I read recently about the two kinds of people who help you through trauma: the firefighters and the builders.
The firefighters come in quickly, get you out of whatever jam you’re in and help you deal with the immediate crisis. The builders come in a bit later. They do the restoration work, helping you start anew.
It’s a rare thing to find someone, a friend, who is both.
The community lost one of those rare people earlier this week when it lost Jan Van Til to cancer.
I saw her rare gifts of friendship and love firsthand in my own life, extended to me because of her half-century friendship with my mother, her college roommate.
I finished college. I have a rewarding job in a community I care deeply about. I married a good man. All of this was because of my mother’s friendship with Jan.
She was a willing and cheerful instrument of God’s love, Jesus-with-skin-on, a woman who was willing to walk alongside our family during our most difficult times and cheer us on.
She was so committed to that friendship, to whatever is whispered between college roommates, to enact that verse in the Book of Ruth – Where you go, I go – that she opened her home to me for years.
When I dropped out of college in 1994, 18 months before I was to graduate, I honestly never thought I’d go back. At home, things weren’t well. Our family’s survival was in doubt. Our future, and specifically my future, became, for reasons unknown, a concern specifically to Jan.
She was adamant I go back to school and did whatever she could to make it happen.
There’s a Taylor campus in Fort Wayne, she said. She’s going there. She’s living with us.
In the late 1990s I lived in their home until I finished school. I never worked. I never paid a cent in rent or bought any food. I never ever felt like anything less than one of their own. There was nothing I needed more than that, right then.
I moved back in with them for another six months after getting hired at the Journal in 2002. I was now Rebecca S. Green, but every night I’d come home and Jan would be there on the sofa ready to ask: What’d ya do today, Becky? She was one of the last people allowed to call me Becky.
As my life here grew, the times I saw her and her husband diminished. One of the last times was at my wedding a year ago.
The photographer took a picture of her and my mother, laughing and hugging as old friends do. I remember being so filled with gratitude for all that she did for us.
I owe her everything.