Last weekend, I did my annual mini sessions. I had the perfect weather, the most amazing backdrop of fall colors, an old antique yellow Jeep and a full schedule ahead. I was early, so I scrolled through Facebook waiting on my first clients to arrive. As I scrolled, I saw a photo of the words, “Make people feel loved today” painted on a wall. This is what has been missing this year, I thought. It’s a sentiment I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I saw those words. In my weariness from the year, I struggled to understand how I would make people feel loved this year as I took their photos. I couldn’t high five their kids after they smiled so brilliantly. I couldn’t let these adorable littles hug me even though they had year after year. I couldn’t wrap my arms around mom and dad even though I’ve photographed some of them for 10 years or more. I wanted them to know how excited I was to see them. Every year, I photograph families in the fall and sometimes, that is the one time I get to see them, and though I know that each family always carries a host of things with them that weigh heavily on their hearts, I felt that even more this year.
There are many reasons why families might not take photos at all in 2020. So many people have begged for this year to end. They’ll stare at empty chairs around their Thanksgiving table this year for more reasons than I can ever begin to know. But when a brother grabs his sibling by the face and gives her the smooshiest of kisses, that’s a time in life you will never get back.
Ultimately, this age — this time — with our kids never gets a redo.
We won’t get to experience the love our family feels at this very moment again without a pandemic. You’ll never get another chance to photograph a baby with only his two bottom teeth and those long baby curls. It may be the last time she wears pigtails or the last time he sits still that long.
We only get what we’re handed and there are still ways to love despite all the challenges 2020 throws our way.
When the first family walked up and smiled, I felt the thing we all feel these days when meeting a brand new person for the first time. I was a little anxious in that first awkward exchange, but kids make that all go away when they do what they do, and at the very end of their time, the mom admitted that they didn’t have a single good photo of their family of four. I simply looked at her and said, “Well now you do.”
I hoped that in that small gesture she could see my attempt at making her feel loved that day.
This is the voice inside my head when my kids come home from school and cry some days. Make them feel loved today. The day my daughter came home crying because she didn’t get to play on the monkey bar side of the playground, all I could do — all any of us can do — is remind the ones who understand this the least, that they are loved. I’ve come to realize that adults need that reminder too.
With just two days before the election, what if we went to vote with the attitude of making people feel loved? Hear me out; isn’t the voting booth the one place we can’t talk about it? Where we can’t argue about it? I voted early and was struck by the humanity and the vibrance of life that surrounded me. As far as I could tell, no one was there out of anger or with the intent of making someone else miserable. When I looked around, I saw people going in and casting a vote for what they thought was the best decision for them and the people they love in this crazy world. I overheard someone congratulating one of the volunteers on her 30 years of service in public education and neither one had any idea who the other voted for, but I hope the words spoken to this woman, who had obviously loved teaching for so many years of her life, made her feel loved that day.
A few days later, the Facebook photo I mentioned earlier was still with me, so I decided to see where it came from. I wanted to know where the wall was, why it was there, who put it there, etc. A quick Google search led me to Jenis Ice Cream in Charlotte, NC. The sweet girl who painted the mural said this: “As I painted this, I was reflecting on how…one of my favorite things has been to give notes to people. One of my greatest joys in the middle school to high school era, was leaving doodles/letters in friends’ lockers to brighten their day…I’ve been so grateful that I’ve somehow been given the chance to do some sort of thing on a larger scale; I feel like I’m leaving love notes for my friends throughout Charlotte.” (Read more here.)
What better time than now to write or leave notes? I remember getting sweet little notes left on the hood of my car in college. These simple words — “make people feel loved today” — have me ready to start doing that all over again. What if instead of finding another reason to get mad on social media, we left random notes on someone’s wall to make them feel loved instead?
One of my favorite Instagram accounts is Humans of New York. It’s living proof that you truly have no idea what someone is dealing with or going through when you happen to cross paths. One of the beautiful stories told on this account led me to read the words I keep written on a piece of paper at my desk: “At all times, people are doing one of two things. They’re showing love or they’re crying out for it.” What powerful words to live by.