Have you ever witnessed magic?
The first time I did was seven years ago at the first annual Make-A-Wish New Hampshire holiday party. I was sitting in a tiny room off to the side in the ballroom, door closed, listening from afar as happy reunions and Christmas crafts were taking place. I could imagine the joy in the guests faces and the little cuties running around in their velvety red dresses and candy cane jammies.
When I opened the door of my hiding place about thirty minutes later, donning a plush Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer costume, I saw so much more than that. I saw the faces of children light up as they ran toward me, a fifteen year old girl who was realizing for the first time how truly lucky she was.
It was humbling, it was beautiful, but more than anything it was magical.
These children, most of whom had gone through terrible diagnoses, surgeries and treatments, were purely happy because they were embracing the Christmas spirit. The positivity and strength I saw in them through the mesh covering of Rudolph’s nostrils was unlike anything I had ever seen.
For me, the annual Make-A-Wish holiday party instantly became the most anticipated event of the year. Whether I was dressed as Rudolph, Frosty, Minnie or Mickey, you could always find me, glowing, inside the costume. Unfortunately, the party hasn’t matched up very well with my holiday break schedule for the past three years, so I’ve been stuck in South Carolina. Thanks to a late Thanksgiving break this year, I was able to make it back to New Hampshire for my favorite bash. However, this time I witnessed magic in a different way.
We arrived in Concord on Saturday afternoon to drop off the party supplies. Due to the forecast for heavy snow, we decided to stay the night to avoid driving in the morning. While we were enjoying our cocktails and card games in the hotel lobby, we had the pleasure of meeting some 19-20 year old basketball players from IMG Academy in Florida. They had travelled to the Granite State for a tournament, and some of the players got the extra bonus of seeing snow for the first time. We told the boys about the party, they told us about their travels and we called it a night.
Early the next morning there were about fifteen of us trying to blow up 300+ balloons, finish centerpieces and decorate before the guests arrived. I’m sitting at the back table, filling balloons with helium, when out of the corner of my eye I see a long line of very tall boys dressed from head to toe in blue uniforms. Led by their coach, the boys told us their games had been cancelled and immediately asked us how they could help make the event a success. These guys could have been sleeping in, swimming in the indoor pool, exploring NH, etc. But instead, they chose to help us decorate the room to perfection before the guests arrived. These guys assisted us in getting the job done so much more efficiently and helped put a smile on the faces (and tears in the eyes) of the rest of us volunteers.
Thanks to the help of the basketball team, we got everything done and I was able to have a half hour to get ready for the party before it started. When I returned back there was one basketball player who had returned as well. Thomas Rowland was walking around the room rearranging the balloon bundles to make sure they were most aesthetically pleasing; details few would notice but were clearly important to him. As the guests started pouring in, he made his way over to help the little ones make some crafts and assemble sand art. Once his help there was no longer needed, he asked if I could introduce him to some Wish kids.
Thomas and I had the pleasure of talking with various children who had experienced the power of a wish, all happy to share their stories with us. One boy told us about his wish to take a cooking class in Rome. In the blink of an eye, Thomas was upstairs finding his teammate from Italy and back downstairs introducing him to our new friend. When I asked Thomas why he was so passionate about volunteering with us that day, he simply told me, “I just really, really, really love helping people.” That couldn’t have been more apparent. Thomas and his team certainly made a lasting impact on many people and warmed plenty of hearts on that cold, snowy day.