The Miracle of Jay-Jay

Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.

Jeanne Moreau

“He doesn’t look like the other boys,” Grandpa said as he viewed the blanketed bundle I held in my arms. He was right. James Ryan, whom we called Jay-Jay, with his skinny little legs, almost bald head, and tiny, slanted eyes, bore little resemblance to my other chubby babies with their full heads of hair. But I knew the comment went far beyond looks. Grandpa couldn’t accept the fact that Jay-Jay had Down syndrome and had mental retardation.

On subsequent visits, Pa-Pa, the name the other children used for their grandpa, ignored Jay-Jay. He picked him up once at a family reunion when it seemed to be expected for a family picture. Other than that, he never touched him, and looked upon him with something between pity and displeasure.

Then, one day, a miracle began. We were once again at a family reunion, and Jay-Jay, being the outgoing little boy he was at three years old, walked over to his grandpa and crawled onto his lap. Pa-Pa was a little shocked, but what could he do in front of all these people? This was his grandson. How could they understand that he hardly knew Jay-Jay?

Jay-Jay took his grandpa’s glasses out of his shirt pocket and placed them on his own face, upside-down, precariously perched on his short, pudgy nose. He looked at Pa-Pa and giggled, making Pa-Pa laugh, too. Soon, they were walking around the room, Jay-Jay leading Pa-Pa, a little smile on the older one’s face.

Their next encounter came months later when Pa-Pa decided to visit. Jay-Jay played the clown, making his grandpa laugh, and pick him up and throw him into the air.

Pa-Pa turned to my husband and said, “Why, he’s just like any other kid.”

We had tried to tell him, but Pa-Pa’s preconceived ideas and fears of the disabled had kept him out of his grandson’s life. But Jay-Jay, being an effervescent little boy, would not let him remain in darkness. With his love and actions, he showed Pa-Pa and others that they were missing out on some of God’s greatest blessings by not loving and caring for him.

After that day, a strong bond began to form. Pa-Pa found that Jay-Jay loved balloons and would have one waiting for him each time we came to visit–visits he now welcomed. Then he discovered that Jay-Jay was not only sweet, but ornery, and he loved pillow fights. So each visit would end up with pillows flying across the room. I never figured out which of the two enjoyed it most. Soon Pa-Pa began to telephone–supposedly to talk to my husband, who was now glowing in the new relationship between his father and son–but always insisting on speaking to his youngest grandson.

Although Jay-Jay has a severe speech articulation disorder, he can understand most of what is said to him. Yet he finds it difficult to form the words he wants to say, making communication difficult. Nevertheless, Pa-Pa always wanted to speak to him by phone, and Jay-Jay would laugh and talk in words that neither his dad nor I understood. Pa-Pa swore he understood every word.

The phone chats became a weekly ritual. Every Saturday morning, Jay-Jay knew it was the day to talk to Pa-Pa. Since it was long distance, they took turns calling. One week, Pa-Pa would call. The next week, all excited, Jay-Jay would make the call and talk until we made him hang up.

Through the years, Jay, as he is called today, and Pa-Pa continued those weekly phone calls, along with letters, cards, fishing trips, and frequent trips to Wal-Mart. They became “best buddies.”

When Jay was nineteen, his beloved Pa-Pa died unexpectedly. One of the hardest days of my life was watching Jay stand at his Pa-Pa’s graveside as he was presented the American flag that draped the casket. But one of the things I cherish most is knowing that Jay’s unconditional love built a bridge to his grandfather’s heart and changed both of their worlds forever.

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