I was invited to stop by, “anytime”. You know, this is what most people say when they sort of want to be your friend and sort of want to get to know you. But when your dad invited me to stop by anytime, there was something in his demeanor that said he really meant it.
I didn’t know you, I hadn’t even known your name, but from the moment I first met you, I knew that you would always have a piece of my heart.
It was 29 years ago, today, that I decided to take your dad up on the “stop by anytime” invitation. I had no idea that I was about to crash your birthday, so, like any inexperienced young 21 year old, I showed up at your house, not knowing what to expect.
It was cold out. It had snowed over the last few days, and you had evergreen bushes, the type that had the red berries on them, in front of your modest home where the snow had accumulated to the bottom of the outside window sills. While I waited for someone to answer the door, I remember staring at the snow, and thinking, “This would be a great place to stash the case of beer I brought!” Little did I know, that thought would prove itself true.
Your dad answered the door, and immediately, I knew that there was something special going on. But your dad wouldn’t hear of me leaving without coming in and introducing me to everyone, including you.
After I ditched the case of beer in the snow drift (I had the feeling this wasn’t the type of gathering where drinking a few cold ones would be appropriate) I was lead into a small entry way that opened up into a living room, with a set of stairs going up and a set going down. You lived in one of those split level homes where the designer could get the most square footage out of minimal space. To the left was the kitchen. It looked like your dad was refinishing the floor with new tiles. And there you were…
There were a lot of people around. Mostly your family. I met your mom, your sister, your grandparents and your aunts and uncles. But of course, it was your day, your birthday. You had just turned 2 years old!
You sat in a high-chair, with your beaming blue eyes, and your blonde hair tied up in pig tails, or perhaps a little single pony tail that would stand proudly on the top of your head, I can’t quite remember, but those were the most popular hair styles for your 2 year old head of hair. Your eyes were filled with mischief and life, a characteristic that never left you. Gifts, cake and ice-cream were scattered across the kitchen table, and I could see that you were becoming impatient to dive into the cake and ice-cream. I remember coming up to you, and honestly, feeling a bit out of place on your special day. I thought you were really cute and full of life. You smiled, really big, showing off your teeth, and your cheeks would squish your eyes closed. At this time, I believe your nanny had already snuck you a piece of cake, and you had the evidence of it all over your face.
You know, meeting you was a bonus. I was really there to, hopefully, by some master scheme of your dad, meet your aunt. You called her Teta. You had copied the mispronunciation of your older sister, and it just stuck. I wasn’t sure if “Teta” was going to be there, but once I found it out it was your birthday, I was sure I would “run into her”.
She was all about you and your sister. I didn’t exist that night to her, and she would tell you that she was just offended that I was there at all. “Why is HE here? It’s MY niece’s birthday. HE doesn’t need to be here. I have no interest in him at all!”
Well, who can blame her. I’m sure she looked at me as some type of invader, someone who didn’t belong, and birthdays were a big deal in your family, so I was already on the short list of people that she didn’t think needed to be “invading” this family time.
Well, you know the “rest of the story”. I married “Teta” and you became one of my nieces. You were in our wedding. You wore a black and white polka dotted dress with white tights and patent leather shoes. By this time, you had enough blond wisps of hair to sport a black bow, that accented the rest of your wardrobe. You strutted around that day, like a boss!
Over the next few years, you would come and visit, and sometimes even get to spend a few hours with “Teta” and me. You were fascinated by the little things, like whistling, and winking and snapping. You mastered all three, well, in your way. You couldn’t quite get the snapping technique so you would mimic the motion of your fingers, and then make a clicking sound with your mouth to make sure everyone knew that you had snapping down! You wanted to know how to get keys on and off a key ring. We spent a long time on that one. Your little fingers weren’t strong enough yet to separate the rings, but with a little help, you figured you’d accomplished that task as well.
We spent a lot of time together, as your dad became, and still remains, one of my best friends. It’s nice that you can have family and best friends at the same time. Of course your mom and Teta are as close as ever.
I was just talking about you today because, of course, I met you today 29 years ago. Teta and I were talking this morning on the way to work about you. We were talking about what it must be like to be in eternity, this mystery that we don’t fully comprehend, yet we are confident of. The space where we are, and where you are is such a thin veil. So much so that we can sense you, sometimes in a laugh, a wisp of blond hair, a fragrance you uses to wear, and pictures.
We see a lot of you now in our own daughter. She too is full of life, opinionated, independent, yet never afraid to crawl in my lap, give me kisses, and hold my hand. That was something that I had always hoped for. You had that with your dad and I made sure to make notes on how to be a dad like you had. She is a senior in high school, trying to figure out what the next steps of life look like. I think you and her would be great friends.
Of course you gave you older cousin a high standard to meet when it came to young women. He’s 21! Can you believe it! He’s the same age as I was when I met you! he’s the quiet type, as you know. But you would be proud of him. He’s patient, and measures his thoughts and actions carefully. He is more like your papa than me. He loved you more that you can imagine. He keeps his emotions in check. However, you have made such a mark on him, something that he will carry with him the rest of his life.
It seems like yesterday when I met you, on your birthday. Yet sometimes, it feels as though it didn’t happen at all. I know that sounds weird for you in your space, for now you understand what eternity is like, without the bonds of time. But as you know, we are still bound by that. You must be thinking, “It so amazing! Better than Disney World!”
You left this little space of time and now you are in a state of perpetual peace, and love. Again, I’m not sure what eternity is all about, if we’re honest, no one really does. I do know that you aren’t bound by the pain and sickness that you had to endure while you lived your short life. You are in a space that seems so far away for us, yet so close. Time seems to have stopped, with your memory dotting the landscapes of our minds along the way.
Well, I wanted to say that I miss you. Sometimes I miss you so much that there is a literal ache in my stomach. Like, it’s a physical expression of one that hasn’t quite figured out how to grieve all the way, or perhaps, it’s just the soul reacting to the mystery of God’s plan. Whatever the case, you are loved. That never ends. I’m glad that God said that other stuff will pass away, but that love will never pass. I would imagine that you have the advantage now of understanding pure, and perfect love. Can’t wait to share that experience with you. Til then, we remember you. I remember you as a lover of life. I remember you as living life to it’s fullest, right up to the moment until disease had it’s way with your tender body. I remember your laugh and your raspy voice. I remember your tight hugs, and the strength in your little stature. I remember your love for “Teta” and how you expanded your love to Luke and Lily. I remember you, Friss. I wanted to wish you a happy birthday in the best way I know how.
I love you and miss you…