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Wealth Lessons from Ten-Year-Old Joshua

This spring ten years ago we (my wife Valerie I should say), gave birth to our son: Joshua James Pool. We had no idea until seconds after he was born that he was anything more than a normal, healthy baby boy.  Shortly after he arrived, however, we knew something was amiss. As it turned out, we were in for an unexpected lesson on life and wealth in the form of a frightening diagnosis: Down syndrome.

Joshua came out blue, and would not change to a more normal pinkish tone.  The doctors and nurses, also unaware of his disability, were fretting about trying to help him breathe.  After what seemed like hours they surrendered him to the confines of an oxygen tent.

Then things were a bit of a blur as he was rushed via ambulance to the Legacy Emanuel Hospital where he stayed in intensive care for the next two weeks. Upon our arrival there we were greeted by a host of medical workers and staff. Cardiologists, geneticists, social workers, therapists, were all among them. Dr King, a well respected cardiologist, soon diagnosed Josh with a major heart defect that would require open heart surgery when Josh was about 3 months old, followed by another two weeks in the ICU.

As difficult as that period was for me, Valerie, and our eldest daughter Kayla, then two years old, I found myself encouraged by the words of the geneticist who greeted us that first day at Legacy.  He said, “Consider yourselves blessed. You could come into my office most any day and see kids who will never walk, talk, or express even the slightest emotion. But you have been granted a son who can play, run, cry, laugh, and love. Things you should not forget.”

Ten years later, I look back and realize he was right. We knew little of Down syndrome at the time, and I still wish we knew more, but as I reflect on that day now more than 10 years ago, I can truthfully mark it as one that has delivered to our family tremendous blessings as well as challenges.

Today Josh is truly a boy. His heart healed remarkably, and he hasn’t seen a cardiologist in years. He runs across our property (did I mention we live on small acreage in Camas?) being chased by our Yellow Lab as they both seem to be having a grand time just running. He wrestles on the floor with his dad with reckless abandon, a wry smile, and an occasional banshee yell.

Socially there is no question that at first Josh does not appear to be a normal boy. He has difficulty speaking; he has weak muscle tone, and has the general appearance of a Down child. But he also has the uncanny ability to make friends with just about anyone, instantly. I remember being a bit embarrassed when he was small enough to fit in the shopping cart at the grocery store that as we shopped he would make a point to say “Hi!” to every shopper we passed, with a huge grin on his face.

These days Josh doesn’t greet people with a hand shake accompanied by, “Hi, how are you?” He greets his friends, and sometimes strangers, with broad hug and a genuine smile.

So why post in a mostly financial blog about a kid with Down syndrome? Actually I’m not sure frankly, except I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I can see now that Joshua has certainly taught me a couple of things over the last decade. We talk often about how wealth means far more than just your bank account. Josh has shown me unlike anyone else the living, breathing, goofy embodiment of exactly what that sentiment means. The first lesson he’s taught me is about the pure enjoyment of life in the moment. In a world of stress about world events, money, performance and the future in general, he reminds me about the pure contentment of simply being alive and joyful in the current environment most all of the time. That is, unless you take his food away, but I suppose we can all identify with that!

The other thing I’ve learned from Josh is perspective. I’ve noticed that at times things don’t turn out the way I expect. Imagine that! Yet even when times feel like the walls are collapsing around me, with the help of Josh’s perspective, I can often turn that moment into a small piece of a much bigger picture that offers many blessings. That is, when you view it through the eyes of my son.

Perhaps we all can learn about true wealth from Josh.