A species of talent

Matt and his Daddy, happy together from the very beginning, 1986.

Matt and his Daddy, happy together from the very beginning, 1986.

“…happiness is a species of talent, for which some people have superior aptitudes.”
George Will

Our younger son Matt was born with a rare genetic disorder that would not be diagnosed for many years, at which time there were only about six known cases in the world.  At birth, what we knew immediately was that he had a raggedy mess of a heart; four separate defects that would require repeated open heart surgeries for as long as he lives.  The need for surgery in infancy was balanced against the risk of undergoing such an extensive procedure on so tiny a baby, and the cardiologists waited as long as they could.  He had his first open heart surgery just before his first birthday.

Because of the limits on physical stamina his heart condition created (and also because of the developmental disability that goes along with the genetic disorder we did not yet know about) he was late with many of his milestones in infancy, but a few of them he reached quite early.  In particular, he began smiling what all witnesses agreed were genuine smiles at just one week old, and has not stopped smiling since.

Those smiles decorated countless photos taken in childhood, and continue into photos taken in adulthood.  The severe limitations of his physical heart were apparently compensated by heart of a different kind.  I can say honestly that I have never known a person more forgiving, more ready to love people and life itself, more gifted at the rare talent of happiness.  May we all value and imitate those who have this gift.


  1. What a beautiful and loving post you’ ve shared with us, and what a beautiful gift of a son you were given! You are right; every so often we witness someone who has a perpetual smile that flashes from the heart and touches all who bask in its glow. The photo captures that amazing gift and talent for happiness. He is surely a beacon to all who know him!

    • Thank you! I am so happy you like it. I have always had a “soft spot” for people with those megawatt smiles! I appreciate your visits here.

  2. The photo brings tears. You have described Matt to a tee. This is a truly beautiful post! May we all strive to be “more forgiving, more ready to love people and life itself, more gifted at the rare talent of happiness”. A big hug and thank you to Matt for being such a great example.

    • Thank you Carla! You and Matt are “kindred spirits” when it comes to being forgiving, loving and sunny! The two of you always end up laughing together!

  3. Fran Kettren

    He always has made me smile! The memories of his love for books (“Miss Fran, do you want to read with me?”), the huge hugs he would give Ladd Aaron while in the middle of playing, his sweet compliments to Whitney about her blonde hair, how he called our encyclopedias Big Ladd’s books because they were “big” and his wonderfully detailed retellings of Bible stories! His gift of happiness has blessed our family! 🙂

    • Thanks so much Fran, for bringing back some very precious memories. Ladd Aaron will always be special to us because he was Matt’s first real friend. And your family will always have a special place in our hearts for the wonderful times we shared. Thanks so much for being here!

  4. Ryan

    Here, here! Matt is one of the smiliest guys I know! I love this picture.

    • Ryan, you are pretty smiley yourself! Thanks for being here.

  5. Sherry

    Love, Love, Love this picture of Jeff and Matt! All who know Matt, know he is very talented! “Of such is the Kingdom of heaven”.

    • Thank you, Sherry!

  6. You are so blessed to have such an amazing, love in your life. So happy that you shared your son’s and family’s story. May he live a long life ~ showing all how to cherish our hearts and the hearts of others!

    • Thank you so much! I appreciate your visits here!

  7. Sheila

    Good Saturday morning,Julia. I love your words “heart of a different kind”. I have always sensed the love and pride that you have for both Matt and Drew. I’m sure they are “reflections” of their parents. Blessings to you, Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila! I am so grateful for your visits here, and your kind thoughts and words.

      • Sheila

        Matt’s smile,in this photo, is the same smile that I commented on when I read “A Little Nonsense” the first time. Just warms my heart!

        • Thanks Sheila, he does have a bright smile. Because his genetic disorder also included some upper and lower jaw abnormalities, he had to have orthognathic surgery following nearly 3 years of orthodontics when he was 13 years old. In some ways it was worse than the heart surgeries, in terms of having a very tough recovery period (all soft foods etc.), but now he is able to chew, speak and smile better, so hopefully it was worth it!

  8. I adore people who could smile easily because for me it’s hard. If I complain to God of something it’s for not giving me a natural smile. But your baby’s smile did bring a smile even on my face! My heart goes out to him. 🙂
    I am in awe of your attitude and strength. He is blessed to be your son. With prayers…

    • Thank you, Bindu! I have read that Queen Elizabeth II of England often says that she does not have an easy smile – so you are in good company! I am so happy Matt brought a smile to your face. I keep you and your family in my prayers, thanks so much for yours. They are being answered!

