When you swing upon a star

The night was clear and starry. I sat out on my front steps, holding my birthday cake on my lap. It was store-bought, but I'd put the candles on it, and lit them, and I felt almost as proud as if I'd baked it myself. I was waiting for a star to fall. Grandmothers in my family had always said that if you made a wish and blew out the candles just at the moment a star fell, your wish would have double the chance of coming true.

Across the street, in a little park, a young family that lived in the neighborhood was taking the grandparents for a stroll in honor of their visit. In front went grandfather, son, and grandson, in manly discussion, and behind came grandmother, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, holding hands.

They stopped at some swings. A treat for the grandchildren tonight, I thought. The grown-ups would give a push and then stand and watch, reminiscing, rejoicing.

But, lo and behold, first the son and daughter-in-law helped to seat the grandparents and children, and then, giving them all a head-start push, they sat down in swings, too, and hurried to catch up.

I never saw such swinging in my life. Higher and higher everybody flew, the toes of their shoes poking the sleepy light of the stars - look what's happening down here! The grandparents, though not keeping up with the younger ones, matched them whoop for laughing whoop. You would have thought that they, like their grandchildren, had most of their lives - the kisses, dances, leaps into the unknown - before them.

What love their son and daughter-in-law must have had to embrace those different generations of children in that sweet, exuberant moment, to make the old ones feel as included in life as the young. It was love like a star. Love that shone not only for those who could see it with young eyes, but for those who could see it with old.

I'd waited for a star to fall up above, and now one was flying in swings down below, right across the street. I could almost hear my grandmothers urging me, ''Make your wish and blow out the candles. This is even better.''

It would have seemed ungrateful to hoard that earthly star, so I made the same wish for the world as for myself. I can't tell you what it was, because so far it's come true only for me, and I don't want to spoil the world's chance. But if you've ever known what it was like to feel the sadness of getting older turn into the joy of being alive, then you've wished it, too.

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