It happened at a Barry Manilow concert.
Yeah, you read right. 70s crooner Barry Manilow. Not someone I'd normally fork out dollars to see, but my good friend Mark is a DJ who often gets free concert tickets, the operative word being free. More enticing was the thought of spending catch-up time with Mark, whom I first met when we were high school freshmen back in '73. He is, in the most literal sense, my oldest friend and one of my dearest.
But when the concert date rolled around, I wasn't really in the mood. I hadn't realized that the event fell on my mother's birthday, a day that leaves me melancholy. It's been three years and I still miss my mother--my best friend, coach, counselor, and confidant--more than words can describe. At first, I kept waiting for the pain to subside, the hole in my heart to heal, but now I realize that it never will. As my BFF Pam explained, having lost her own beloved father years earlier, a loss of this magnitude simply becomes a part of your DNA. You learn to live with it.
And so I've been living with it, never feeling quite like my old self but accepting this as the new normal. Okay, fine.
That's why I kept our date and went to the concert with Mark. We were in the nosebleed section (because the seats were comped and hey, beggars can't be choosers), which rendered Manilow the size of a flea. Not only that, we were so far to the right of the stage that we could only see the singer's famous profile, missing all the entertainment taking place in back that the rest of the arena was enthusiastically responding to.
But it didn't matter because the nosebleed section was having a party of its own. Several DJs from Mark's station were sitting near us and a fun bunch they were. We fed off each other's energy, standing at every song, waving our glow sticks in the air and singing at the top of our lungs, "Oh Mandy, you came and you gave without taking..."
To my surprise, I was genuinely having a good time, feeling a lightness in my heart that's been absent since the day my mother died. That's when, out of the blue, in the middle of a random song, it hit me. An epiphany so dazzling and bright, it was no less blinding than if someone had beamed a flashlight directly into my eyes.
In that packed arena of roughly 10,000 Barry Manilow fans chanting, "Copa, Copacabana!" I felt my mother's presence as intimately as if she was sitting right next to me, shoulder-to-shoulder. And like a cartoon bolt of lightening aimed toward my head, it struck me that it pained her to see me sad, heavyhearted, trudging through a life colored in shades of gray. This wasn't what my mother wanted for the daughter in whose birthday card she once wrote, "Every day I thank God for giving me a daughter like you."
On this lively evening, watching me wiggle and jiggle to ""Bandstand Boogie," I felt it -- my mother's joy at my delight. I saw it--the ear-splitting smile on her face. And I realized that on this day, her birthday, I had given her the greatest gift of all: my happiness.
Since then, the lightness in my heart, that inkling of joy, has remained. Lingering like a soft, gentle light. Because ultimately, her gift was mine, too.