By Maggie Brown
Seemingly without warning, the oppressive humidity of the blazing afternoon sun began to unravel across the vast Chennai skies, welcoming a herd of ominous clouds into the atmosphere so dark that the dusk of early evening suddenly distorted into the dead of night. Gazing into the obscurity of the blackening sky, dragonflies bustled about in every which way, as though signaling a fair warning to all of the impending threats about to unleash above the frantic city streets. Within moments, the spirit of the heavens came to life, originally rumbling gently as though a stomach feigning for a light snack, before eventually working their way into a deafening roar of clashing thunder and noise. Warnings commendably issued; the skies finally released, sprinkling refreshing drops of moisture on the city below to relieve the adhesiveness of the Chennai summer heat, preceding to flourish into a full-blown monsoon typical of the south Indian afternoon.
Feeling a liberation as free as jumping into an ice-cold swimming pool in the midst of the day’s utmost warmth, children broke from their organized team lines at the sight of raindrops, bolting for the open field with the velocity of a shooting rocket. The brisk sensation of the afternoon rain eased the beads of sweat formulating across their skin, instantly lightening their bodies and bringing a joy as simple as singing in the rain to each and every child. Disappointed to literally rain on their parade, the coaches of the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy frantically rushed to usher the children into the safety of the cafeteria, chasing kids deep into the confines of play around as though attempting to round a herd gone wild. Despite taking an extended amount of time, we finally succeeded in securing some three-hundred plus children into the margins of a single room, leaving us in an environment where screams were imminent and anxious excitement bounced off the walls in every which direction.
As I stood in front of these hundreds of children freshly ushered out of the torrential rain, my head nearly exploded due to the bomb of senses erupting before my eyes. Children ran in every which direction, the fervor of laughter rang in the tone of a roaring lion, and the deafening pitch of a thousand voices echoed into a drone so loud that my ears could have nearly collapsed. In panic mode, I gazed towards my fellow coaches, whose eyes were as big as mine with a look of indecision and nervous alarm. Nobody appeared as though they knew what to do, yet hundreds of children were about to bust at the seams in excitement brought on by yet another day at Crossover. For lack of a better idea, I sauntered over to a table scattered with children from a Teach for India classroom and took a seat. They looked at me with anticipation, and I looked back at them with cluelessness. Knowing of nothing else to kill some time as the storm clouds charged the Chennai sky, I banged on the table twice, clapped my hands once, and repeated.
At first, only a few of the Teach for India students in my immediate surrounding environment caught on. With smiles broadly stretched across their dripping faces, they waited to join in my rhythm, and jumped in enthusiastically when they deemed the moment to be right. With each new sequence, more and more tiny hands joined in the ritual, banging on the table with the eagerness of a roaring tribe, and clapping with the zeal of a thunderous round of applause. Spreading like an infectious disease from one table of the cafeteria to the next, more and more children joined in, their babbling mouths suddenly ceasing to talk; instead their attention intently focused on the banging and clapping of the other children around them. Before long, the hundreds of children in the cafeteria were all doing the same thing, banging and pounding on the table in absolute unison, watching each other like hawks to make sure that they maintained the beat, cautious not to get too far ahead of anyone else, but also careful not leave anyone behind.
In this very moment, I observed on in nothing but utter awe. This moment did not involve a basketball, a hoop, or a specific station aimed at preaching the lessons of the vital Crossover ideals. This moment did not aim to help children improve their lives, or to promote the imperative importance of quality education and greater equality. Instead, this moment was nothing but an impromptu manner to address the surprising antics of the unforgiving summer clouds. And yet, it was one of the most rewarding memories afforded to me in my two years as a member of the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy team.
Despite lasting a fleeting second, perhaps less than an entire minute, this moment in the cafeteria brought a sense of achievement that every member of the Crossover staff had desperately been yearning to bring to life during their time volunteering in southern India. For these fleeting seconds, each and every single person in the cafeteria was one, and each and every single person in the cafeteria was together, in a way, that no words can magically describe. For these fleeting seconds, socioeconomic status did not matter. For these fleeting seconds, gender did not matter. For these fleeting seconds, educational quality and access did not matter. For these fleeting seconds, each and every single person in the cafeteria was a member of the family, a family so tight and unified, that we were rolling on the same wavelength without hesitation or the slightest impulse of missing a beat. For these fleeting seconds, the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy family was more alive than it has ever been before.
As I sat in the midst of this magical moment, I found myself at an utter loss for words, lost in a world that I never truly believed the Crossover program could fully bring to life. Despite not lasting forever, by a simple beat of the table and a clap of the hands, we had succeeded in bringing hundreds of screaming children together as one, into a world where barriers did not exist. Just seconds before, this world was something that I could have only constructed in the wild imaginaries of my own mind, a place that I desired in my heart, but failed to believe could actually materialize into reality. But, I guess that is why life tends to hit us in the most unsuspecting of moments. When I least expected it, the Crossover family came alive, and I could do nothing but look on in amazement as each boom of the table and clap of the hands matched up perfectly with the sounds of my heart, allowing the beat to roll on and on and on into a world of hope that I had never before imagined.