As my plane descended, it looked like I was landing in a forest from years past, dotted with beautiful old structures. It was like coming back to a place I had seen only in my dreams.
Sunshine was waiting for me at the airport. It was strange to have the roles reversed. Strange to be the one arriving instead of anticipating. Strange to be in her world.
It was strange for her too. “Now *I* am the one in charge,” she teased. “Now I tell *you* where to go. Maybe I tell you something crazy, and you never know.” But of course not. She proudly took me to her favorite coffee shop, brought her good friend with her to meet me, arranged for her grandmother to meet us for lunch.
Her grandmother. Now mine as well. She saw me and took me in her arms and said I have Sunshine’s face. Her eyes. I am family.
We don’t speak the same language, but it’s amazing how easy it is to pantomime, “Yes, Sunshine is quite the director of all plans. Yes, she has an independent streak that can make your eyes roll. Yes, what can you do? She is maddeningly endearing in all things. *shoulder shrug*”
And so we walked together down the beautiful streets of Riga, where old and new mix in the architecture, the stories, and the company.
It’s funny, I told them. I used to think all Europeans looked pretty much the same. But now, I can walk down the street and tell a Russian from a Latvian from a gypsy. I have come to love these people, and this family in particular.
We only had a few short hours, but they were precious. Never enough, of course, but measured out together. And so we said our farewells, and I thanked a woman who so very clearly shaped the girl I love into the independent and sassy thing that she is today. Not everyone has the privilege to say to appreciate and acknowledge the impact of others. And when I told her, she laughed, and her eyes twinkled, and she spoke to me like I could understand her. And I did. Maybe not the words, but the heart.
And THAT is why I am here. Not because I think that this organization has it all figured out. Not because I wanted to go to a foreign land. Not because I am anything special. No, I want to be with these kids. I want to let go of assumptions about what is better or worse for them. Instead, I want see the way they really live and what I can do to help. I want to tell them they matter, and help them find families that are there for them, whether it happens traditionally or nontraditionally. I want to understand why that matters on this side of the ocean.
I’m excited to tell some of those stories in the coming weeks. But for this day, I was so blessed to have a few treasured moments to enjoy my own dear family. Latvian and American, no matter. Celebrated, nonetheless.