I did not think much about my birthday in the days leading up to it. In recent years, I have wanted nothing more than dinner with family and friends. Without either here to celebrate, I expected it to be just another day.
I was wrong about not having friends here. The people in my life, though we have only recently met, showed me the promise of beginning friendships. Without expectation and simply because they cared, new friends, other teachers I had met, even if only in passing, spouses of colleagues, and my Thai language tutor all made sure that I had a special, memorable day. What began as a day I did not plan to acknowledge turned into a birthday that I will never forget.
Within a few days of working at my new school, my birthday was written on the office whiteboard. When I arrived at school that Thursday, I was greeted with a chorus of “happy birthday’s” and showered in treats. My colleagues signed a thoughtful card. The other American teachers insisted that we listen to Taylor Swift’s “22,” naturally, though I was not sure if I could consider myself to be twenty-two, given the fourteen-hour time difference between America, where I was born, and Thailand, meaning I had not yet been alive for twenty-two years. A cake was brought after lunch in honor of my birthday and another teacher’s, which is just a few days later, and together, we cut the cake like we were getting married and waved out the candles, a COVID precaution. We dug paper plates out of the art supplies and shared in the chocolate-filled celebration of our life paths so fatefully converging for this moment in time.
That morning, I was midway through a demonstration of mixing primary colors when my students, at the cue of their homeroom teacher, began singing me happy birthday in their adorable, effortful English. I am not sure how they found out, but it was a precious moment and a gift that I will always treasure.
The people in my life took me out to dinner, twice, to celebrate. In a room full of new friends and incalculable support, I was overcome with gratefulness for this life, for this place, and for these opportunities. There are days when I still can’t quite believe that this is my life. This was one of them.