Elliot’s birthday was last week. He’s 17 now, so I suppose I should update my “about” page. On the day of his birthday, I made tacos, his current fav. (We deep-fry corn tortillas and grill meat (usually chicken) and I make guacamole and we put out tons of fresh toppings and they’re actually really, really good). I made cupcakes, a half-recipe of his favorite cake (recipe here although I never move beyond the ganache to whatever that white frosting stuff is), since it was only our family that evening. He was pretty happy with them anyway, esp since I forgot to halve the chocolate, so they were quite decadent.

At 10:30 p.m., we left for the airport. We have an Iraqi friend I’ll call Abou. He’s kind and generous, and is the one who first gave Elliot the name by which he’s known throughout the Iraqi community–Abu Kafashir, which means “father of too much hair.” Abou also gave Elliot a leather jacket, which Elliot adores.

Sometimes when I’m writing about my friends, I’m unsure how much of their stories to tell. After all, their lives are their own. Is it right to tell too much? I change names, hide details. Abou’s story in particular is really dramatic–full of tragedy and woe. His family has had to bear a lot, suffered many losses, but their story is not mine to tell on the internet. From the first time I met them, I could see this was a family shaped around grief and loss, and I will say that they stand out even in a community bearing scars of experiences far beyond the experience of a typical American.

Many of our Iraqi friends here worked with the US military or US companies, and as a result become targets themselves of the insurgents. One family had their house bombed and lost children; another’s small boys bear scars on their heads from a car bomb left just outside their place that threw them and their mother against the wall but mercifully didn’t kill them; another’s teenage boy was kidnapped and tortured, although he was later able to escape using his wits. If a family is targeted, that means the whole family–extended family as well–is targeted, and sometimes extended family resents this. Such was the case with Abou and his oldest daughter, whose husband was badly and permanently injured. She refused to speak to her father for several years.

So when Abou told Donn and I that this daughter, now wanting to reconcile and move here, would be arriving late on the night of Elliot’s birthday, and he invited us to join him in welcoming her at the airport, there was no hesitation–we would be honoured, and we said so.

But how would Abu Kafashir himself feel? After all, it was his birthday, and at first we didn’t know when they’d arrive. We talked to Elliot, and he was unequivocal in his response–of course we would go to the airport. He knew enough of Abou’s story to get why this was particularly important and meaningful. Also, I know I’m his mother but no grain of salt is needed–he’s really a great kid. I don’t even take credit; I’ve made tons of mistakes and dragged him all over the world and I spend far too much time reading or on my computer. I wasn’t anything like him at 17. It’s grace.

There was quite a crowd at the airport–Abou’s family is well-known in the community. Coincidently, all the women were wearing black and purple. We lined up to watch the airplane empty out. Hundreds of people streamed past us as we all watched eagerly. The crowd slowed to a trickle; still no sign. The airline personnel began to appear, dragging their small cases behind them. This was a very bad sign. “Excuse me; is anyone still left on the plane?” one of the men asked the pilot. “Yes, there’s still a family back there. They don’t speak English. They have small children who are crying,” he responded.

That’s them! We all smiled at each other. Small children crying–no wonder, after a 2 day journey and a handicapped dad who probably couldn’t help much. (I often feel like crying after 2 days on a plane/in airports myself!) We couldn’t go past where we were, but soon we heard the unmistakable sound of wailing and suddenly, they appeared.

Abou’s wife is someone who is always polite but never joyful. Like I said, this family is shaped by loss. So it was incredible to watch her sweep her grandson into her arms, to see her fully engaged, fully in the moment, and full of joy. I started crying. I certainly wasn’t the only one wiping away tears; Abou himself was openly weeping. It was a wonderful time.

Elliot thought his birthday was actually pretty special. And we celebrated even more this week, when I once again made tacos, this time for a multitude, and made an entire birthday cake, and we all went to the opening of the new Batman movie. I loved the movie, which I didn’t expect to, and I loved again being part of a cultural phenomenon, seeing people in costume, listening to the cheers and boos, watching the people around me. At one point a woman came in and yelled at some guy who was smoking: “If you do that again, we will have to evacuate the theatre and you will not see the movie.” A group of guys stood up and pointed at the one who’d been smoking. People yelled random things at random times. It wasn’t till the following morning that I saw the news of the shooting at the same movie opening in Colorado.

I don’t know how to end this post, how to pull together tragedy and joy in Abou’s family, and joy in ours (celebrating Elliot) and tragedy in others, those in Colorado. Maybe there’s some symmetry in this post, but real life is messy; such things seem to be disproportionate from one family to another. It’s wonderful to see, in the life of my friends, sorrow turned to joy, and mourning to dancing. I pray the same for those affected by the events in Colorado; I know it will take years, but I believe it can happen.