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A celebration that tugged at the heartstrings

The food is set out moments before the first guests arrive. Balloons are tied to armchairs or left to float on the ground, some high on helium, others simply filled with hot air. The mood will soon turn from anxious to boisterous, the guests are about to arrive.

The focus of the festivities is the third birthday of a neighbor’s daughter.

The family lives in a one-room space used for other purposes during the day. I see their grass mats tied against a wall when I walk by and the door is open more than usual, and am always impressed by how much their home looks like a museum. A precisely arranged collection of bare essentials.

They are using my courtyard as the venue for their child’s party.

And what a party! The centerpiece table, seven feet in length, is cloth-covered, and neatly arranged with ham and cheese finger sandwiches, cupcakes, cookies, a battalion of jello parfaits standing in neat rows, and more candies than even the most determined can refuse. They are cast about the table in a riot of color sure to swell pockets nearly to bursting.  Water and soda are carefully portioned to minimize spills as hasty retreats to the ‘lil wranglers room’  become common. There are games, of course, the most popular being a version of, “ pin the tail on the donkey”, only this is a big and mean old longhorn bull with flared nostrils spewing tornadoes of smoke. Personally, I don’t think he wants to be bothered, but I digress…

The party was a full hour old when, amidst the sticky sweetness of baby-mayhem, something so extraordinary and soulful happened that my eyes still mist in the memory.

Without notice, one of the fathers began to sing ‘a cappella.’  It was a hoarse and plaintive song, not a child’s lullaby by any means. But, it was lovely and old and spoke of simpler times and friends long since gone — moments preserved in the amber of memory. The hair on my arms raised to listen. A tingle coursed through me like a slight electric current — and I believe that is what it was. A current. A charge passing from one person to another, transmitting light. It seemed as if the entire world stopped for the briefest moment to allow this one breath of song to seep through the chatter of empty voices and the clutter of too many.

I will long remember the third birthday of my young neighbor. I will recall this celebration of her life, still so fresh, that moved one among us to sing to her of time and age and tradition, his voice channeling clear to the high mountain passes where echoes rollicked along crags once thought insurmountable.

In time, the celebration came to an end; the tired swept up and held close, as quiet good-byes mixed with the rustling of children snuggling into small dreams.  And, then they were gone, each to their own homes and their own stories.

I sat among the ruins in silence, and looked at the moon, mesmerized by her ability to push tides and pull heartstrings.