The first time I saw him, he was so frail. He was only a month old and his heart was so busy pumping blood through holes between its chambers that it was struggling to get enough of the life-giving fluid through the rest of his system. I wondered if he would die. I didn’t know he would help my family to get our priorities straight. I had no idea that he would teach me how to live. I was with my wife and my three sons, who aged from six down to two, when we met Jack at the adoption agency. Knowing that he would need open heart surgery at six months, we hoped for the best and decided that no matter how much time we had with him, we would make the most of it. That was nineteen years ago.
Jack has Down syndrome. He’s usually a pretty happy guy. He loves to make others laugh and he’s the first one to dry a tear. The thing I admire most about Jack is that he has his priorities straight. He lives for today. Every night when I come home, he asks me how my day was. If my response is positive, he gives me a “GOOD JOB, DAD!” along with a knuckle bump. On days when I respond to his query with a negative retort, he tells me he’s sorry and; “Try again tomorrow!” I’m convinced that if during this exchange I ever told Jack that it was the worst day ever, that we lost our ten biggest customers, and would be out of business within a month, that he would tell me he was sorry and then ask if I would like some ice cream. I could only see myself responding to that in one way; “Sure, buddy. Why not? While the credit card is still working, let’s go get some ice cream.”
It’s not just me. In our small mountain community, I’m known as Jack’s dad. Everyone who shops at our local grocery store knows Jack and it’s all the poor managers can do to keep the lines moving when customers visit with Jack as he bags their groceries. Actually, Jack is performing his dream job. I always envisioned him working in our family business where we could build a job around his abilities, but that isn’t what he wanted. Jack wanted to bag groceries. He always thought that was an awesome job. A kind manager who had his own priorities straight, made Jack’s dream a reality. Even so, there is not a customer who goes through Jack’s line whose day is not brightened.
Our high school track team decided to include any kids with Special Needs who wanted to participate on their team. Jack is one who was anxious to participate. We almost can’t get his track uniform off of him long enough to launder it. Just before a recent meet, Jack pepped up the team telling them to “Run fast and jump high!” Then he called them in for a team cheer. Later, during the meet, Wyatt Downing and Josiah Linkogle, two team members from a competing high school, gave up qualifying times to run side-by-side with my son until the end, when they allowed him to blow past them to secure fifth place in the seven person race. How’s that for high school kids who have their priorities straight?
Jack was elected Prom King at his Junior Prom and was first attendant at Homecoming. There is no doubt that my son has been surrounded by some very incredible and selfless people who love to see him shine. I will take nothing away from them and I would bow at their feet. Even so, Jack inspires others. Good people are at their best when they are with my son.
One of the things that my son does best is to help people get their priorities straight.
I have a friend whose workaholism makes mine look like a Kool-aid drinking problem. He has started, built up and sold off more businesses than I would care to count. He leads. He makes money. He builds people, leaders and businesses. Recently he called and asked if he could borrow Jack for a Saturday afternoon. When I asked what was up, he just told me that he was running on empty and needed his “Jack Fix.” From time to time, and mostly when he wants to remember the most important things in life, my friend picks up my son and they spend an afternoon or evening bringing out the best in each other. One of the things that my son does best is to help people to get their priorities straight.
Work and career are necessary. High performance in sports is admirable and can make the difference between a young person’s ability to pay for continuing education or not. Junior prom royalty should go to those whom we would expect to represent their class. Keeping our priorities straight usually doesn’t require throwing a race. But every once in a while, I am inspired by those who excel in body and mind when they break the rules and lift up someone who inspires them for reasons that they just can’t explain. Never does my son see further than when he stands on the shoulders of giants.
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