It was a summer day. Late July morning. I was in Cairo, I was a teenager at the time.
The air was so crisp you could almost touch it. It blew right through your cotton attire – the brisk, desert wind that everyone, who’s been in the Middle East, recognize all too well.
I was an awful teenager. The kind who think he knew everything, and took every little thing for granted. I couldn’t wait to get home. I waited for my family outside the apartment complex. I missed my record player, I missed my little, stuffed, messy room. I missed my TV. So I stood there, outside, waiting… Dreaming of the plane that would depart.
I didn’t care that my parents had spend a god awful amount of money to show me Cairo. I didn’t care for the fact that the apartment complex we lived in was in the finer part of town. I didn’t care. Period. I was consumed. By myself and my own little world.
The cars would drive by and play their orchestra of horns. I just stared. Into oblivion. The empty morning stare we all do when our body is slowly waking up.
Then, I heard something. Someone was calling. At me. A stranger.
It was the doorman. He was sitting in his small station near the steps outside the complex. He was having his breakfast—he asked me to join.
“O’kul ma’ay” (eat with me).
Was he referring to me? I didn’t know him…
“Please”, he insisted while opening his palms which hovered over the modest breakfast consisting of bread, beans and falafel.
And it struck me. Here was a man earning minimum wage. The food was a part of his budget, not to mention the hungry mouths he had to feed. Still, despite all of that, he insisted that his food should not, under no circumstances be eaten in solitude. Or, he couldn’t eat while someone else was idly standing by, perhaps hiding his hunger.
I kindly declined with the polite gesture: my right palm resting at my chest. “I’m not hungry,” I answered humbly in Arabic and thanked him. But he kept insisting.
Here was a moment for two strangers to get familiar, over a wholesome breakfast. He couldn’t resist that moment because it was ingrained in his social spirit.
My family suddenly arrived and we headed for the cab. I waved goodbye.
That man—the doorman—is a key element of how I remember Cairo. It changed my perception. I took a part of his generous gesture with me.
Even though you live under the most modest of surroundings, you still have something profound to give, to share: a bond. Value is not simply material but something you can create out of nothing. A stranger is a friend in the making or right on the corner lies a memory waiting to be remembered.
I will always remember that memory. It reminds me that my material goods are hollow but that human beings—the right ones—are my true source of happiness. In my darkest hours I turn to that conviction – and I greet every gesture with a sense of gratitude, no matter how great or small.
Life, in all its shapes, sizes and unfortunate tragedies doesn’t deserve to be taken for granted. The friend by your side has chosen to share his or her time with you. Live it, don’t waste it. And remember it. The memories will one autumn day be the fuel of your old age.