Last weekend marked the beginning of Ben’s 28th year on this earth. Although he has accumulated the years of a man, his heart and understanding are that of a small child. Ben’s calendar is simple: Starting on December 26, he starts anticipating his birthday. And on June 28th, he begins to eagerly anticipate Christmas.
Every day for the last six months Ben has asked if his best friends will be coming to his birthday party. Every. Single. Day. Each year we take the group to Ben’s favorite restaurant (Arby’s) and then home for gifts and cake.
But this year Covid 19 put an end to many celebrations, and one of those was Ben’s party. He was devastated.
Trying to get Ben’s mind off of it, I put the word out on Facebook, asking people to drive by with something for Ben – a can of pop, a paper airplane – just to try to make his birthday special. We expected half a dozen people to come by.
Instead, 45 people showed up.
Ben has more bottles of Mountain Dew than any sane person should drink in six months.
He was bubbling over with joy all day long. He kept his shoes, hat and sunglasses by the door, ready to run out to the driveway as soon as I alerted him. He even forgot about opening his presents from his dad and me. The cake he’d spent 24 hours begging to eat sat on the counter, forgotten in his excitement.
Covid 19 is surging back around the country. People around us have lost jobs, income and businesses. My social media streams are filled with angry people flinging accusations of racism, conspiracies and hate out into this broken world.
But 45 people showed up on Saturday with balloons and Matchbox cars and Mountain Dew just to show love to our son. To spread the kind of joy and presence that defies the darkness and fear around us. To stake a claim for goodness and kindness in a world seemingly overcome by ugliness. To declare that the weakest among us are essential to maintaining our humanity.
45 people in person and more on Facebook set aside their own troubles for a few minutes to help celebrate a young man who has no concept of disease or riots or hate. As far as he is aware, the world is full of people who bring him pop and accept his overly-enthusiastic hugs, people who insist on greeting him even when he refuses to respond, people who take initiative instead of taking offense. People who see in Ben “the least of these” that Jesus talked about and afford him the dignity of his individuality.
People who have taught Ben, and us as his parents, what love looks like.