We recently celebrated my husband’s 35th birthday with Mexican food, a giant, backyard blow-up castle and a house full of people we love.
To keep it a proper fiesta, energetic Tejano music floated through the rooms and accompanied the mellifluous conversations of huddled friends holding margaritas on the rocks. Barefoot children ran in and out of doors with grassy toes and sweaty hair. Babies were passed (as were lap dogs). Strings of white twinkly lights hovered above a hot summer patio at dusk, where laughter was the side dish to chicken enchiladas with salsa verde.
We sang Happy Birthday as a guitar was strummed and lights were dimmed and German chocolate cake with thick coconut icing gave way to a late-night livingroom jam session: two guitars, a trombone, some bongos, a few honeyed voices, a tambourine and up-past-bedtime children as back-up dancers. In a vision I won’t soon forget, my own 3-year-old stood to the side in her pink princess nightgown with Shirley Temple blonde curls, her gaze affixed to her father singing, her hips swaying to the beat.
A day later, while cleaning up party decorations, I happened upon a timely podcast discussing the beauty and importance of not just community, but of celebration within that community. The hosts of the Messy Parenting podcast (a married couple) shared their own reflection on a party they had just enjoyed. The husband mused, “There’s something beautiful about celebrating life and savoring it… savoring the relationships. It’s not partying for our own pleasure, it’s about relationships — people — about enjoying each other’s company.” His wife concurred, saying she looked around the room at their recent celebration and said to herself, “This is what heaven is going to be like.”
I nodded as if she could see me scrubbing the sticky margarita residue on my countertop. She was right. These celebrations truly are a taste of heaven — full of love, community and joy. And though I haven’t had the words “taste of heaven” specifically in my mind, I have had the same feeling time and time again (throughout my life, really) at family reunions and birthday parties, weddings and baptism receptions, Christmas mornings and New Year’s Eve. Even lost in a good conversation with a close girlfriend in a corner booth. Perhaps that feeling is simply one of joy, which truly is quite deeper. Especially if joy is what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin defines it as: the sign of the presence of God.
It wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me: knowing how to “party” is a value I want my children to learn. Of course not in a sorority-gone-wild sense, but in the purest sense of living a life of joy. I want them to know how to enjoy simple pleasures. Relax. Connect with the people around them in a meaningful way. I want celebration (large and small) to be second nature to them, because we celebrate out of gratitude. Not all parties are a big ole’ Fiesta, but even a weeknight family sing-along is communal, joyful and nourishing.
It’s funny that we can all too often see celebrations as frivolous or simply nice-to-have’s, when C.S. Lewis reminds us to not “underestimate the power and importance of celebration.” He continues, “It should be our perpetual way of life.”
And just last week, Pope Francis spoke on the subject at hand, saying, “Celebrations are God’s invention. They are a “time to look at children or grandchildren who are growing and to think: how lovely! It is the time to look at our home, the guests we entertain, the community that surrounds us, and to think: what a good thing! God did this when he created the world, and he does so continually…”
The older I get, the more I realize the immeasurable importance of community. Friendships that are worked at, nurtured, invested in. Family relationships that are built and sustained with time spent and history shared. Neighbors who are known and connected with. And in a world where so much time is spent staring at screens and smart phones and scrolling feeds, there is vast importance in real, authentic, soul-sustaining face to face interactions. Gatherings in livingrooms. Merrymaking for milestones. Communities of people who know each other by more than a status update or newsfeed — but by the living, breathing, intimate connections of interwoven lives.
My 6-year-old son and I sat on the back patio a few months ago when he asked me out of the blue: “Mom, what does heaven look like?”
I’m not sure I answered his question perfectly that day — or that I could do much better right now. But I do know this: I can hold my son close when dear friends gather around the soft glow of birthday candles. I can catch his eye when we sing along with his Daddy playing guitar. I can squeeze his hand when grandparents come visit and stay up too late laughing and I can say:
I’m not for sure what heaven looks like, son, but this is a taste of it.