We celebrated two birthdays in the cafe today. One; an asylum seeking Iranian, boxer, twenty-something, student, salad-maker extraordinaire. The other; British, Jewish, eighty-something, active, baker-extraordinaire.
We bought two cards and asked people to sign them. One was easy to write; ‘wishing you a happy birthday – hope you had a fabulous day!’ the other, not so easy. How can you write an upbeat message knowing the hardships that he is facing? How can you write, “fabulous day” knowing that he probably had a really lonely day, with perhaps only a phone call from his parents, still in Iran, to wish him a happy birthday, which may have only compounded his loneliness? But he doesn’t want our pity. He would probably be incredibly embarrassed that this post is about him. But it is, because part of our gift that we can give him is the space to feel valued again and to know that he has friends, and a network in Britain.
Our other birthday celebrant today also needs a special mention. She would also be mortified to discover that this post is about her, but we owe a huge debt of thanks to her for her hard work, tireless commitment and delicious cakes. She works so hard every Thursday, arriving having already picked up another octogenarian volunteer on the way, and preferring the cafe busy and keeping her on her toes the whole time. She always brings a homemade cake, and is so graceful, welcoming and efficient. She gives so much to TLC; Thursdays wouldn’t be the same without her. And I know that TLC is really important to her too. She commented to me today that, ‘it is just wonderful meeting these people each week’. We had just had a chat around the table with one of the Muslim ladies. We were chatting about hijab (the Muslim woman’s head covering), about modesty in our faith communities, about the boundaries, both real and imagined between our own communities, and between our communities and mainstream Britain. TLC has created a safe space for informal interfaith conversation where we really are getting to know each other, learn about each other, and discover all the things we have in common, which is definitely much more than divides us.
In a way it is a shame that this is so unique, but, where else in the world would these two share a birthday cake and hear everyone in the room singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them together?