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We gathered to celebrate a birthday. There were some cards of course, some with small presents, small because there comes a time when you no longer really want things. You want familiar voices and faces and all that comes with them, laughter, memories, hugs, stories, a slice of a favourite cake, in this case a good sherry. 

We had gathered to celebrate ninety years of someone’s life. Once upon a time he had been my church warden - a very good one. 

We made some jokes, the good-natured easy ones of such an occasion. Elderly friends sat on chairs around the walls of the room. Various members of the family moved in and out of the kitchen producing a wealth of good things. Two small grandchildren and even a great-grandchild moved in and out between peoples' legs. 

At the centre of it all he sat, standing now and again to greet an old friend, sitting when he needed to. He was obviously deeply happy. He made a speech, responding to my toast. Some memories, some faraway places, some things shared in parish affairs, it moved along roads of quiet recollection, simply done, not too long mentioning love experienced and things accomplished, a few might-have-beens, roads not taken. I noticed that during that long life there had been a contribution made at every level - to the country, the province, to a loving family who now returned it.

It linked past and present. It spoke of a fulfilled and whole person. I watched him as he responded to the toast, his hand shaped by a long-ago war wound as he held a glass. I thought of Padraic Colum’s lovely lines…

Like a white candle 

In a holy place,

So is the beauty 

Of an aged face. 



iStock photo 105487776

Credit robynmac