You’re gonna keep my soul; it was yours to have long ago.
–Keepsake, State Radio
I am told you turned four today. I hardly believe it. Just last night I sat at the Amsterdam, the bar where I met your mama a lot of years ago. I told the story of meeting her, recalling I had no idea of the role you would play in my life. You were but a “we hope to have kids some day…” kind of thought then, intangible though desired. I did not own a camera. Your mama probably did not know that she and your daddy and when you came along, you, would be enfolded into the cluster that happens when one of my sisters makes an amazing friend.
This is the pattern: somehow we all become friends, and eventually the lines blur and instead of being so-and-so’s friend, we are all friends. We eat. We drink. We watch movies. And we fall in love with their kids. Your mama opened that door for us, and here we are celebrating your fourth birthday.
Four, Ellie? FOUR?!? It seems impossible.
When I met you, I had a school camera with me and took your photograph. You were tiny and loved and perfect. I snapped a shot; I did not know how to photograph a baby. I wanted to remember being there. Your mom and dad were so proud, so in love and, well, tired. And there you were.
Soon after that, Debo started taking care of you when your mom went back to work, and that is when you became someone who our entire family befriended and loved. Even the little boys doted on you. Occasionally, I’d go to the house, or you’d come to my house. I’d timidly take out my camera and try to take photos of you. And soon after that, an attorney your mom worked with saw some of those photos. She hired me to take photos of her son. Max became my very first photo client. I owe that to you, Ellie, because you awakened in me a desire to learn how to make pictures of children for the people who love them. And soon after that, your mama hired me to take your picture too. This photo is still one of my favorite images of mine:
The story could end there, little miss, but the thing is, you were not just a conduit of me learning a new skill that would become a huge part of who I am. You were and are someone who I love to the sky and back. You were and are this spark of a girl full of life and laughter and love. You have given me laughter and joy, and today, as I consider your birthday, you have given me tears. See, I need kids in my life to help me remember to see with childlike perspective and hope. You are one of those kids who lets me catch glimpses of a world where slipping on a pair of high heels turns a girl into a princess and hiding behind a tree transforms us into dinosaurs on the prowl. You are a little friend who awakens my sleepy imagination to wonder. I love that.
When I recounted the story of meeting your mama last night, I did not realize today was your birthday. I spoke fondly of you, thankful for the way your life and mine and our families have woven together and stuck fast into a bond of friendship that runs deep and spreads wide. It seems timely that that note resounded in my heart last night, because today I woke up and saw a Facebook status celebrating your four years. I stopped working and started digging through photos. You, Ellie, are worthy of celebration. Who you are is a magnificent expression of God’s grace, with your determination and coy expressiveness, with your little girl humor and love of fashion and beauty…
We are better for having you in our life. I am thankful for the years of story we have lived with you in it. I cannot wait to see you (hopefully Sunday). You are the kind of kid who throws herself into my arms and laughs, delighted, when you see me. And days when my arms get to gather you in them and lift you into the air to greet you… they are the good kind of days, the bright kind of days.
I love you, munchkin. Happy birthday.