When I turned 18, my sister surprised me with a white water rafting expedition. In honor of my birthday, my parents, brother, sister and I all piled into the six person raft and hoped for tame waters. Nature didn’t quite obey my wish and barely had we hit the first rapid when everyone was thrown into the water except for the guide, my mom and me.
For my 30th, my sister once again planned a surprise outing. That year, we set out for a 4-hour horseback ride high up into the mountains north of Santa Barbara. My dad hadn’t been on the back of a horse since I was small and getting him back on one was quite a feat – such a feat that it took the work of several men to heave and hoe him up. Such a feat that, while we all got off at the midway point to stretch our legs and eat our lunch, he ate his sandwich from atop his horse for fear that he wouldn’t be able to get back up.
May 18th is always a special day – not simply because it’s my birthday but especially because my sister does her all to make it so.
So, this year, when Coral had to leave Spain at the end of April to get back to work and my parents left on May 14th to make it back in time to be with my grandmother while my aunt endured double knee surgery on May 17th, I braced myself for a very different kind of birthday. There would be no surprises this year. My family was far, my closest friends were in different time zones, and I would be working at AlteArte.
As expected, it was very different, but, quite unexpectedly, it was different in a very special kind of way. Stuck at home waiting for a building inspector to come check our apartment for a leak, I wasn’t able to make it to AlteArte until hours after opening time, but heading down the stairs to the main entrance, I saw balloons and immediately knew that David had been up to mischief. Indeed, he had been. The whole place was decorated, and that was just the beginning of what was to come.
Over the next couple of hours, people started arriving, and, before long, AlteArte was buzzing with activity. Unbeknownst to me, David had been telling people that it was my birthday, and not only did they come to celebrate it, but they came bearing gifts. One of my classmates and husband came with an exotic cactus, a local restaurateur gave me a beautiful bracelet, one of the students at the art university made a strawberry pie, our famous artist neighbor gave me one of his art works, a local artisan jeweler gave me a beautiful ring that she designed with turquoise from Peru, a sweet girl from Poland gave me a candle, a Finnish girl and an American girl gave me a beautiful journal, and because our furniture restoration friend knows how much I’m enchanted with our new little village, he gave me a very old book with photos of Altea from many years ago. And the thoughtfulness of our customers-now-friends touched me to the core.
And just when it seemed like my day couldn’t become any more memorable, I was sung Happy Birthday to in Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and English. I had never been sung to in so many languages. And as the people gathered for my birthday and filled AlteArte with their love and laughter, I felt truly special.
And on that day, it hit home what a special life David and I have found and created here in Altea, Spain. The people here might not be friends from childhood, they may not be family, but the connection that I felt with them that day ran deep. I don’t know if this is what happens – if it’s normal that such special connections are made so quickly in Spain’s small villages – but we only arrived last November, and I feel blessed to already have a community of wonderful people surrounding us.
I missed having my family with me this year. I missed the crazy dare devilish adventure that my sister always manages to drum up. But, on that day, there’s no other place that I would have rather been than among my friends at AlteArte. It was truly a memorable way to celebrate, and I feel grateful to David for surprising me in such a special way.
Especially when my sister was far away.