Part One: The Wedding
There was a point in time when Mike and I were dating through our newlywed years when it seemed like we were at a wedding every week in the summer. Those marriages now have given way to babies, and divorces, and the one we just attended this past weekend was one of the last bastions – everyone else who was going to do it, it seemed, was spoken for.
And it was a beautiful wedding, classy as all get out. After a beautiful Mass there were golf-cart rides, and tents, and these folks had thought of truly everything: play-dough and crayons for the kids, top-shelf libations and cigars for those adults who were so inclined. There was dancing (some of the best music I’ve ever heard at a wedding), and toasts, and just pure love in that wide open space. I met some of the most friendly folks I’ve ever met there, and I was doubly excited to get to spend a few minutes with Leah.
Have you ever known one of those people who just shine like the sun? I only know a handful, and she is one of them. If you haven’t been reading her blog, you really should – because she is one of the best out there, mainly because she tells her stories so honestly, straight from the heart. She is seriously one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, and while I was trying to keep it cool, I was totally internally fangirl-ing the entire time I talked with her (in between sessions of running around after my little dude).
We were standing by the porta-potties (the air-conditioned, complete-with-sinks and stalls porta-potties – I told you this wedding was classy!) when the familiar strains of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” floated over the wide lawn.
Her face lit up. “Excuse me,” she said, turning away. “That’s my wedding song.” She jogged off, the ruffles of her bridesmaid’s dress floating like a dream behind her; and what happened next was like a Hollywood ending, a perfume commercial, a perfectly orchestrated moment: her husband, Dave, came out of right field, also running to find her. He had this huge grin on his face. He loved her, she loved him, and their song was on. They reached out to each other, joined hands and he led her to the dance floor, and I didn’t see what happened next because my two-year-old was running away again, and besides, it wasn’t a moment for me, anyway. It was their moment of joy.
But it was probably the sweetest thing I have ever seen.
Part Two: The Hat
My son’s birthday was weeks ago, yet here we are: he’s still wearing his birthday party hat. We have eight of them left over from his party, so he gets a fresh one every day from wherever he drops them around the house. It was really cute for the first two weeks, but now I just up and lie whenever someone asks if it’s his birthday when we’re out, because I feel as though the real explanation makes me look like the bad parent who just can’t tell their kid “no more.”
We were in the Giant Eagle parking lot; I’m trying to maneuver the cart, and there he is, holding court in the child seat with the damn hat on.
“Is today your birthday?” asks a friendly voice.
I inwardly roll my eyes and try to smile, my eyes on the cart.
“Yes,” I say quickly, just to get it over with; and look up to see a middle-aged woman, her two kids, and their entire earthly belongings stacked up in a cart with them.
This family…was in horrible shape. I’ve helped out at my share of soup kitchens and done my part of Homeless Midnight Runs in college, but the starkness of their poverty literally took my breath away. I had never seen people so pale, their eyes so hollowed from malnutrition. The kids – one was older and looked to be a teenager, but the youngest one had to be no more than a year older than my son. He peeked out from his seat in the stroller he was in, the roof of it sagging from the large garbage bag full of clothing his sister balanced on top of it.
“Look!” the mother said excitedly to the boy. “Look at this baby’s hat! It’s his birthday!”
And the boy grinned with a mouthful of brown teeth with such a look of joy on his face that I could have bawled. He was so happy for my son. He, who had nothing in the world, had that smile. And my son, who had eight identical party hats at home to play with, had a mother who felt like an absolute asshole for days for not pulling out all the stops she could to help them.
The mother smiled at her son, then mine, and they all turned away to go inside the store.
I have never seen them before, and I probably won’t ever again. But I hope he keeps that smile.
I hope, for a million lifetimes, that he keeps that joy.