The first ones would be thirty-seven years old today. Their children would be in their teens; high schoolers carrying iPods, texting everyone in the wide world, Facebookers. Spouses would have gone off to work somewhere in the city, out into a field, or over to the factory by now. Perhaps they both would have to go to work. So many couples do that now, you know.
This is the time of year for planning vacations with the kids. Maybe they’d be sitting now at a computer getting information on air fares, nice beaches, tickets at Disney World. Was Disney World around thirty-seven years ago?
The first ones would be thirty-seven years old today. It’s Friday today. The weekend starts and tonight might have been movie night. Would they take the kids to Papa Gino’s and then over to watch “Avatar “on the other side of town at the huge “Cine-plex” with the stadium seats and a ten dollar barrel of popcorn for everyone? Perhaps they would be the kind of folks who like to stay home and play some board games with the kids. I kind of wish I’d had the chance to know them. Today I miss them. I think I will miss them every day.
The last ones have no age at all, since we don’t start counting those things until one year of breathing on your own has been completed. They won’t get to see the sun rise or set, to stand outside in the rain, throw a ball, take a math test. learn to drive. They have no age at all, the last ones. We cannot count for them.
Oh, I suppose that not every one of them would have led the kind of life I’ve led. Maybe their mistakes would have been bigger, their faults more obvious, their sins more heinous, and they more in need of mercy from us all. Maybe they wouldn’t have seen what I have seen of life, or been able to see anything at all, or talk about it with anyone at all. Is that the reason? Should I feel better for them, then, or because of what has happened to them?
Today, their birthday, there will be thousands who will wonder what may have been. It’s strange how we do that; wonder what may have been. My father used to play that game with me, sometimes; the game he called Imagine If. I was supposed to tell him what I would do if I imagined I was someone, someplace, somewhere. Who can ever ask them?
I never played it with my own children. Our make believe games were all, somehow, more concrete. I was someone, they were someone’s, too, and we were all somewhere together. Our minds placed us here or there and we took on another name in another place, and did almost anything we wanted to do.
Now, I play it with them even though I know that there is no way. Yet, today I play it with them, and I have been playing the game since I woke up this morning. I have to do something with them today. Today is their birthday, if any day is for those who have never seen a day. I can see them all in my imagination, filling the streets, crowding everywhere, the younger ones and the very first ones; the ones who would have been thirty-seven years old. I see the ones my own children might have played with, might have gone to school with, might have dated and married. But they never did. I see the new-borns.
We play games, you know, to pass the time in each other’s company, to enjoy ourselves, to be friendly and companionable. We have always played games, all our history in every age, games and sharing each other’s company have been part of life. Hospitality, welcome, sharing. These are virtues. These are acts of charity and of love. These are us at our most human, at our best. We have been brought up to share ourselves, to welcome the new one and the stranger. Well, I must play with them, these millions who are here today.
I remember the games at my children’s birthday parties. I remember how much pleasure we all took in them, from the youngest to the oldest. I remember the joy on their faces.
Will you play and sing with me, today? Will you play and sing Happy Birthday to the strangers who are here, the millions of shadows around my heart?