A year after Jacob’s near drowning he found his voice again. Then, over a course of many months, he rediscovered the vast cache of vocabulary and language patterns that had miraculously remained stored in his oxygen deprived brain. As far as I can tell, Jacob’s understanding of language is normal for an adult. He can read, he follows conversations, and he participates appropriately. He listens in church and whispers comments to George or me that assure us he’s tracking with the sermon. And sometimes his insight is astounding.
But Jacob also has his own unique flavor of communication. “The Jacob Syntax” as Zach Fleury, one of Grace’s college buddies, dubbed it. At least in part, it seems to stem from a compulsion to express distinctions most of us take for granted. Instead of saying, “You look like a clown,” he would say, “You’re like a clown to my eyes.” When he’s frustrated, he often says, “Why am I so hated on the earth?” (Yes, he’s dramatic.) He adds “on the earth” because, even in the midst of frustration, he doesn’t want to suggest that he is hated “in heaven.”
For Jacob, no question is rhetorical. He’ll answer it. No part of a sentence intentionally left unspoken by someone else remains so. He’ll fill in the blank. Even if the speaker is on television. He’s always anticipating. If you pause to consider your words, he’ll venture a guess. Music, especially, quickens his mind. He remembers song lyrics after hearing them once. His ear is particularly attuned to end rhyme, and if it’s missing, he often supplies it.
Which brings me to the title of this post. A while back I noticed that, when the word “pain” was the last word in a line of a song, Jacob sometimes sang, “painbows.” When I asked him why, he couldn’t explain. For all I could tell, if there was a reason, he’d forgotten it. But he kept singing it anyway. After months of this, I confess it got on my nerves, and I said, “Jacob, ‘painbows’ isn’t even a word. The word is, ‘pain.’ Why don’t you sing that?” He did what he often does when confronted about something he feels compelled to do. He just looked out the window and remained silent.
Then one day we were listening to Jon Foreman’s CD, Limbs & Branches, and suddenly it all made sense. Jon sang, “And heaven knows, heaven knows/ I tried to find a cure for the pain.”
“Painbows,” Jacob sang.
Ah, I thought. It rhymes with “knows.”
Several songs later, Jon sang, “So, we gather up our things and we head out in the cold/ And your eyes are where you carry the pain.”
“Painbows,” Jacob interjected.
I was about to explain once again that “painbows” isn’t a word–that he only felt compelled to use it because of the rhyme–but something (or Someone) stopped me. Before I spoke up, I considered what “painbows” might mean to Jacob. Simple logic suggested a connection to the real word that most resembled his invented one. Rainbows. Those spectacular, miraculous swathes of color in the sky. In the Bible, a rainbow was a sign of God’s faithfulness and promise. When light shines through rain, breathtaking beauty paints an arc of hope over past storms.
So, what happens when the One who calls Himself Light shines through pain? If anyone would know the answer to that question, it would be Jacob.
I don’t complain any more when Jacob sings about painbows. Instead, I sing along.