There were two North Carolina sons who died on the same day.
One lived to be ninety-nine.
The other lived nineteen days.
One is known the world over; his body will lie in the Capitol of the United States.
The other is known only by a small community; his body weighed less than three pounds.
One accomplished great and mighty things; he is remembered, will be remembered, by generation after generation.
The other fought a great and mighty fight to stay alive, to grow; he was the start of a new generation. The first child, the first grandchild.
There will be several commemorations for the one.
There was a small gathering of family and friends, clutching balloons, for the other.
A man old and full of days, as the Bible says, ravaged by time, and a new baby ravaged by arriving too early, they breathed their last around the same hour and left the world behind.
I stood at the little gathering for the baby, holding onto the ribbon of a light blue balloon someone handed me.
The North Carolina sun shone bright and uncharacteristically warm for February. It felt like spring. A breeze rattled the balloons; the sound of their bumping each other reminded me of boats bumping against their moorings at a dock.
A lonely sound.
In one motion, together, our gathering released the balloons. Swept quickly upward, they made an array of shimmering colors against the azure sky. Breathtakingly beautiful. Within seconds they attained stunning heights. The brilliant colors changed, before our eyes, into distant glittering dots, bright, silvery stars twinkling in the daytime.
I thought then of all who are loved and lost. The young and the old. By sickness, tragedy, time . . . it matters only that they lived. They were here and we loved them. We do not stop loving them. We rail against our constraints, but they are not tied anymore. Their moorings are loosed. Their spirits are free, glittering, ever-bright in the distance, going on and on.