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on party hats

Talked parties with my son Sam this weekend. He's having a wonderful time (too wonderful? No, just wonderful enough) at university, so he had more to say than I did. One of his comments was particularly insightful. I like those stupid party hats, he said, but, you know, they hurt.

I was dumbstruck (for a half-second). Then You're right!! I shouted down the phone line. I can not remember a single time -- out of the dozens of party-hat occasions in my life -- when I have taken the hat off and not felt physically relived. I'm always happy to put it on, and always in pain when I take it off.

There's a symbol there. The party is our life. We embrace it, smiling. We willingly pull it on our head even though it makes us look stupid, eager to join the crowd of other stupid-looking partiers. They laugh at us and welcome us to the festivities, and we're off, dancing and drinking and chatting up a storm. We forget about the hat. The party goes on, and the newness dies, but we keep smiling because this is a party and we want everyone to have a good time. Except that there's a growing stiffness around our jaw, and a pain from the elastic cutting into our cheek .... The very thing that makes it a party is hurting us. But if we take off the hat the party will be over, and we aren't -- quite -- ready for the party to be over. So we wait a bit longer, only by now we are very aware of the stupid hat. We look over at old whatshisname, asleep on the couch, his hat half off. He looks kind of pathetic. We think about sitting down ourselves, yawn hugely (and painfully), and realize that most of the guests have left. So we get our coats instead, and join the crowd at the door, and there in the hall we give our hostess a hug and, with a kind of rueful grimace that is oh so relieved, we pull off the party hat. And go home.


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