This is a post about beginnings. It is about a cafeteria man. This post is about endings.
First off, this is my first "Me"-less/"ME"-less post title.
It's why I started to blog. Deep down, I knew the day would come when I would have that "Aha!" moment, that moment where I would just know that what I wanted to write about had so much more to do with everything else than with 'me' or the 'ME'. And yet it has everything to do with both.
In reality, I cannot entirely detach myself from the events around me, nor from the land around me ... to do so would make me disinterested. But the time has come where me and the ME are just necessary background noise for this blog really.
In that sense, this post is the beginning of a new chapter. One that has been a long time coming. It is new, and yet it is a return to the old.
It is the complete and utter realization that some things that would seem to have NOTHING to do with you can touch you at your core.
Thank you <Naji>, aka 'Cafeteria Man>. I dedicate this post to you.
The Cafeteria Man ...
This post was born after receiving an e-mail from kiddo's school. The subject was simply: "Sad News to Share".
It read something (very much) like this:
It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of one our <school name> cafeteria workers, <we'll call him 'Naji'>, of Sri Lanka. <He> was involved in an accident riding his bike to school early Sunday morning, April <...>.
We can only imagine how proud <Naji's> family must have been of him. He supported his mother, brother, and four sisters while he worked with <employer> the past seven years. Our cafeteria manager, <name>, said <Naji> was a model employee and one of the hardest workers on <employer's> kitchen staff. He was responsible for pasta preparation and service in the elementary school for many years and had just moved to the MS/HS cafeteria where he provided counter service as well as preparation for the chicken shawarmas we eat every day.
<Naji's> unselfish commitment to his family serves as a model for all of us as he truly lived <school name's> values. As a recognition of <Naji's> extended service to the <school> community, The Booster Club is directing the proceeds from the next hotdog sale on May <...> to <Naji's> family in Sri Lanka. If you would like your child <...> to participate, please fill out the order form that will be sent home with your child this week.
In addition to the Booster Club Hot Dog sale, <school> staff members have been making monetary contributions for <Naji's> family. If you would like to make a contribution, please send it with your child in a sealed envelope or see any of our staff in the elementary school office. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for <Naji> and his family at this time.
I can't quite find the words to express what I felt when I read the e-mail the first time. This e-mail sent to our school community; this e-mail that conveyed such a soft-spoken profound sense of loss. What did I feel? Sadness? Regret? Shame? Guilt? Remorse? Anger?
All of the above?
at such a young, promising life lost? at so many others in similar circumstances toiling every day in this country to provide a better life for their loved ones back home?
that I'd never met him? that I've never met so many of these workers who come to work every day with the weight of the world on their shoulders and a smile as bright as the sun?
that I'd never really thought about the people who prepare Kiddo's pasta every Wednesday, those really special people who give her an exciting and much anticipated break from her regular everyday humdrum boxed lunch? that I'd slip 50 QAR to the teaboy at work, but never think to pass it on to the guy who serves my daughter her lunch?
that I'd never taken the time to send in a thank you note to this employee and to the others who work silently, unseen, in the shadows? that I'd never actually asked Kiddo about them?
that I'd never again have the chance to say thank you to <Naji>? that there are so many others I may have missed along the way?
that a young man who managed to make my daughter's day ("yeahhhhh, Maman, it's ordering day" is Wednesday's wake-up call) was mowed down thoughtlessly, another casualty to road insanity in the ME? that I can't do a darned thing other than shake my fist to stop it?
- To one man, the 'boy' was a hit-and-run casualty.
- To kiddo, the 'Cafeteria Man' was a weekly source of joy.
- To his mother, <Naji> was a son ... I imagine he was her life.
- To his sisters, <Naji> was a brother ... I imagine he was a hero.
- To community - his community, our school community - he was an inspiration, an example. Of values. Of promise. Of hope.
I do know that when I re-read the e-mail to Smilin' Vic and Kiddo, I cried. I'm not sure why. I didn't know <Naji>. I didn't really have the right to cry for him and his family, did I?
But I couldn't control the lump that suddenly formed in my chest. I couldn't contain the tears, and had to stop and take a few breaths between every few words. But I wanted to get through that message, I wanted Kiddo to hear what an amazing, inspirational, admirable young man <Naji> was.
I really wanted to get to know 'The Cafeteria Man' through the re-reading of that e-mail. Too late ... I wanted to get to know him. I wanted to know <Naji>.
I am not alone. I spoke to other moms. They were shaken to the core. It was just so sad. Some knew 'The Cafeteria Man'. Others didn't. Yet we will all miss him. Somehow, he was a part of our community ... and he drew us closer to one another. That happens a lot here - you realize you are a part of something special at that moment when you lose it.
He, like so many other expatriate workers, working tirelessly to make a better life for his family back home, was the life breath of this country. He made a difference. Here, back home, he made a difference.
He was the Cafeteria Man. He was <Naji>. He will be missed ... even by those of us who did not know him.
<Naji's> life ended on April <...>, 2013. We will miss him. I have nothing else to say; this post is about him, not me.