The other night I attended a surprise party.  My friend had been making plans for months to surprise his wife for her milestone birthday, texting and emailing the details to their friends, and ultimately, the party went off without a hitch.  This was the second surprise party I attended in the last few months, and both were successful in their purpose:  Each time the unknowing recipient was completely in the dark until the ruse was revealed (and was also obviously taken aback and somewhat unnerved).

Every time I attend a surprise party I think of Gomer Pyle saying, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” in his exaggerated Southern drawl.  He got it right:  once is not enough, three times is about right.   Adding the surprise to a birthday party gives it a little zest.  A party is just a party, but make it into a surprise party, and you’ve topped it off with an exclamation point.  And you’ve created a memory.

As we get older the years begin to slip by and birthdays begin to melt together.  They may mean less to us, but  sometimes we need to add that exclamation point to remind us that all of them are important.  They still mean something.

The other night, hours after we shouted “Surprise!” and after the husband read his wife a poem he had written, after the food and the drink and dessert , the party came to a close.  We started to say goodbye to our friends, and as we hugged each other, I saw the birthday girl wipe away a tear.  Exclamation point.

Birds of a Different Feather

Earlier this week I watched and listened in awe as New Jersey governor Chris Christie accompanied our President to view the destruction left behind by Hurricane Sandy, and then repeatedly praised the President in front of the assembled media.  Mr. Christie, who had spent a good part of this election cycle as the standard bearer for Mitt Romney, didn’t have to do what he did, and he certainly didn’t have to do it over and over again.  In public.  In front of the cameras.  So, why did he?

Over the years our society has shown an amazing cohesiveness when confronted with unthinkable adversity.  9/11.  Katrina. Joplin. And now, Sandy, to name just a few examples.  We circle the wagons and come together to provide support and aid to those around us who are suffering.  When our neighbor hurts, we hurt, and we want to help.   It is a humanistic response to a primal instinct.

When disaster strikes on the level of Seaside Park or Long Beach Island, one struggles to comprehend the utter destruction that our eyes take in.  In image after image, video after video, Governor Christie, at one destroyed community after another, looked shell-shocked, and broken.  His state — his home — was devastated.  And he clearly appreciated having the President there to lend him support–someone for him to lean on.

I remember reading once that comedian and political commentator  Al Franken, prior to becoming Senator Franken, attended a dinner function in Washington, DC, and when President George W. Bush entered the room, everyone rose and applauded, including Franken.  The man standing next to him, knowing of Franken’s outspoken criticism of President Bush, scoffed at Franken, to which Franken replied something along the lines of, “He is my President, and I will stand in salute of him when he enters the room.”

In this year of the corporate “personhood” of unrelenting, vile political advertisements, Chris Christie showed his humanity and his dignity in a time of crisis.  He put aside politics and stood by his President’s side as he struggled to keep his composure.  And then, when he stepped up to the microphone and spoke, he said what was in his heart.

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