We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I was fortunate yesterday to experience a range of special occurrences on the Martin Luther King Holiday, that taught and reinforced powerful life lessons. The choir of which I am a part was asked to sing both the National Anthem and the halftime show for the game in Washington between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Wizards. As one can imagine, this would come as quite an honor for any group as it did for us. Weeks of preparation and rehearsals were conducted to prepare us for what we anticipated were the big moments, on an NBA stage, at mid court in front of 20,000 people.
This moment held a particular significance for me as someone who from the earliest days as a child had dreamed of playing in the NBA. After years of school games, AAU games and summer camps, that dream feel short as it does for most in my college years. Lacing up a pair of hi-tops to step onto the court during the game struck me as being as close to that dream as I’d ever get even all these years later. So for both of these reasons the excitement of lining up, taking the court our introduction and singing seemed for the moment to be the highlight of the day.
The anthem and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” along with an energetic version of “We Shall Overcome” were very well received by the crowd and brought applause and congratulations from many for the remainder of the afternoon. However our biggest moment would come after the game.
You see prior to the game, we had been asked to visit a young man sometime who had a rare form of cancer for which there is no cure, a former basketball player himself who had been visited by the Wizards players and brought court side to a game. Just last week he had been given two days to live and we were asked to “make a joyful noise” if we didn’t mind visiting him. A quick poll and a phone call or two and the choir was on its way after the game to Children’s Hospital to sing songs of faith, encouragement and prayer with Jawhar, his family and friends and hospital staff. Hardly a dry eye was in the room as members offered words of encouragement and hugs.
Ironically we had thought the most anticipated moment would come at mid court. Instead, the most significant time of the day arrived far from lights and cameras. The most meaningful applause we heard was not in the arena, but that of our special guest making the substantial effort it took to raise his arms and claps his hands slowly after each song we sang.
In five days, Jawhar will celebrate his 19th birthday. We will be back to celebrate it with him in song. He may not realize his dream of playing in the NBA either, but with faith and strength, and determination we pray he achieves a much more important goal; a long life.
For more on Jawhar Stokes, please see a related video on his visit to the Wizards game earlier in the year here.