Denise was about to celebrate her 50th birthday and all she really wanted, she said, was to get to know her family better. Over the years, they had moved away from each other, raised families, built lives—and had also drifted apart. Even when they did get together on holidays, they ended up telling the same old stories over and over again. This time, Denise decided to get creative.
She invited her parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces and nephews to a restaurant for the big birthday dinner. Before anyone arrived, she placed a small papier-mâché box with a cake painted on its lid at each seat around the table. Inside every box were 25 slips of paper, each bearing a different question: Who would play you in the movie of your life? What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you? What is your greatest strength? If you could do one thing over in your life, what would it be? Who in the world would you most like to meet? What are the three words that you would want other people to use to describe you?
One at a time, the guests (including Denise) opened their boxes, pulled out a question and answered it. The night was filled with laughter, joy and even a few tears. Although the restaurant was wonderful, no one remembered the food. But everyone now has memories of stories told and the gift of themselves that they shared. The evening celebrated one birthday and the rebirth of friendships and family closeness. Denise's reconnection to the people she loves was the greatest birthday present she could have received.
Denise made her birthday a huge success in part because she made these simple question boxes. What can you make to make a celebration more meaningful?
A few years ago, I was in the audience for a talk given by Marianne Pearl, author and widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal war correspondent who was kidnapped and murdered in 2002 by terrorists in Pakistan. She told us about the amazing outpouring of love and hope she received from people all over the world after the heartbreaking vigil that ended with the news of Danny's brutal killing. In particular, she spoke of a gift that came for her infant son, Adam, from a woman in Austin, Texas. Marianne read from the letter that accompanied it.
"Dear Marianne," it began. "Please accept my gift of a quilt for your son. I was deeply touched by your tragedy and wanted to do something for you."
Though she was a stranger and not in a position to help Marianne in person, this woman was a quiltmaker and, as she put it, "nothing says love, in my mind's eye, like a quilt." She went on to say: "Hopefully the quilt will bring you both pleasure, security and a bit of comfort. That is my wish."
Both of these stories speak to a simple truth: Each of us wants to connect more closely with the people in our lives. We want to know that we belong and are loved, and we want to make others feel the same way too.
These stories also celebrate something else: Our innate desire to create. Creativity is one of the basic human needs, right up there with love, companionship and hope. The desire to make beautiful, meaningful moments and things is an undeniable part of who we are. It's there in our spirits.
Get your activities for Week 9