One Warm Coat…Two Changed Lives

<Warning: This post has nothing to do with technology, information security, or anything else I normally blog about>

This post is dedicated to the memory of Stephanie Renee Fong

When I was in my early 20s I met a young women named Stephanie, we quickly grew very close. Stephanie was special to me in many ways, but most of all she always seemed to provide me so much warmth and comfort.

One winter she had bought me this really cool warm coat, she ended up wearing the coat most of the time to the point that the coat smelled like her…which always brought a smile to my face.

Stephanie was allergic to legumes and also suffered from Asthma, which required her to use a special prescription inhaler. I never realized the extent that allergies can impact us until one day in August 1994. Some friends were planning a camping trip the next day, so Stephanie and I had planned to spend the evening together. I hadn’t heard from her most of the day and even called her work a couple of times to no avail. For some reason I was experiencing a little more angst than the situation seemed to warrant. I finally called her work and spoke with her boss who said “I’m sorry, something happened to Stephanie, the EMTs took her to Alta Bates a couple of hours ago…”

I hurriedly called Alta Bates and spoke with a nurse “listen, I don’t know what happened, but my fiance was brought into the ER at Alta Bates recently and I want to know how she is” after what seemed like an eternity I heard Stephanie’s mom’s voice on the other end of the line “Amrit. I’m sorry…Stephanie is dead” I rushed to the hospital and was given one final opportunity to say good-bye.  Tubes and wires were all over the place, they had tried hard to save her, but ultimately…silence… what was left was a cold, lifeless, uninhabited shell.

It felt like the Universe, that God – if he existed, had just reached into my chest and ripped out my heart.

Eventually time does soften the pain and heal the wounds. I moved on with my life. I married, had two wonderful kids, but I spent many years battling demons in the darkness of my own private hell.

I held on to the coat Stephanie gave me for almost 2 decades. It still had the smell of her, although fainter.

A couple of years ago my company was participating in the Bay Area warm coat program (here) and I finally felt the peace I needed to free this part of my life. I gave Stephanie’s coat to the warm coat drive and finally said good-bye.

Last year my kids and I were volunteering with World Impact (here) to help prepare meals and feed the hungry, poor, and homeless in Oakland. During the day we started to fellowship with folks and as we walked outside there was an older man in a wheel chair with the most radiant smile, but what really caught my eye was his coat…the coat, it was Stephanie’s coat.

I sat and talked with him, I really wanted to hear his story. Tragic one indeed, he had been robbed and shot, which resulted in him being confined to a wheel chair. He was unable to work and relied on support from the state and others. This man never complained, he never acted like a victim or regretted whom he was or what he had been through.

I told him that I once had a coat like the one he was wearing, I didn’t mention that it was actually that exact coat. He replied that this “blessed” coat, as he called it, was given to him from the warm coat organization and then he said. “This coat saved my life through a very cold winter, I will always be grateful for the kindness of those who haven’t forgotten that we are all the same”

Many of us want to ask God why he allows so much suffering in the world, how will you respond when he asks you the same question?

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10 thoughts on “One Warm Coat…Two Changed Lives

  1. Amrit, all I can say is WOW! God does work in weird and wonderful ways sometimes to let us know that not only is He there but that He really does care about us.

  2. Dear Amrit, This morning when I checked my One Warm Coat inbox, your extraordinary story was there! It is rare that we are offered the opportunity to see a blessing of this kind come full circle, but I have to think that it is more and more possible as individuals like you and your family members work “on the ground” to share your bounty with people in your neighborhoods. Coat drives organized through One Warm Coat are meant to provide a means for caring people to touch the lives of their neighbors in meaningful ways. We are happy to have learned of the work you’ve been doing – and of the warmth that Stephanie’s coat continues to bring. – Sybil, One Warm Coat Community Outreach

  3. Your story really touched me… I wish there were more people that would have such a warm heart to help others in need. : ) I am sorry to hear of your loss. I have experienced a simaliar loss and I know how it feels. Hopefully everyone that read this entry will ask the same question: “what have I done to stop the suffering in this world”?!?!

  4. Thanks for sharing Amrit, it’s a very touching story. Been thinking about it for a while but I’m going to go commit to sponsor someone’s education in Thailand. I already have too much, and I think it will be much more rewarding to give a little than to spend the same money on something I can easily do without.

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