Postcards From the Margins: Sisters

My sisters and me, c. 1962
My sisters and me, c. 1966. (I’m on the far right.)

This week I’ve written my blog post ahead of time, because I’ll be away celebrating my baby sister’s 50th birthday with her and our two other sisters. This long weekend will be the first for the four of us–just us, ever!–but judging from how we are each counting the days until our time together, I suspect it will not be the last.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison says, “A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.” So does that make the four of us a special kind of quadruple? Or more like four to the fourth power?

Here’s what I know:

1. When I was 10 or 11 I ran in a school track meet and collapsed at exactly the place my older sister had, two years before. I think I could have finished the race but the single most important thing to me at the time was to be exactly like my big sister.

2. I once drove from Seattle to Portland with no GPS, no map, no cell phone and maybe no street address for my next-younger sister’s apartment, fully confident we would find each other. (We did.)

3. My baby sister and I almost got kicked out of a college prospective-student tour (for one of my kids! A 17-year-old who behaved when we didn’t!) when we could NOT stop giggling over some idiotic phrase used (repeatedly, in our defense) by a speaker.

4. My sisters read everything I write and say good things about all of it. This is exactly what a writer needs from sisters. They were going to come with me to the Oprah Winfrey show when my book got chosen for Oprah’s book club but, alas, Oprah doesn’t have a show any more. And I don’t have a book yet. Still, they would have come.

I’d say that’s power to the 256th.

And how about this?

My older sister is a hospice nurse who uses her seriously remarkable tenacity, intelligence and compassion to help people who are dying to live their best possible remaining days on this earth. She used to be a chemotherapy nurse. When you encounter people like my older sister, you say things to yourself like, How does she do it? I’ll tell you how:  with long hours, hard work, and a heart that suffers just like yours and mine. Only she puts hers out there, every day, for people in desperate circumstances.

My next-younger sister is also a nurse, and a mother of four, and has just effected a life-change that took courage, energy, optimism and strength (both psychological and physical) I’ve seen few others in her circumstances muster. Her relationship with her now-adult children has always impressed me: You know how you’d like your kids to be able to talk to you about anything? My sister’s got this one down. I think it is because she is a non-judgmental, fully engaged listener. I’ve benefitted from that, too.

My baby sister, after 25+ years of teaching orchestral music in public schools, still has the talent, patience and creative spirit to inspire scores of children each year to learn to play stringed instruments and to conduct them, enthusiastically, in their first performances. One brand-new viola student (8 or 9 years old?) recently confessed she was so excited she couldn’t sleep the night before her lesson. My baby sister is not only a fully-vested working mom, but continues her own practice and highly skilled performance on the violin in an example to all of us of the enduring power, and the simple humanity, of artistic expression.

In our long weekend together I know there will be plenty of “Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.” (Toni Morrison, again, in Beloved.) Beloved‘s Sethe knows why: “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

No thin love, here. Not for each other, not for what we do, not for how we try to live our lives.

I was the one who moved far away, operating (many years ago) on some notion of reinvention (which, in fact, I like to do) but pathetically unaware of how one day I would miss my sisters, miss day-to-day involvement in their lives and their children’s lives, more than I would be able to say.

It’s what I’ve tried to say today. Words fail, but here’s the truth: I love my sisters.








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