We were shooting baskets after school at my grandparent’s house, something we did most every day. The air was crisp and the competition fierce on that December afternoon. I was in 3rd grade and playing “horse” against my uncle.
Fred was my dad’s brother, about 20 years older than me. With Down’s syndrome, he was mentally and emotionally at a first grade level. Fred was a fierce competitor. Every time he made a basket I would yell “Swish!” and he would gleam. He loved to shoot the ball, and didn’t like to pass (ever).
His fingers were webbed together at birth, and they had only succeeded in partially separating them. As a result, he held the ball in the palm of his hand and kind of shot-putted it toward the basket. He had grown quite proficient after countless hours of shooting.
If I ever commented on one of my shots, or shot more than once, he would grunt and ask me to pass him the ball. Whenever we finished the game, I would tell him he was the “CHAMP,” something he never grew tired of hearing.
Fred wanted to play ball even when it was freezing. He had an unbelievably high pain threshold. And he had a knack for inflicting pain if I teased him too much (and he caught me).
Those were amazing times, hour after hour shooting baskets, chasing the ball down the driveway. Just thinking about Fred’s smile brings tears to my eyes.
Every Christmas was a special time, as Fred got way more presents than everyone else, and no one was jealous. There was a particular joy in seeing him happy. Almost like the best of God’s creation was getting a small portion of the treatment he would receive for all eternity.
Fred went to be with Jesus a couple years ago, as my mom was singing over him “Jesus loves Fred, this I know…”
This Christmas I’ll reflect on the gift of Jesus, and how He was so present in those times of shooting hoops with Fred.