Father Ed Commentary: Just Blow Out the Candles

By Edward P. Noga
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When I drop something off at my sister and brother-in-law’s house, it’s not unusual to hear her singing “Happy Birthday.”

Singing this song has become part of most people’s bathroom regimen. But the melody is now heard in many different places and in many different situations. And, it has nothing to do with somebody’s birthday.

Very early in our response to the virus outbreak, it was suggested that we sing the “Happy Birthday” jingle twice as we’re washing our hands. That amount of time, scientists told us, just about equals the 20-second timeframe that is most effective in ridding us of the virus germs.

Let’s be honest. This now important ritual of singing will take us into an entirely new world as we periodically honor someone’s date of birth. But let’s also be clear that in our lifetime we have entered a lot of new worlds. Currently, we literally are watching the exploration of the planet Mars courtesy of the Perseverance rover. For many of us, this sort of technology was hinted at in science-fiction comic books decades ago. But, would it ever happen?

Yes, it did.

How about the world of the “chirp” that happens on our key chains? Or even the sound of the alarm from our key fobs that helps us when we are hopelessly lost in a large parking lot? Before the fob, some folks wandered around a lot for minutes (hours? searching for the car or truck or van that would take them back home.

Some remember when it was a really big deal when our wristwatches could give us the time from anywhere in the world. Now, those small items can monitor our heartbeats, count our steps and much more.

For those who indulge in the occasional brew, national brands competed for our wallets. Now microbreweries add a local and seasonal taste to the chalkboard list on the wall.

During the pandemic, although there are several schools of thought, virtual learning has continued to guide our young people into the vast world of knowledge and creativity.

Incubators have taken us into an entirely new realm of possibilities. Communities large and small have maker-space sites and others for the continuing development of initiatives that can help us now and down the road. Here in the Valley, within a mile of each other, the internationally renowned Youngstown Business Incubator is a neighbor to the Oak Hill Collaborative. YBI helps to develop software and additive manufacturing capabilities for the Mahoning Valley and beyond.

Oak Hill is a small-business incubator that helps small, local businesses to get started and make use of expertise and space for their growth.

These two examples are replicated throughout our Valley and provide us with a legitimate promise about our future.

Yes, we are in a space right now that is taking us into a new world of understanding. The pandemic has given us new insights into our relationships with people all over the globe.

The lessons have been hard this past year and the suffering we have endured has taken many lives from us. The lessons we have learned have also given us new chances and new opportunities for creativity and cooperation. 

I don’t know if we’re aware of our connectedness to one another as we’re singing “Happy Birthday” and washing our hands. I do think our connectedness will show up each time the melody accompanies candles on a cake.

This coming year or next, when the new normal allows us to safely gather more for occasions like birthdays, that we are going to have two cakes for the occasions. One to mark the event with the appropriate number of candles, and a second much smaller cake with one candle, to remind us of where we’ve been and what we have sacrificed during COVID-19.

Maybe a moment of silence before singing for the person of honor will help us look back and then look ahead to new possibilities. After all, the “make-a-wish” ritual usually looks to what can be. Maybe the small cake with one lit candle will remain as the vigil light for what we have learned to make all of our lives better.

So, to my sister and all of us singing “Happy Birthday” as we wash our hands, keep singing and keep learning and keep reaching out and keep believing that it’s our world.

The Perseverance rover is picking up and gathering all sorts of information that will make our understanding of the universe clearer and better appreciate our place in it. As communities, persevere in the reality and aftermath that “Happy Birthday” has brought us to today and will take us to tomorrow.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.