I met Jonathan for the first time in early 2011. After Judy's death I had somehow reconnected with my (almost) lifelong friend Sabine. I hadn't known (or had only marginally registered in our sparse Christmas and birthday communications over the years) that she was a single mother, bringing up a dark-haired, scrawny kid with an infectious smile. His name had been inspired by the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a short book that had lasting impact on Sabine. A fitting name, as it should turn out.
As a 12-year-old growing up only with his mom, Jona was understandably shy toward this man who occasionally would drop in from some far-away country for a few weeks; for all of his already-remarkable skills having to do with electronics and computers, Jona had no inkling about geography. He was much more concerned about tinkering with his soldering iron and transistors and odd-looking hardware to build some electronic contraption or other. His favorite "book" was certainly not a world atlas (alas, had I loved my Diercke Weltatlass, as had Sabine!) but rather the Conrad Electronics mail-order catalog, chock full of everything a young Ben Franklin could desire.
I am sorry that I have missed those first twelve years of Jona's life completely, but Sabine told me many, many stories about how she, the hands-on, DIY landscape architect spent all that quality mother-on-son time instilling in Jona love for experimentation, courage to take risks, and appreciation for natural beauty as well as human-created masterworks. So when I met him at age 12, all the foundations had long been laid.
Jona gradually lost his shyness toward me, quite likely because I approached him not like a kid (or worse, my kid!) but as a young friend with whom I would speak frankly and seriously but with whom I would also gang up in some practical joke on his mom. (Jona back then saw his dad every four to six weeks, depending on the school schedule, and to this day they share vacation time going on skiing, scuba-diving, and sailing trips together.) For Jona, I was that cool guy who'd show up and make his mom feel more relaxed than when they were living their usual life. I think he still occasionally thinks of me as "cool" or whatever the current word is, even though I am old enough to be his grandfather. And his mom is just two years younger than I, so it's hard to admit for him that she actually is a damn cool mom. To acknowledge that is just not cool.
Jonathan is what is sometimes labeled a "super-taster." If I cooked and added a tiny bit of pepper he would not eat that part of the meal. Sneaking ingredients past him that were not to his liking was nearly impossible. Spicy foods? Forget it. For a few years he was on a semi-vegetarian trip; thank goodness, that somehow dissolved itself. But natural curiosity, a willingness to at least try something unfamiliar, and my steady importation of Mexican foodstuffs and spices--plus watching me in the kitchen and learnin how to chop garlic--slowly changed all of that. He has an impeccable palate, loves to try new wines, and cooks up a storm when his buddies come over, leaving the small kitchen ashambles. And he mixes unbelievable cocktails!
For a few years, Jona's preoccupation with computers and electronics, his loving math and information technology in school, his total disinterest in sports (apart from skiing in winter) made Sabine, and me, wonder whether he might grow up to become some nerdy loner who'd spend the rest of his life programming computer games. Well, were we ever wrong! The kid has grown into a social butterfly who is well-connected not only with peers his own age but who has created relationships with young university students thanks to his thespian involvement (who would have ever thought that he would rip off his shirt on stage while playing a gigolo, and making the audience exhale in an audible way?) as well as his wide-ranging "adult" contacts. One such example, a school project designed to help young refugees in his hometown of Freising, led him to meet numerous Bavarian politicians, from mayors to ministers, while leading this group project that involved direct contact with those young individuals displaced by war.
Trying to emulate his longtime idol, 007 aka Mr. Bond, James Bond, Jona strives to be suave and worldly. Admittedly, there have been times when this went a bit overboard, but what kid does not search for that identity, that who-am-I? Does a boy really have to spend 35 minutes coiffing his hair, every morning? Apparently. Sabine and I grew up during a different time back in the '70s when neither young women nor men paid much attention to their appearance. Back then, nobody had an inkling what a selfie might be, an outlet that Jona certainly has adeptly adopted, not only with his cell phone but also with his DSLR.
And that brings us to the last point of this unconventional Happy Birthday wish: Jonathan's undeniable ability, imagination, and understanding of photography. Sabine most certainly was the catalyst as she exposed him even as a toddler to art works, in print or in real life. She shared her love of nature with him, and his preoccupation with computers and photo-editing software played another important role. But his creativity appears boundless, as he showed in a 10-day internship with a design company where he was given free reign to design several book covers. I was floored. It'd be easy to continue gushing about his various skills and abilities, but I don't want him to get a big head. Instead, I will end these words with my very sincerest wishes not only for your 18th birthday but also for this rich life that lies ahead of you, dear Jonathan--you alone hold the keys to whichever doors you want to open! Don't squander the opportunity but continue to explore and enjoy and love life! And for the rest of us, here's a short sampling of Jonathan P. Voß' amazing portfolio of original drawings, photography, and collages. Enjoy!