On a random morning this past August, I woke up to discover that I was out of almond milk. It’s a crucial component in my coffee ritual, so I ambled sleepily to the nearest grocery store for a new carton. My hair was still unbrushed, and there was nothing in my pockets but my phone and a $5 bill.
It was around 7am. Rose gold sunlight dripped from Brooklyn’s brick buildings to otherwise untouched sidewalks. Quiet cars hummed by, en route to work, and birds chirped in looped flight between rooftops.
As I approached the senior center a few blocks from my apartment, I heard a soft song seeping through its shut windows: the chorus of “happy birthday.” The strangers’ voices beamed in gentle effervescence through the slits in the blinds as I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t see their faces, but I imagined a gray-haired group of at least five people. I wondered whether there was cake. I pictured candles stuck in sloppy stacks of pancakes or waffles, with tiny flames flickering in an imitation of the waking sun.
It was a simple moment that seemed to change everything, staining my mood with its sweetness. It shook me out of my own head, which had begun buzzing with plans and to-do lists and self-focused weekday worries. It reminded me that I am not the center of the universe; that my concerns are mere specks in a world rippling with rich emotions and ever-humming human connections.
Just as the song ended with a rush of claps and scattered bursts of “yay,” I captured a quick video of the scene to sew it into my memory. My hand wobbled, and there was nothing to see, anyway. The significance was only the sound — the resonating warmth of the song whose evanescence somehow made it more poignant and precious.