This is one of the longest stretches that I haven’t seen my daughter Leah since she was born 22 years ago today. She’s been at school in Berlin since August, and because I don’t have any of my own recent photos of her I’m stealing some of her recent Instagram selfies (forgive me, Leah!). Now working in Dublin over winter break, we’ll get a brief visit from her in a few days before she heads off to New York to finish her junior year. Then, who knows what?
Leah has been a traveler since the day she was born — in so many ways including the literal one. I remember our very first separation — when she went to Paris as a baby with her mom to visit family. I waited impatiently at the International Terminal at LAX to pick them up on their return. I remember pacing for what seemed like hours, and constantly checking the security door for any sign of them. When they finally emerged, I couldn’t wait until they walked down the very long path to where visitors could finally greet the passengers, I reached down through the railing of the lower-level incline and Leah’s mom reached up to hand me her wriggling little body. While my memory can be pretty shaky these days, as Leah and others will tell you, as long as I live I will never forget the feeling of my baby’s warm body returning to my arms. I remember what it felt like to kiss the top of her red-haired head and to feel her little arms and legs moving in the cute beige onesie she was wearing. It is a visceral sense memory that is forever imprinted in my brain, and I think of it every single time I welcome her home from her many travels.
I’ve been marking Leah’s birthday on this blog since the day she reached the double digits — and for the past four years, it’s the ONLY thing I’ve marked here. This is the first year that I haven’t read those entries on her birthday before writing a new one but I know I’ve often shared the story of her birth. Earlier that day, on December 28, 1994, Leah’s mom, Sophie, and I were at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood watching Disney’s The Lion King, a movie we loved and had already seen a few times even though it was still in its first run. The part where Rafiki holds baby Simba up for all the world to see was especially meaningful during that particular viewing. Who knew that Leah would grow up to play Rafiki in a stage production of that story, just after her brother was finally released from the hospital after five long months and she could welcome him into the world.
I always loved the fact that Leah was practically born in the El Capitan considering her passion for theater that would shine through from such an early age and since Leah and I practically made a home out of that building for so many years of her childhood. When we arrived at the hospital later that night, the doctor examined Sophie and had just finished saying it would be many hours until Leah would make her appearance. There was some discussion about whether we should go home and come back the next day when the doctor suddenly looked down and screamed to the nurses. “The baby’s coming!” I remember some kind of crash of medical equipment at that point although I can’t trust my medical TV show-filled brain to accurately say what it was, but I do know that it was just a matter of minutes until Leah was with us, at 11:36 pm, arriving just in the nick of time to make her actual due date. She wasn’t having any of this “many hours from now” business and, as usual throughout her life, was on her own timetable.
Today I am filled with gratitude for Leah’s role in my life. She continues to teach and inspire me every day, including the simple but vitally important lessons on how to move through this very challenging world with dignity, grace, love, and kindness; how to pick yourself up when you’re down; and how to laugh, cry, and sing. I am in awe of her many talents, her compassion for others, and her commitment to making the world a better place, both the world immediately around her as well as the world at large.
I love you so much, Leah.