Birthday Tears at Work
First weekend after school began and I found myself sitting on the floor in my neighbor/coworker's small apartment with a pile of Dooney & Burke and Coach bags, wondering why we were going out of our way for someone we just met two weeks ago.
"Can we sustain this level of generosity for everyone's birthday in our department?" I asked, skeptically. "There are over fifteen of us!"
"She's far from home," my coworker, Salamah, explained, "And I want to make sure that her birthday is special since she doesn't have family here. We are her family."
So, without further ado, we each pitched in a little over $30 and purchased a quaint little Dooney & Burke lunch bag and makeup bag that can hold her marker board markers (nerdy teacher gift). In addition to that, we bought one of the most expensive cakes in Riyadh, which also happens to be one of the best-tasting cakes I have ever had in my entire life.
I dug into my cabinets for some fall-themed napkins, and we were good to go. During work the next day, we set up our mini surprise in the Home Economics room and called Melissa out of class. She was frustrated and overworked, and when she walked into the room and heard us all shout "Surprise!" she began to cry.
She explained to us that her family back in America has a series of birthday events for her and that what we did for her especially touched her heart because it was the first time she ever had to spend her birthday without them.
Hearing Melissa speak made me almost cry. I gave Salamah, who orchestrated the whole thing, a big hug afterwards and thanked her for the idea. Truth be told, I don't understand how important birthdays are for many people and I never will because we simply don't consider them a big deal in my family (short of a barbecue and a cake, which we do all the time anyway). I have spent the last several birthdays alone, and, with the exception of my ex fiancé buying me flowers and taking me to what became my favorite fish place in Riyadh for my last birthday, my birthdays usually pass at work just like any other day, minus the Facebook wishes that flood my wall.
I was so happy that we had the chance to welcome one of our new coworkers and be there for her when she needed our friendship the most. Each time I see her carry her little D&B lunch bag to or from work, I smile inside. The Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings upon him, taught us to make the intention "Idkhaal al-suroor," which means, "[I ask God to make] happiness enter [his or her heart]." This was one prayer that God answered for me on an otherwise normal day of work, and I am eternally humbled and grateful.