Last week I was an unashamed party crasher.

On May 26, I had just finished an interview with Roseleen “Spud” Rick about her retirement from Habitat for Humanity – Powhatan and was driving home to work on the story. As I passed Graceland Baptist Church, I saw a group of people in the parking lot holding what looked like a drive-by birthday party.

I pulled in and got there just in time to see a group of people spaced well apart and wearing masks offering 90th birthday wishes to local resident Gloria Aspinwall. They carried signs wishing her a happy birthday, played music, and gave her a tiara to wear. They even asked the Powhatan County Sheriff’s Office to do a drive by, which it graciously did, and the look of shock and awe on her face as one of the deputies jokingly said, “You want me to come arrest you now or later,” was priceless.

She was so incredibly humbled by the experience that it made me smile just to see her stunned reactions that they all would come out to honor her. Over and over, I heard her emotionally question, “What did I do to deserve this?”

This wasn’t the first such COVID-19 inspired celebration I have attended in the last several weeks. I was invited to and was personally able to attend drive-by celebrations for a 99-year-old and a 10-year-old. I have heard about or been invited to similar social distancing efforts for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and other celebrations that I couldn’t attend. There have also been an untold number of celebrations held via Zoom because that was the safest way to do it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered the way traditional celebrations are being experienced right now. Huge family celebrations or trips are being replaced by quiet affairs at home. Last week I sent a happy anniversary message to a friend whose wedding I attended several years ago, and she told me they had actually forgotten the special occasion, and, when they realized it, decided to skip it this year.

It may seem like a small thing in the face of larger issues – a worldwide health crisis, skyrocketing unemployment, businesses struggling to survive, families struggling to finish the school year, mounting racial tensions over recent killings that have shocked the nation, and food and supply shortages. And in perspective, these celebrations really are a very small issue.

But the reason we cover them in the Powhatan Today is because, in the face of all of those horrible and daunting issues we are faced with every day, there are still people in the Powhatan community wanting to spread kindness and joy. There are still people who are saying you are turning 10, you are turning 95, you are graduating high school, you are getting married, you had a beautiful baby… well, we want to celebrate that.

The birthday party I happened across wasn’t a huge affair. They didn’t rent a hall, hire a band, and purchase an elaborate cake. A little less than 20 people met in a parking lot, wore masks so Ms. Aspinwall hardly knew who anyone was, played music out of the back of someone’s van, and displayed a few homemade signs. But to look at the birthday girl’s face, you would have thought someone lassoed the moon and gave it to her tied with a pretty bow.

In this time of stress and anxiety, a small celebration or a small act of kindness can take on a huge meaning and level of poignancy to the one being shown the most important message any of us can share with each other right now: You matter.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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