  9. Carlyle

    Julia, Of all your siblings, Al, in many ways is the tenderest and most emotional and he has always felt a particular attachment and affection for Matt. He will love that picture when he sees it.

    • Good, I am glad you can show it to him. It’s probably best that he doesn’t have a computer because I can imagine he might spend even more hours on it than the rest of us! He has always been very sweet to think of Matt. I have saved many things he has sent Matt in the mail over the years.

  10. Carolyn

    Love the picture and love that Matt. I enjoyed working with Jeff and having Matt around some of the time. You have a great family and I love you all. I’m happy that we had the chance to meet

    • Carolyn, we too are so happy for our time with you and your family. You were such a tremendous help to us and we will carry fond memories of you always.

  11. MaryAnn Clontz

    Julia, What a perfect description of “our” Matt! Right when I saw the photo, before I read your words, I thought: there is that brilliant smile of Matt’s that lights up the space where he is!!! What a joy bringer he is! I remember feeling so special as Matt smiles across a room & comes with open arms to hug me! I have a photo of him & me on prominent display showcasing that famous smile.
    Prayers & love,

    • Mary Ann, with you and Matt it was definitely “love at first sight” and he always enjoyed your enthusiasm and ability to spread joy. You helped him to feel at home in the church youth group and I will always be thankful for the genuine love and affection you have shown all of us. Hope you can come to see us sometime! We still plan to get back to NorCal for a visit as soon as we can.

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Oh! What wonderful news! You & I will have tea & talk till we are wordless…hmmm is that possible for us? LOL

        • Mary Ann, it’s possible in theory but I’m guessing Jeff would say the odds are so long it will never happen! 🙂

  12. kjyaccino

    Awww, absolutely adorable!! I love you comment about “heart of a different kind”. I’m wiping away tears!

    • Thank you Kathy!

  13. Ivy Atkins

    Julia Matt is a very sweet and is true he always have a special smile ,GOD bless him and all your family

    • Thank you, Ivy! You too have a special smile that always brightens our Sunday! Thanks so much for your friendship and caring.

  14. merry

    What a beautiful picture of father & son, enjoying time together. Julia, you’re blessed with a delightful son. Blessings to you & family. Our prayers are with you & Jeff next week. Have a wonderful spring week-end.

    • Thanks so much! The prayers are getting us through this and we are seeing them answered almost daily! Hope you have a wonderful week too.

  15. Really a touching post, Julia.
    I really admire your son fro his smiles, though I have not greeted him in person but what all I can say is that there is a paucity of people akin to him.
    I really enjoy sojourning your blog…keep us bestowing with such post, really commendable 🙂
    take care,

    • Thanks Harshit, I’m so happy you like it! I appreciate your visits to this site, and your comments. Today we were able to visit with some friends of ours who live in Chennai, who are visiting this area. Is this close to your home?

  16. I am so happy that some of your friends from Chennai are visiting your land. But at the same time it saddens me that i live around 2000 Kms. far from Chennai. I dwell in Rajasthan (Jaipur). India is a fab place to visit and if in future you visit to sojourn India then please do visit Jaipur.
    I’ll be there to welcome you. Believe me I am serious 🙂
    And I’ll love to ask you that in which state you live In USA?
    Rest all is fine .
    take care,

    • Harshit, we live in Virginia (near Washington DC) but we have lived in many different states since Jeff’s career has meant that we moved frequently. Mostly we have lived in the western part of the country. India is a really large country like the US, so I imagine that it would take a long trip to see even just the cities. We do hope to go to India one day, I will let you know if we do! BTW I meant to send you birthday greetings last week, but got distracted with everything going on here. I’m sending belated birthday wishes, hope it was happy!

      • Thankx julia for the wishes and yes India is indeed one of the largest (7th largest in the world) country in the world.

  17. What a great photo Julia. Pure Joy radiates from it. My gosh, your poor guy really has been thru so much. I’m sorry to hear he’ll have to continue with these operations thru his whole life. How traumatic that must be for him and everyone.

    • Yes, it’s been a long hard climb for Matt in so many ways, but he really knows how to enjoy life, and that has been a great example for all of us. For the past four years they have been telling us that another open heart surgery is pending due to one of his artificial valves being non-functional, but because the surgery will be his 5th time to get his chest cut open, it will be very risky, and they want to put it off as long as possible, and so far he’s done quite well without it. He’s been beating the odds for a long time now so maybe Jeff will do the same!


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