A month ago the light was touched with the colors of the season. We counted pumpkins on doorsteps, noting the special ones, unusual colors or sizes, and brought great quantities of candy into our home. The quietly spectacular transformation of green into stains of orange, red and yellow took place before I could appreciate it properly.
One by one, thousands of fallen leaves evaporated into the earth, leaving us with a memory of when they were lush and unseasoned.
Like so many birds, I flew south for a few days last month. During my absence winter came crawling, beckoning at the door. When I got home I dug out gloves and hats in preparation for stinging weather. A rainbow teased itself across the blue only to leave no trace of its existence when I blinked, and suddenly I was gazing upon a dull grey sky.
I blink sometimes, and she is gone again.
When I talk about her with someone who really knew her, it makes it feel real again.
It makes me miss her more, and yet makes me feel like I’m not the only one, and so I am sad and grateful at the same time.
Most of the time these days I’m hardly thinking of my dead sister, though, and the enormous void that was left in our family when she died, and really, for a long time now, my grief has remained silent. I am happy, and yet my heart is haunted, you see.
Then something happens, and I am struck, no, torn, torn into a thousand pieces of misunderstanding and hurt and terror mixed with ambivalence and blame and fear, and I fear for my children, for the world in which they are being raised. How on Earth can we protect them?
Yet when I was a child, we lived without sun protection and seat belts. Secondhand smoke was, well, everywhere. I remember tipping full ashtrays into the trash, with no immediate effects. We were routinely allowed to get hurt (or okay, at least put in harm’s way with limited observation especially in the summer time).
My sisters and I made it to adulthood with a few scratches and scars, but nothing serious. Certainly we arrived as newborn adults prepared to live, and live freely and confidently.
This is part of the reason why it’s been so very, very difficult to accept my sister’s death (nine years ago and counting). She was so very much alive.
That, and also that our national and international news is so terrible of late.
I know my sister would be fighting to arbitrate such news today. In her core she was a stubborn negotiator, a protector of human integrity, and a woman who sought to collaborate, agree with or attempt to understand someone despite of or due to their differences.
She was a person who fought back, typically with words but once with a well-placed and most deserved punch to the face. She listened to stories from men and women who were disabled but not downtrodden – she recognized those who needed a hand from time to time were not unworthy of their humanity.
She would fight with me, with us, help me to understand what I can do better.
There’s a lot on my list to do better.
(At least seat belts, smoking and sun protection don’t make the list).
I’ve been doing some yoga lately. I’m not one with the mat or anything, but it makes me feel better.
Yoga makes my wrists hurt, my sister said with a shake of her head, a long time ago.
Some nights I cannot sleep.
There are haunted houses in my dreams, darkened windows, broken glass. The wind scatters leaves across my path; a cat cries before I wake up.
Haunted hearts, empty, shadowed by sadness. Full of memories that can not always be trusted.
I lose you again and again and again.
You move and breathe and smile in our minds, but just like those moving portraits that hang on the walls of Hogwarts, you aren’t really there.
Those whom we we have lost in recent days are real. As usual, I send a silent appeal to my angel sister so that she may greet them in turn, a reflective reception for Michael Brown among them… always, I think, those whose deaths were unexpected deserve a kind and compassionate welcome.
Lights sparkle in our living room tonight, illuminating a tiny Nativity scene organized on the coffee table by our youngest son. He is very taken with the miniature wooden figures, especially the Three Kings and the Baby Jesus. We have been listening to a lot of holiday pop music lately, and not especially focused on theology, but I thought I’d been pretty clear about the meaning of the holiday until he asked me about Michael Jackson’s role in Bethlehem at Christmas.
Perplexed, I asked a few questions, and it turned out that he had confused the Baby Jesus with the renowned rock star.
My explanation of Christmas was puzzling at best, dubious at worst. I attempted to set him straight, and he marched back into the family room to dance to little Michael’s rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
My sister would have celebrated another turn around the sun tomorrow. Surely she’s dancing, wherever she is, and crying, too, at the loss that we invoke while here on Earth, at the sudden force of grief and mourning that we create when another young life is taken senselessly and forever.
In my heart I remember you as you were, Liz, 28 years old, a smile upon your lips to greet a loved one or a stranger, a frown as you observed injustice around you. I am grateful for you, and saddened by your absence. Always, I remain your sister and your friend.