At a private lake in upstate New York on Labor Day weekend two years ago, I was relaxing in a reclining chair, looking out at the perpetual sun-kissed waves glistening beyond beauty, when a stranger stepped into the water and proceeded to walk further out, until it was deep enough to dive in.
When his head and shoulders emerged to the surface, I asked, "How’s the water?"
We began to make small talk, but before long, we were conversing as if we’d known each other all our lives. Through my sunglasses, I saw a good-looking guy with a beard and thick, wavy hair treading water and talking about almost everything under the sun.
In the course of our lengthy conversation, I listened to a gentle soul, a pensive philosopher, an optimistic dreamer and a visionary — someone who made Psalm 23:1-3 seem so relevant: "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul."
As the afternoon’s sunlight cast an illustrious shine on the lake, his persona and demeanor reminded me of an apostle of Christ.
There was something divinely remarkable about seeing Jonathan Pratt in the tranquil waters amidst the green pastures and rolling hills beginning to burst with autumn colors. As he waded in the lake, and I sat comfortably in my chair, I told Jonathan I would love to spend my spare time writing — and what better place than the serenity of a picturesque lake for a writer to create.
A week later, my dearest friend, Ann, came to the lake with me. While chatting nonstop, we were mesmerized by the "dancing angels" created by the constant flow of waves appearing to shoot sparkles of light. The shining rays of the sun upon the lake brought back a striking image of Jonathan in the water. "What a beautiful soul," I said, sharing with Ann the story of meeting him. I joked I had met an apostle of Christ in the exact location she and I convened. I also shared my inspiration to write a musical about the story of the resurrection of Christ, "a show that continues where Jesus Christ Superstar ends," I explained.
Eight days later, I randomly perused the website of my local newspaper and saw Jonathan’s picture next to a heartbreaking headline.
My heart sank. I immediately sent a text message to Ann about the shocking news and asked her to join me in prayer.
Jonathan, 35, and one of his best friends, Joseph Dirig, had been crossing a well-lit street at night when they fell victims to a hit-and-run driver. Jonathan was killed on impact; Joseph was severely injured. The driver pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and assault.
Something within me was so deeply touched and saddened by the sudden death of Jonathan — so much so that I felt compelled to attend the calling hours at the funeral home, where I met his parents, Constance and James Pratt of Binghamton, N.Y., and family members. The next day, I attended the funeral Mass, where Father Thomas Ward of the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., chose to read the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection because of its message of hope, he said.
Hearing the Resurrection narrative filled me with hope and the assurance to follow through on something I aspired to write about.
A few days after the funeral, more astonishing news came to my attention: Ann told me the grandson of a mutual friend of ours had witnessed the hit-and-run. This news was paradoxically flabbergasting. To think I met Jonathan on a glorious summer day, in his prime, exuberantly sharing his love of life, while my friend’s grandson, Anthony Scordino, witnessed the horrific accident that took Jonathan’s life.
The significance of life and how one chooses to live is a legacy Jonathan left behind in The Love and Purpose Manifesto, a book published by his parents in 2013. The book explores the ideas of life fulfillment and love rooted in God.
"Jonathan had, I think, an awareness of his own dignity and how important life is," said Father Ward. "His passing, as tragic as it was, shows us the dignity of the human person is in eternity after living a life that honors the great design of God. Each soul, each person, is filled with that eternal dignity."
Two years ago, when Jonathan made his way into the refreshing lake, I could have chosen to ignore him. If I had, I may never have realized a dream inside my heart existed to write a musical, let alone to follow through with the impulse.
I didn’t know then that I would be able to say today I have finished writing the first act of a musical that takes place during the resurrection of Christ and that I am in the process of work-shopping the show with a full piano score and cast, with the hope of a future live stage production.
Furthermore, and quite astoundingly, when Jonathan asked me, "What would you write about?" who would have guessed that it would be him?
What if Anthony Scordino had chosen not to respond to what he had witnessed? Like a Good Samaritan, he chose to hold hands with survivor Joseph Dirig during a dark hour until emergency paramedics arrived at the scene.
Although the two young men have not connected since the accident, perhaps destiny holds promise for that purpose. "I would love to at least meet him and shake his hand once in my life," said Anthony.
Dirig, for his part, keeps Jonathan’s legacy alive by being Christlike: "If Jon were alive today, I would want him to know what a huge and positive impact he has had on my life. He offered inspiration when I needed it and an understanding ear when I needed that instead. He was a truly wonderful and unique person who profoundly touched more people in the short time he spent on this earth than most people do in their longer lifetimes. I was unbelievably lucky to have known him. And if I can inspire just one person — if I can show even just one person a fraction of the compassion and priority he gave everyone in his life — I would consider it a huge accomplishment."
Lori Dayton writes from
Binghamton, New York.
The Purpose and Love Manifesto is available at Amazon.com.