Like most American families, we celebrate birthdays with cake. This year, we decided to celebrate my daughter’s 7th birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. I had booked the party, complete with pizza, the frivolous arcade games, and the required birthday cake for a few of her friends and a few members of our family.
After the games and the pizza, the big moment arrived. From the back of the restaurant, our hostess got the kids excited, whooping and hollering in anticipation for the big guy himself: Chuck E. Cheese! I noticed a girl about the same age as my daughter, whose family was dining elsewhere in the restaurant. She had come over to join the party. The hostess said to her, “I’m sorry, this is a private party. Could you go back over and sit with your parents?” Even though the hostess wasn’t rude, I thought I heard an undertone of disdain. So I told the girl she was absolutely free to join us. “Who cares if one more child is screaming and dancing with Chuck E. Cheese, right? I would be kinder than this hostess,” I told myself. So for a few moments, she joined the party, laughing and dancing with the rest of the girls.
But then the cake came – gaudy pink and gooey chocolate, a 7-year old’s dream cake. The little girl stood by watching, clearly expecting to get a piece of cake. And something in me switched like a light. The thoughts running through my head told me that I had paid for this cake for our family, not for her. “Doesn’t she realize how rude she is being? Where is her mother?” I asked myself. I don’t think I was rude when I told her I was sorry that I didn’t think we would have enough cake for her.
As we passed out the cake, I watched her eyeing every piece and I was determined that she wouldn’t get one. When Grandpa declined, I insisted he have one. I saved one for my son who was too busy playing games to even care, and I certainly took one for myself. At one point I justified my behavior by the sinking ship philosophy, reminding myself that this girl had a brother and sister I had seen earlier. And if I gave her a piece, they would want one too. “It’s not like I am denying a homeless person food or something. It’s chocolate cake, for Pete’s sake!”
And when the last piece of cake was plated and served, I very sadly told her I was sorry she didn’t get one, and I sat down to take a bite of mine. Then it hit me.
It’s a Friday and I should be fasting.
I have given up chocolate for Lent.
And I don’t even like chocolate cake.
The replays in my head all show me the story in a different way, the way it should have gone. The way I wish it had gone. I was gracious and generous to this girl and gave her a piece of cake because we really did have plenty. I introduced her and helped my daughter make a new friend. I relive the fictitious scene in my head, my beautifully innocent daughter laughing and dancing with her new friend. I imagine I have forever changed the life of this Somali girl with my kind gesture.
Did I mention this was a Somali girl? Would it change the way YOU view the story? Would it have changed the way I had treated her if she were NOT Somalian? I realized the depths of racism. I can say I am not racist, and my actions were not unkind. They were just not kind. In the town we are from, there are very few Somali children and my 7-year old has almost no experience with them. I could have given her a positive experience right then, but for some reason, I didn’t.
That evening, I prayed that God would forgive me, even if this girl didn’t even notice I had wronged her. I prayed that God will give me an opportunity each day to be kind, and that I will never again wonder whether or not race makes a difference in my decisions. And I pray the same for all who may read this story and miss an opportunity for kindness.