“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” — Maya Angelou
This is true of all our relationships. If you feel it’s something worth having you have to do the work. Plain and simple. But unlike the remarkable and the sometimes not so remarkable array of people who come into our lives—the lovers, the husbands, the wives, the friends—we don’t get the luxury of handpicking our siblings. The very same people who, in time, will either become our greatest ally or our fiercest enemy.
It’s a tightrope. A never-ending dance between choosing battles and making those necessary concessions in order to get beyond what might now seem like nothing more than petty differences, but then an argument worth the bloodletting.
Yes, our siblings push our buttons. Yes, they point out our mistakes, our frailties, keeping us cast in roles we’d sooner forget. But they are also our champions, our keepers of our childhood, our witnesses, our partners in crime, our press agents, our safety nets, and our non-denominational confessors who not only see us at our best but our worst and still manage to love us anyway.
My sister and I shared more than parentage. We shared a history of moments. Two years and two months apart, we were polar opposites in every way imaginable. She was the good, righteous daughter who wore black shiny shoes and crinoline dresses, while I was the thorn in everyone’s side. The bad seed strutting around in purple sneakers and frayed jeans, very happy just to kick the shit out of her every chance I got, even though she was inches taller and pounds heavier.
But the funny thing was as much as I wanted to wring her neck, in that same breath I always knew she was my world and I was hers. I knew this to be a lifetime companionship that I’d never get anywhere else, from anyone else. And together we were a force. One so powerful standing outside the touch of time shoulder-to-shoulder like granite against the world that the only thing that could possibly cut short this indomitable feeling we had was death. The ultimate disconnect. That tangible never-again thing that happens to you when you want to tell her something and immediately reach for the phone and it dawns on you like a brick to the head she’s not there.
Over the past 30 years, I’ve thought a lot about this religion of siblinghood. From the moment my sister died to now, the whole of it has become a curious obsession, a fraternity which I wanted absolutely no part of. And like most things beyond our control, yet there I was, inducted nevertheless.
Since my sister’s death, nothing has ever been the same. I have never been the same. How could I? I lost my compass, my identity, my alignment to all that I held sacred. I imagine most people tend to believe when we lose a sibling, that relationship no longer needs the care it was once afforded because it no longer exists. Like a root or a flower, it too dies. But the truth is our siblings will always be our siblings. Even when the discernible part of the equation vanishes, that golden thread of “mutuality” we were born with somehow manages to survive beyond those borders familiar and maybe not so familiar.
I loved my sister dearly. I miss her very much still. And admittedly not a single day goes by where thoughts of her don’t drift in unannounced. Sometimes I weep at those thoughts, sometimes I smile. That’s just the way it is. I know in my heart she’ll always be there, but I also can’t help feeling somehow like an orphan cheated by time. Time where all those big things and little things that collectively embody a lifetime of dreams—the trips to faraway destinations, the shopping sprees to stores yet unconquered, the children, the grandchildren—she will never know and I will never get to share.
That’s what I mourn. The passage of time and a life, her life, unfinished.
As human beings, as siblings, as parents, as people bonded together out of necessity or love, the richest moment we could possibly experience together is the moment we’re in. Everything else has either already happened or has not yet been ordained.
But at one time or another, the reality is that we all have to suffer this life alone. And within that state of suffering, we have the option of denying or accepting. Of hating the world or embracing all that was given. Of withering or growing. And every moment we spend trying to decide in which direction we’re headed is a moment toward a better understanding of ourselves and how this tapestry of life wraps around us. Fibers that are intertwined in such a way that with time and with love can and will grow stronger.
All this I’m saying to you now, I’ve said to myself a thousand times. If for no other reason than to remind me that life is a double-edged sword, a salient myriad of things filled with such great beauty and such great sorrow and you can’t have one without the other.
It’s a package deal. Oh yeah, I know this truth better than most, as it’s the same truth that drives me from one day to the next as I struggle along getting this compass of mine realigned, fusing my presence of being back into my life and the lives of those I love. It’s work. Something that doesn’t simply happen overnight. But it’s worth it.
Love is always worth it.