Twenty-four youngsters from between 12 to 20 joined hands and sang softly for the audience of 1000 people. The young people all wore matching cowboy bandanas on their heads, as some had no hair and the others wanted everyone to look the same. Silence fell on the crowd. While these kids don’t sing professionally, their sweet faces and calm presence hushed even the most rowdy spectator.
These are kids who are sick with cancer. Some stood on their one good leg, or used their only hand to hold the hand of the person standing beside them. Others limped to the stage and smiled timidly out at the audience.
The Dharma Foundation, with whom we work, is designed to house and care for young people with cancer. When we first came in contact with these young wards of the Dharma Foundation, the teenagers immediately latched on to us during our visits, and made us promise not to abandon them. Since then, we have been visiting them every week, teaching them to sing and giving these ailing young people our time and attention.
At one point, we were asked to help them prepare two songs for the Foundation’s sponsors, so we all learned a couple of beautiful songs by Gloria Stefan that speak of love and forgiveness. On the night of this special dinner, we were amazed to find ourselves in front of some of the most influential business people in Colombia, famous tycoons one never gets to meet face to face.
When the 20 kids sang their song, accompanied by our volunteers, there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. It was a very moving moment, and everyone felt deeply touched. Why? You can’t come away from those kids without facing your own fears of death and life eternal. They carry such joy and spontaneous affection that despite their illness, the ones who are recovering help the ones who aren’t. Seeing them stand there and sing with their whole hearts put these men, who live fully entrenched in the material world, in touch with the real values of life.
We were only on stage to accompany them with our guitars, piano, percussion and voices. They were the stars. We were only supposed to sing two songs, but the crowd asked for more, so we ended up singing four altogether. Once you see these kids sing, you don’t forget the tranquil happiness that surrounds this very special chorus. Just to see them standing there singing transmits hope.
How can people who face death every day transmit so much? Because whether they soon go on to the next life, or stay here, they are ready. They have peace about whatever comes their way, and this makes one feel ashamed of our smaller problems that so easily distract us from life’s meaning.