him, Jesse was immobile and face-down in the deep snow. I knew basic treatment as I had just one week left before finishing my EMT-I certification. As carefully as we could, we flipped his limp body over, and I started CPR protocol with deep breaths. Thank God that Jesse started breathing again, as his diaphragm had been temporarily paralyzed along with the lower half of his body. I’ve relived that day enumerable times, including: the Army’s Jolly-Green Giant flying into that gravel pit to safely transport Jesse to the hospital in Anchorage, our shock as we drove down to pick up Eva and deliver the awful news that Jesse was badly injured and couldn’t feel his legs, the long wait in the hospital….
But I told you this was a reminder that God has a plan to prosper us. It is. And He does.
After an excruciating year of healing, Jesse spent the rest of his life paralyzed from the waist down. For a reason he didn’t understand—since he was a young, healthy man, Jesse had recently purchased 100% medical coverage from the Teamsters. They ended up paying for all his medical and rehabilitation expenses, also providing him with a lifetime stipend. He wisely used their support to attend college until he earned his PhD. After years of intense study and work, Jesse became a world-renowned neuro-biologist specializing in research on regeneration of neural tissue. He traveled around the world speaking with other scientists on the topic, hoping to find a way to regenerate nerves. He also became well-known with physical therapy specialists for his mobility inventions for paralyzed people. He contributed to great advancements in care for physically challenged people. For example, he taught from what he called his “stand-up machine,” which had a built-in lectern and easy movement with hand controls. He could get out into the “tuley-puckers” on his hand-cranked ATV, because he knew he wasn’t the only paralyzed person who missed getting out into the woods. He purposefully didn’t design it with a battery, because he wanted people to feel that independence in their lives again and didn’t want anyone to be trapped in the woods with a dead battery. Now you see this type of equipment with regularity; they were rare as hen’s teeth back then. He worked to change access and laws for wheelchair-bound people. He also had a 20-year career of inspiring and teaching medical students at the University of Alaska while he continued his research work. Jesse was an amazing man!
From tire-buster to world-renowned scientist. God knows the plans He has for us. Before his accident, Jesse had never expressed an interest in medicine, in inventing, in reaching out to help others.
Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that the Word of the Lord came to him, saying, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart.” I think Jesse was also set apart like this.
I wrote this blog before the pandemic of COVID-19 coronavirus was declared. God offers encouraging words in this situation as well as ones that fit Jesse’s life.
Jesus has some uplifting words for us: “ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27, and “ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
My friend Jesse met his life’s challenges in a manner that I pray we all can: with hope and a drive to better ourselves and to help our fellow man. We can meet this pandemic challenge and other challenges in our lives if we keep God’s plans in our hearts: to give us hope and a future.
1 Peter 1:6 says to, “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.”