My family and I celebrated my birthday a few days ago with a reverse parade. Several people said they’d never heard of a reverse parade, to which my wife said, “That’s because Eric Black came up with it.” I’m not sure if it was pride or exasperation in her voice.
A reverse parade involves taking the party to the people instead of the people bringing the party to you.
We started at 9 a.m. and wrapped up around 4 p.m., making stops at 17 places in five cities, maintaining the expected physical distance, of course.
I’m not much for parties. I’m not a stick in the mud. I like to have fun with other people, but parties require so much work that I’m usually over them before they start. There; the cat’s out of the bag.
Each year, my wife wants to know what I want to do for my birthday, and each year I shrug. “I don’t know. Something simple,” I tell her, by which I mean, “Keep it low-key.”
When I told her I wanted to do a reverse parade for my birthday this year, she probably thought I wasn’t thinking straight.
But, I tell you, it was wonderful.
A day of joy
It was a perfect day for a parade. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, and there was the slightest breeze. Of all the days for the four of us to be out of the house—though confined to a car—this was the right day.
People made cards and signs using what they had on hand. Ask my wife and kids, and they’ll tell you my favorite cards are homemade and handmade.
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The kids at one house made a chalk drawing for me on their sidewalk. Children in another family joined their parents in painting a sign for me. I was serenaded at three houses: one with violin accompaniment, one with a kazoo and one with a birthday round worthy of an ear-to-ear smile.
At several homes, people told me their neighbors, seeing the balloons and birthday banners, wished them, “Happy birthday,” which gave them occasion for a laugh. The next-door neighbors of one family joined them in wishing me, “Happy birthday.”
Family living out of state made their own parade videos and sent them to me, each of them clever in its own way.
I experienced joy vicariously, thrilling at everyone enjoying a beautiful day outside with their families.
I don’t remember a day so full of pure and simple joy.
Joy in simple things
One of the welcome outcomes of these weeks of social restrictions is a stripping away of pretense and escalating expectations. Celebrations like weddings have been scaled back, and birthday parties have been simplified.
The youngest child in a family from our church was thrown a birthday parade. His parents, though grateful for those who participated, felt bad for him because his sister stood a chance of having a “real” birthday party should the restrictions be lifted in time. His sister was quick to say that, no, she wanted a parade.
What if birthday parades—quick, relatively simple and no mess—produced the joy we’ve been chasing with ever-better parties? What if our celebrations were less about the production and more about the people?
The joy of common things
Another unexpected outcome of these weeks is how meaningful a roll of toilet paper can be.
I received three rolls of toilet paper, a bar of soap, a personal-size hand sanitizer, a coffee mug and other great gifts. But the toilet paper; I was surprised how meaningful it was to get it.
You see, dear reader far in the future, there are certain things each of us need that we can’t readily find in stores right now and that we will sorely miss if we don’t have them. Toilet paper is one of those things. It’s a sacrifice to give it away these days.
On top of that, toilet paper represents a very personal activity, and the fact that our pretensions have been stripped and we are willing to be vulnerable and human with each other is a sacred thing, a gift of the highest order.
We used to be careless with toilet paper. We used to buy it by the carload to throw over the trees and bushes in someone’s front yard. Not now. Now, toilet paper is too valuable for that. It’s the sort of thing we might give as a gift to someone we care about.
What if we rediscovered the value held by common things and determined not to cheapen them again? What if we celebrated the sacredness of simple things?
Joy in every breath
The fact people would decorate the front of their houses and wait in their front yards to cheer or sing when we arrived still can move me to tears. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of what people must do just to attend a birthday party. Under the current circumstances, the sight of people waiting in their front yards for me was a powerful gift I had forgotten how to see.
Beyond the power of that first sight was the pure joy of simply getting to see people we haven’t seen in weeks. I don’t know if absence really makes the heart grow fonder, but I do know being with people where they are is a wonderful thing.
What if, in all this time separated from each other, we forget how to forget the gift of another person’s presence? Go ahead; read that again. What if we waited for those we celebrate, not inside, but out on the curb?
I’d come to expect too much. I’d become entitled. These days are getting to me. They’re causing me to ask, “What if we lived life as a gift, every breath of it?”
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.