My birthday is in April, so this month I’ve reached another milestone in the inescapable process of aging.
This year’s birthday was a strange one. In fact, I spent much of it feeling sorry for myself.
Why? Well, half my family forgot my birthday (or at least they didn’t contact me about it). Most of my best friends also forgot. None of my colleagues at school remembered (although several of my students did). As a result, I was feeling lonely and ignored, so I invited two friends out for a Japanese food dinner, so I’d at least have an event to look forward to on my not-so-special day. However, I didn’t tell those friends that it was my birthday.
And then, on the day itself, it rained. Yes, of course, we need the rain here in California, but I would have liked some sunshine that morning. To make matters worse, my five-year-old laptop died, so I had to go to my local electronics store and buy a new one. (I tried to think of that purchase as a birthday gift to myself, but it didn’t feel very festive.) I had a bad case of the “birthday blues.”
As I left the store about twenty minutes later, it was still raining. While I was unlocking my car, a voice from someone standing behind me said, “Excuse me, can I talk to you?”
I turned to see a young man standing in the rain. (He didn’t look like a panhandler, but he wasn’t someone I knew.)
“I’ve been waiting for you to come out,” he said. (“Oh great,” I thought. “Is this guy a stalker?”)
“Okay,” I said cautiously. “What about?”
“Well,” he said, “I parked next to your car and as I was getting out of my car, a big gust of wind came up and knocked my door into your passenger side door. I’m really sorry, but it scratched your car.”
“Oh!” I said, pleasantly surprised that he had even waited to talk to me. (My hunch was that most people would have just walked off and not stayed around to discuss the problem.) “Okay, let’s have a look.”
So we walked around to the passenger side of my car, and sure enough, there was a scratch. Not a dent. Not a ding. Just a little scratch. Seriously – it’s hardly visible.
The young man took out his wallet and began to give me his driver’s license and his auto insurance information. He told me he’d be happy to pay to have the door repaired and he was very sorry about the scratch.
Of course, by this point, my attitude toward this person had changed completely. Not a panhandler. Not a stalker. Here was an honest stranger.
I said, “Listen, don’t worry about this at all. I’m grateful to you for telling me and it’s just a tiny scratch and it wasn’t your fault. So thank you for waiting and telling me, but I don’t need your insurance information or your driver’s license. It’s okay. Just forget about it.”
“Are you sure?” he asked me incredulously.
“Absolutely. I just hope that if I’m ever in a serious car accident that you’re the guy in the other vehicle!”
“Oh!! Well, I hope I’m not in a serious car accident, but I understand what you mean,” he said. We shared a laugh and the young man walked off toward the electronics store.
As I got into my car, I thought to myself, “Wow! An honest man trying to do something nice for a stranger and waiting to talk to me all that time in this nasty weather.”
Suddenly I realized I’d just been given a gift – a truly wonderful gift.
“Hey, wait a minute!” I called after him, just as he reached the entrance to the store. “What’s your name?”
He looked back at me, shook his head, and began walking back toward our cars, once more reaching for his driver’s license. His expression seemed somewhat resigned. Perhaps he was thinking that I’d changed my mind about having him pay for repainting the car door.
“Isaac,” he said, trying to hand me his documents. “My name is Isaac.”
“Well, Isaac,” I said, “I don’t want your insurance information. I just want to thank you.”
“For what?” he asked.
“For the important lesson you just taught me. Today is my birthday and I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself, because most of my friends and half my family forgot. But here you are, an honest man, waiting in the rain to try to pay for a simple mistake that was really Mother Nature’s fault. It’s so important that you reminded me that there are such good people in the world.”
“Oh, wow!” cried Isaac. “Happy birthday! Can I give you a hug?”
So I got a birthday hug from a total stranger and a tiny scratch on my car door, which I plan not to have repainted. That scratch will serve as a reminder of the important lesson I learned on my birthday.
My encounter with Isaac got me thinking about feeling sorry for myself. As I started to review the situation, I had a few surprising realizations. First, I had indeed gotten very nice birthday emails from my friends Diane, Bill, and Neil. That point led me to a rather uncomfortable awareness: I had forgotten Diane’s birthday in February and Bill’s in March, and I don’t even know when Neil’s birthday is.
My friend and former student, Lorene, had sent me a lovely birthday card. She has done so ever since she graduated, many years ago. I realized I hadn’t thanked her or even acknowledged receiving the card.
Furthermore, with regards to my apparently forgetful colleagues, I realized I don’t have any idea about when half their birthdates are, so why should I expect them to know mine?
Then I remembered that several of my friends and I had had a wonderful Chinese dinner together at the TESOL Convention in Seattle in March, and that it was partly a birthday celebration.
And then the week after my actual birthday, my boss took me out for a fabulous Greek lunch.
Finally, as it turns out, the two friends I had invited to dinner did remember. They surprised me with a very nice bottle of wine and a beautiful bouquet of flowers. All in all, it turned out to be a wonderful birthday. And as a matter of fact, it lasted almost an entire month.
Now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with TIRF. Well, the Foundation will soon be celebrating its twentieth birthday. In June, 1998, the TESOL Board of Directors voted to approve the seed money to start the Foundation, and in 1999 its articles of incorporation were filed. So TIRF is nearly twenty years old.
There are two relevant points to be made here. First, TIRF will soon be celebrating an extended birthday, just as I did. Second, we won’t let you forget! There will be many announcements throughout 2018 and 2019 about new initiatives and commemorative events. We hope that you will join us in celebrating the two-decade anniversary of the Foundation, and that you will continue to support our work for many more years to come!