Today I saw a picture from my Christmas 2009 trip to JCC in Sierra Leone and saw how very small and young Sallay Abu used to be. Its easy to lose sight of how far you have come. She certainly didn’t have the dramatic change of baby Alice to the healthy, sassy Alice of today. She obviously has quite a bit of growing left to do. But she has still changed so much. Her arms have filled out. She is so much taller. The little girl who used to nestle into my shoulder barely fits on my wide hips anymore.
Somedays I forget that she won’t fit in my arms forever, and certainly won’t want to be toted for the rest of her life. I forget she won’t always stay a little girl.
I think about how much she changed from the first time I met her, crying and screaming behind the kitchens, literally covered in shit. I think about how much she changed during that trip, and how much improvement she’s made after we left. She is a shadow to Mama Christie and has grown so much as a result of Christie’s love and attention. Sallay talks now, sings, plays and most beautifully, smiles. She has the most gorgeous, charming smile.
And I start to measure my life in Sallays. How much she has changed between the first time I met her and our first reunion. And how much I have as well. And then how much we both changed again between our meeting last summer and this. Where will she be by the next time I see her? How many classes in school will she have completed? What verses will she have memorized and recited to a crowd of excited teachers and parents and staff? How much taller will she be? Will I still be strong enough to carry her? What songs will she know? Will she still want to cuddle with me at rest time and squish my cheeks?
Where will I be by the next time I see her? Will I be in further post-graduate education? Will I be working? Will I be living in Des Moines? Or somewhere entirely unforeseen by me? Will I be happy? Will I be healthy? Will I be independent and strong? The three me’s that Sallay met have all been women in very different places in their lives. For better or worse, I have changed considerably. But she has been a constant since the day I met her. The love I feel for her. The bond we share. The perspective she gives me. The eyes she opens.
I wonder how she’ll grow in the time we’re apart. And I wonder how I will.