Singing loud enough for Bobby to hear
December 18, 2007
Forty years ago, Bobby died 10 days before Christmas. He was 21 years old, weighed about 75 pounds, and was confined to a wheelchair – his body destroyed by muscular dystrophy.
No person faced all this with more courage. He never complained. And the teens at the Recreation Center for the Handicapped in San Francisco loved him. He was a good and patient friend to all.
Bobby and I were in charge of the youth chorus. We were preparing them to go on “tour” just before Christmas. Bobby was my listener.
It is hard to get kids to learn to project their voices so I would “park” Bobby back a ways and they would sing louder until he could hear them. He always shouted words of encouragement, praise and sometimes, “I can’t hear you!” Every practice, I moved him farther back. It worked, and the teens really learned to sing loudly.
Needless to say, after Bobby died, I was in no mood to take the children anywhere. But things had already been planned so we threw wheelchairs, crutches and a bunch of kids with every kind of physical or mental disability into the buses, and off we went to three hospitals and a nursing home.
The children performed beautifully. I could not believe how loudly they sang. Our last stop was a Jewish nursing home. We were greeted by a group of sweet old Jewish ladies patiently and politely waiting to be bored with another round of well-meaning visitors singing Christmas songs.
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But we had a surprise for them. I handed one blind boy a tambourine, and he tapped out 1-2, 1-2-3, and they started to sing “Hava Nagila” in Hebrew! The old ladies’ eyes opened wide with surprise. Then some sang along, some clapped, some laughed and some cried. I was just as surprised because they were singing so loudly that people way down the hall were coming out to see what was happening.
On the bus ride home, I sat between two 15-year-old girls. Across us was Helen – a sweet 12-year-old in a wheelchair. She asked us: “Do you think he heard us?”
It was then we learned that several blind kids had started the rumor that if they all sang loudly enough that Bobby would be able to hear them all the way to heaven.
Again Helen asked: “Do you think Bobby heard us?” We three looked at each other for a brief second and together answered with big smiles – “Yes.”
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