As you know, I recently turned 40. I had a lovely birthday and received many well wishes and gifts. One of the things I love most about celebrating birthdays in South Africa is the emphasis on relationships over gifts. People phone, sms and stop by all day to wish you a happy day and celebrate with you, whereas in the U.S., people give gifts. I confess (while my cheeks turn red from embarrassment) that when I first moved here, I was disappointed when I didn't receive any gifts. Over the past five years, however, I have come to cherish the love of friends and "family" here, who go out of their way to let me know I am special to them. Their kind words and time spent with me are more of a gift than any material object!
I did receive one tangible gift, however, that touched me profoundly. My friend Agnes gave me three, individually wrapped mints. This might not seem like much to you, but when you understand that Agnes can't even afford toilet paper, the gift takes on a whole new meaning. Agnes gave what little she had for me. I would have willingly given them back and let her keep what little she had, but it was a joy for Agnes to give what she could. I am usually the one who gives things to Agnes, but it was important for her to know that I need her just as much as she needs me, and that she has just as much to give to me as I have to give to her. She needed me to treat her with dignity by accepting her small gift, which as it turns out, was the biggest gift I think I ever received.
Agnes taught me a lesson, touched me profoundly, and made turning 40 the most beautiful, humbling birthday ever.