The Night I Played for the King

The night is etched in my memory as the most vivid of my childhood, perhaps my life.

I first recall walking along the road of my hometown, gazing up at the skies. In those days we were all looking up, as we witnessed a particular star that seemed to hover over our little town with marvelous illumination. It hadn’t been too long since the night the star first appeared, causing a great commotion. And again tonight, ahead of me on the road, was a similar commotion.

As I approached, several men were hurriedly dismounting their beasts, wasting little time to return their sights skyward. Most nights it would be hard to descry these men from where I was, but this night was quite different. The light shone brightly upon their faces, making out every contour that formed their magnificent smiles. Each of them was squinting, and I supposed the tears they shed were caused by something greater than the gleam of starlight. I remember their laughs, hearty and nervous, as though they’d reached a long-sought treasure but were not sure what it would mean when they actually beheld it. They were embracing. One of them shouted something and the rest nodded, lifted their robes from the dusty earth, and began to dance.

I was just a small lad then, so my curiosity beckoned me to inquire of them what was happening. When I got near, one of them noticed me and lit up as if I was the very person he wanted to see. He was a small man, clothed in magisterial yet dusty attire. He knelt down and softly placed his hands on my little shoulders. I distinctly recall the way he asked me if I knew what what happening, as if he had some news he couldn’t keep to himself. I shook my head, and he began to explain what he believed about the star and the long journey he and his friends took to find it. I remember him chuckling and shaking his head as he described everything. He could hardly seem to believe what he was telling me.

At last, he pointed to the house ahead. He told me a king lived there, a king whose coming was foretold centuries before, a king whom my ancestors had long awaited, a king who somehow, in this tiny town where little ever happened, was born in these days. He said that I must go with him and his friends to meet the king. I looked at his friends and it was then I noticed each of them gripping packages they seemed keen not to drop. The man placed his arm around me and as we began to walk, he withdrew his own package from his robe. He told me that each of them brought their very best gift to lay before the king.

As we approached the house, I remember becoming anxious. I had never met a king. I knew nothing of proper manners, my clothes were tattered and smelled of sheep’s pen, and I had brought nothing to give. I decided that if I was let into the house, I would stand back near the door while the men gave the king their gifts.

I came to the door with the man and his friends, and their excited clamoring stopped. A great hush now enveloped them and they swayed back and forth in nervous anticipation. The door slowly opened, revealing an old woman who greeted and whispered us inside. As we walked in, we came upon a very young woman, sitting and holding a baby boy. I presumed he was the king by observing the men step forward and kneel down before him. One man stared at the boy, trembling in wonder. Others placed their faces in their hands. For a time the room was silent but for the sound of some sniffling and deep sighs.

After a few moments, the thick smell of incense and oils filled the room. The men were presenting their gifts. I studied each ornate jar and box that was offered, revealing contents with fragrances so fine or minerals so pristine that I could not imagine their value. Each man bowed and placed his gift at the mother and boy’s feet. The boy quietly observed each gift being presented, while his mother graciously nodded in appreciation. The men stepped back, huddling together and gazing upon the boy with glee and adoration.

I too stepped back, embarrassed by the generous gift giving, hoping I could stay hidden in the shadows. I’ll never forget it was then the child’s mother looked up at me. Her slightest gesture summoned me forth, and I stood before the king.

I wanted to apologize for my appearance. Yet it struck me that the king and his mother wore clothes similar to mine. They looked much more like me than the men who had brought me there. A strange feeling came over me that this king was somehow common like me. So I finally spoke, and told the little king that I was a poor boy too. I admitted that I had no gift to give. Nothing fit for a king, anyway.

Feeling helpless and ashamed, I put my head down. And as I did, I noticed the small drum in my hand, which I seemed to have forgotten. It was then that I had an idea. Perhaps the little king would like a song! I looked up at him and asked if I could play for him on my drum. The king’s mother gently nodded, and I started to rap. Pa-rum.

I remember my first several hits felt awkward; I was already messing up and struggling to find the beat. Pa-rum-rum. I tuned my ear to find the right sound, and discerned another sound that seemed to be coming from outside. Indeed, it was the sound of hooves stomping— an easy, soothing beat which had calmed me all of my life. The beats started to form a rhythm. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

It was then that I distinctly remember the uneasy feeling of everyone’s eyes upon me. I closed my eyes, focused, and the rat-a-tat quickened. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Others were listening, but I was just playing for the king. I hoped the king thought my drumming was good; I was playing my best. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Rum-pum-pum-pum. I continued rhythmically rapping, and I opened my eyes to look at the king.

Then he smiled at me. Me and my drum.

Though he was just a baby boy, his smile flooded my heart with joy. I remember from that moment everything changed. No longer did I worry about messing up… No longer did I try to impress him… I simply played to please him. Suddenly my hands flicked effortlessly, thumping the leather at a rate beyond my own perceived capability. The great rhythm was born and filled the room with smooth, sweet bursts of sound. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum!

A rush of glory came over me, when at the pinnacle of my effort, the chorus began. The ox and lamb stomped and bleated with rapture. The men clapped, bellowing shouts of a foreign tongue and raising their hands towards the king. The king’s mother closed her eyes and began to sing soft words over her child. The king looked into my eyes, his face full of light, and he giggled with delight, as though no offering could have pleased him more. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum!

That was many years ago. Since then, countless stories have filled the land about this king and the things he did. And so I’ve given you my story, the story of the night I met my King, with nothing to give— and He rejoiced over me.


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