October 2, 2014

Every Day is a Bonus

Meet Matt Jahn.

Matt is the father of a Friends’ School third grader. Twenty three years ago, on a day that changed his life forever, Matt’s name appeared in the Baltimore Sun:

Dateline: February 8th, 1991.  An Ellicott City couple on their way back to Maryland were killed yesterday morning when their twin-engine plane crashed into a farmer’s field shortly after takeoff.  Their 7-year old son Matthew was in serious condition at University Hospital. After Mr Jahn, the pilot, took off, he circled the plane over Skaneateles Lake in an attempt to return to the airport because of poor visibility and rain. The twin-engine Beechcraft Seneca 2 apparently struck a tree and then crashed.  The family had been visiting Auburn, NY, to attend the funeral of Mrs Jahn’s uncle. Police said that Matthew was thrown from the wreckage.

Matt woke up at the hospital two days later.  His sister Margaret had not accompanied the rest of the family on the trip, staying instead with her grandparents. In second grade, Matt had become an orphan.  He and his sister were taken in by an uncle and aunt, whom he had only met once before. They moved half way across the country to Chicago, away from the world he knew.

Fast forward to today.  Matt’s son Kenny is in Tyler’s 3rd grade class. Kenny is now older than Matt was when he lost his parents. The way Matt sees it, every day that he has with Kenny from this point forward is a bonus.

After graduating high school, Matt moved to the Boulder area and ran a pizza business for eleven years.  He never went to college.  Until recently.  This spring, Matt will have an associate’s degree in education from Front Range Community College.  His plan is to transfer to a four year school to gain
Matt with his parents and sister a few months
before they passed away
a B.A. in education. He wants to be a middle school science teacher. He did part of his teaching practicum at Friends’ last year, volunteering in P.E.

Matt’s story is an amazing one.  He shared a snippet of it with me on the playground one day after school.  I was so intrigued that I asked him if I could learn more and share his story with our school community.

I was touched by his story of the plane crash and losing his parents. But more than that, I was particularly impressed by what he told me about how fortunate he feels to be a parent and to watch Kenny grow - as well as his goal to go back to school to become a teacher.  It helped remind me, as a parent, to remember how important this time is - the little stuff and the big stuff.

Matt tells me he is proud of who he is. “My story is part of who I am and why I am the person I am today. You are more than welcome to share it, I am an open book.”

Matt sees school as incredibly important. When he first visited Friends’ he saw people, adults and children alike, who were happy and excited to be in school. He witnessed compassion and a community that cared for each other deeply.  And he wanted that for his son.  Kenny is thriving in third grade, a happy and excited learner.  Matt hopes to instill that same love of learning in his middle school science students one day. He was amazed last month when Kenny woke up on Labor Day Monday, bummed because he was going to miss a day of school.

As a child Matt faced unimaginable tragedy.  Unimaginable, but not unbearable.  He figured out that he had a choice.  He could view his circumstance as an excuse to hide from the world or to turn bitter.  Or he could choose to see it as an opportunity to live the full life that he knew his parents would want him to live.
Losing his parents at such a young age has helped him to understand the importance of his role as a parent, and the importance of a great school community for his small family. He knows he can’t let challenges intimidate him – challenges simply motivate him to reach for the next accomplishment.

Matt says that, somewhere up there, his parents are clinking their glasses, looking down in approval. He firmly believes in the saying:

Yesterday’s history
Tomorrow’s a mystery
Today’s a gift

A family like this is a gift to all of us. Thanks, Matt, for being willing to share your story. I know I will appreciate every moment of parenting a little bit more because of you.


shelpaw said...

WOW! That is such a powerful story...my hair stood on end! It is such a great reminder that everyone who comes through the door has a story to tell. In our everyday interactions, we might not have an opportunity to learn about them, but just this once..we did.

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

It's very generous to share this story and inspirational. Thanks.