By now most of us have read about or seen in person or even participated in one of these Do-It-Yourself Parades that were standard fare during the early days of social distancing. The very first parade I was invited to be a part of was to celebrate Emmett’s thirteenth birthday.
Emmett is friends with my youngest son and lives just a block away so we were invited, along with a whole slew of people, to line up in the nearby elementary school’s parking lot. At the appointed time we would all drive past Emmett’s, waving our signs and honking and yelling well-wishes.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect as we queued up (this was one of the very first DIY parades in our neighborhood) but I was most definitely surprised by what did happen.
I’m sure you can picture most of it: lots of cars and vans and trucks lined up. Lots of kids yelling from car to car. Some banners and balloons and signs. Once the parade got underway there was a cacophony of horns and benign screaming and disparate renditions of Happy Birthday being sung.
I was surprised how exciting and honoring and real it all felt. Not like a birthday party, sure, but surprisingly energetic and joyful. Until, that is, we drew up to Emmett’s house.
We were towards the back of the line and by the time we got to Emmett’s, this new thirteen-year-old was sitting on his parents bumper, head leaned back against the car, with a pained look on his face. There was no smile there at all.
This was surprising. Emmett is a huge extrovert and I figured he’d love this surprise parade of well-wishers.
But he did not love it. In fact, it seemed to me as we pulled away that there may have been some tears coming down that angry/bored/not-smiling face.
We puzzled over his response as we pulled away. Maybe he was feeling sick? Maybe he had just gotten up? Maybe he wanted to be inside playing on his Xbox?
The mystery was solved a week later when we received a hand-written thank you letter from Emmett. He thanked us for being part of the parade and then explained that he was really embarrassed by the whole thing.
The letter was very sweet, but to be honest I wonder if “embarrassed” is the right word. Emmett is a class clown, you see. Never met a crowd he didn’t like. I wonder if Emmett was just overcome by this communal expression of love. Remember, at that point none of us had seen someone get a whole parade just for themselves. How unexpected and unambiguous must our expression of love been to Emmett? Maybe what I saw as we pulled away were the tears of the beloved, an uncontrollable reaction to all the love being poured out?
After all, we’re used to people saying hi or giving us a present or even coming to a birthday party. We kind of expect those things, even. But a parade? I wonder if Emmett had ever felt so openly, publicly loved by his friends as he did when a string of decorated cars and vans and trucks made their way, raucously, past his house.
I wonder if we’ll get used to parades and no longer be moved by them as we are right now.
Perhaps, then, we’ll just have to keep thinking up new and fresh ways of saying “We love you” to our friends so that this life-changing message is really heard.