Two Christmas Gifts: Hope and Love

This is not the most joyful of Christmases. The tragedy of the Newtown massacre is fresh on our minds. The crumbling of the Administration's misbegotten Middle East and North African policies grows increasingly obvious and presents nothing but frightening scenarios. The country's dive off the fiscal cliff occasioned by decades of growing entitlements  and fiscal profligacy  looms ever nearer.

But the power of hope and love is stronger than all that. Two videos circulating the past two weeks online reinforce my faith in people and I share these gifts with you for Christmas in the hope that these examples renew and strengthen your belief in a better future.

Rochester, New York: Jason McElwain

The story that brought Jason fame is now several years old but it started recirculating this week, I think because right now we need this reminder of grace and love and hope.

Jason McElwain is autistic. For years he, an avid  basketball enthusiast, was manager of his high school's team. In the very last game of the 2008 season, the coach, Jim Johnson, had Jason suit up and with four minutes left to go in the game signaled him to play.

He missed the two first shots but then as his team's players and the spectators watched in amazement he made 6 three point shots and a total of 20 points. The gym erupted in joy and Jason went on to celebrity being hosted by President Bush, Oprah, and a number of sporting professionals.

Years later, in an interview, an even more heartwarming detail was revealed, "Greece-Athena head basketball coach Jim Johnson says the most remarkable thing of all was this fact, "No one told the kids to get [Jason] the ball or told them not to shoot. They did it all on their own." 

Jason continues to act as an assistant coach for his old team and this year he ran a  Rochester marathon and qualified to compete in the Boston marathon.

With all the talk of kids so inured to Hollywood's raw violence that they lack all common decency, this story strikes a particularly meaningful chord. Teens -- people of all ages, really -- still have a desire to be generous and kind and when an adult like their coach offers them the example and opportunity they'll take it.

The Recycled Orchestra

On the world scale the kids in Rochester are very well-off compared to those kids living in trash heaps in Uruguay, members of families who eke out a meager living sorting through trash for saleable items. But this year, the video circulating online about them tells us another story of hope and accomplishment and love. 

They say one man's junk is another one's treasure and for these kids in Paraguay this holds more than true. Children in the city of Cateura have come up with an interesting way to make recycled items into instruments from the landfill their parents work for. They created an orchestra called The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura made up of 20 people and perform music ranging from Beethoven, The Beatles, Mozart, even Henry Mancini.

This amazing idea can be credited to music teacher and social worker, 37-year-old Favio Chavez. The teacher originally started the orchestra at the tiny music school in Cateura as a means to help the kids stay out of trouble. But his musicians have attracted so much attention that the children have traveled to different cities to perform and it's one step closer to making their dreams come true. 

Never in a million years could I picture trash becoming an instrument. I'm so used to the generic idea of an instrument being made of metal, wood, or even plastic, that I didn't picture it otherwise. But this is an amazing idea and a wonderful opportunity for these kids who are less fortunate. Not only does it take a great amount of talent to make an instrument out of recycled matter, but it must be an even greater challenge learning how to play it!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thanks to all the wonderful coaches and teachers everywhere who work to create a next generation of accomplished, generous-hearted adults.

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