It’s been a rough year. Not so much for me, personally, but more for the place I hold in the world. This time last year I was sure 2016 was truly going to be a good year. I really believed my world was turning a corner to a more loving, more patient, more kind corner of the Universe. It wasn’t a bad year for me, personally – quite the contrary in fact. But my belief systems really took a beating this year. My hopes and dreams for the kind of world I live in have been dashed, my belief in the possibility of a beautiful, tolerant, peaceful co-existance has been shattered, and my hope for the future crushed.
These last few months have been particularly rough. I have turned off the news because it literally and immediately depresses me. I have dramatically decreased my participation in social media for the same reasons. I have nearly bitten through my tongue in an effort to maintain respect for those who believe differently than I. It’s been tough, and I’ve most certainly not shown the world my best.
After spending weeks climbing out of my pit of sadness and depression, however, I decided the only thing I know I can do – and still believe to be valuable – is show love. Respect. Kindness. Tolerance. Gratitude. And so, with this idea in mind, I sit down to my job every day… and stare blankly at the screen. It is a sometimes-insurmountable effort for me to tune out my judgement, fear, and anger and focus on love. Many days I never make it over that wall.
Today, as I stared at yet another blank screen, and wondered – after the anger, judgement, and culture of mistrust that was once thrust into my awareness during my lunch date (dang restaurant TVs) – how I could possibly write something loving… the answer was quite literally delivered to me. Rather, to whomever lives in the house across the street. By a big, brown, UPS truck.
It wasn’t the idea of holiday packages being delivered that spoke to me. It wasn’t even the image of the joy on brightly lit faces staring into them on Christmas morning that stirred me. It was the truck itself.
You see, my little sister is a UPS driver. She’s not so little, truthfully – she grew up taller, stronger, and smarter than I. Still, she is younger, and hence will forever be my little sister. She is also perhaps the most beautiful soul I have ever known and the sight of that brown truck today stirred in me a memory that always reminds me… about what it is to love. What follows is an essay I wrote some time ago about that very experience. It is long, my lovely friends and loyal readers… but I think it’s worth it.
The little sister
We laugh about it now, both well into our 30s and the very best of friends. But there was a time in our lives, when we really didn’t like each other all that much.
A welcome break in our bickering had come for me as the summer after my senior year in high school drew to a close and I packed for college. I vaguely remember her standing in the doorway of my bedroom, her perfect, smooth skin etched with lines of mis-understanding while I crammed literally everything I rightfully owned into crates and boxes. Her eyes were big and deep, and she watched in silence.
She was only a child, really, just 14 years old. Facing, for the first time, herself… afraid of what was there – afraid to face it alone. I would have understood only too well. But, wrapped in my hope for a bright and solitary future, I hardly saw it at all.
Months later, I returned home for Winter Break, anxious to see my friends and – particularly – to spend endless hours with my boyfriend. We spent whole afternoons together shopping, and most every night there was a holiday party to attend.
A few days before Christmas, she found me in my room, doing my very best to make hat-hair look cute.
“Jaci, will you play with me?”
“No.” I told her, watching myself in the mirror. “Not now. I’m leaving to meet the man. Maybe later.”
“Ok,” she said with a wan smile.
The next morning, with a fresh, thick, blanket of snow on the ground.
“Jaci, will you build a snowman with me?”
“No, not now, I’m having coffee with mom. Maybe later.”
“Ok,” she said, and retreated to her room.
And again, after I returned home from yet another day of shopping, “Jaci, will you make cookies with me?”
“No. Not now. I’m busy wrapping gifts. Maybe later.”
Over the next two days, again, and again that gentle voice was in my ears and that perfect face, painted with hope would gaze up at me. Now?
No. Not now. Maybe later.
When Christmas morning came, we sat around the living room holding mugs of steaming coffee as she passed out gifts.
Mom. Dad. Jaci.
She had a pile for herself, too, but even as she tore off the shining paper and ribbons, her interest was unusually absent.
Mother and Dad opened their gifts, beaming with appreciation and, occasionally, feigned surprise.
I saved the prettiest gift for last. I’m sure there was a card, but I paid it no mind. I suppose I never even looked at her before I opened the package. I tore the wrapping from a white clothing box emblazoned with the logo of my favorite store. I lifted the cover of the box and there beneath the thin white tissue was a pair of corduroy jeans, two shirts to match and a beautiful necklace that was just my style and perfectly complimented the ensemble.
It was nice stuff, very nice and I thanked her.
She smiled kindly, graciously and the day went on.
And so did many more.
Years later when the path I had chosen for my life had twisted itself into something ugly, I found myself back home trying – yet again – to make a new start, and I was not happy to be there. As I wandered down the street one November day I passed by a holiday window display, that took me back to that Christmas long ago, that first year of college when I’d been so excited to be an adult, to be able to give real gifts. And then I remembered hers.
As the memory developed, slowly, like an old Polaroid, I saw it – really saw it – for the first time, and with the clarity of hindsight, I finally understood.
She had missed me terribly in the months I was gone, feeling lost and alone in the world. Finding a longer road to self-understanding than most, and no one at her side, she fumbled along and was tossed about – a deeply sensitive soul in a mean world. She had been rejected time and again, in every context, and time and again she was left with a heart full of love to give and no one to receive it. But when the first snowflakes fell, hope was on the horizon; her big sister was coming home.
She had saved every cent for months – which is, to this day, an incredible feat for her. An allowance for doing dishes and cleaning her room slowly accumulated in an envelope in the freezer. When it was fat with her earnings she had asked our mother to take her shopping.
They had gone straight to my favorite clothing store. The one in which I could only ever afford a single pair of jeans – if they were on the sale rack.
Later I would learn that she had spent hours looking through rack after rack, holding up first one and then another costly garment she believed I might like. None had been quite right. It had to be perfect, she told our mother. It had to be the very best. This was for Jaci.
She mustered a tremendous feat of courage, and asked the sales person for help. The mannequin in the window… yes, that one. I want it all. Everything. It’s exactly what my big sister would want.
Her heart broke and the light feel from her face when she found her fat envelope and months of work were not quite enough to cover the enormous cost. She turned to our mother with pleading eyes; can I borrow the rest? This is special. This is for Jaci.
She had left the store beaming, the bag laden with her sacrifice. At home, sitting cross-legged on the floor of her bedroom, she had wrapped the package with great care. Each corner was sharply creased, each fold was straight, each piece of tape delicately placed. It had to be perfect. For Jaci.
This, the child who had once built a coffin for her hamster and nailed the lid right over his stiff little leg because he didn’t quite fit.
She must have been imagining Christmas morning, my surprise and gratitude when I peeled back the red and green wrapping. She must have hoped I would throw my arms around her, hold her close, kiss the top of her head and tell her how much I loved her.
Which, of course, was the only gift she really wanted.
I don’t remember what I gave her that Christmas, but I am certain it was nothing close to what she deserved.
I think back on that day, on the innumerable days before and since that this perfect little creature has shown such extraordinary love and I am utterly overcome. Even as I pen these words, tears fall heavily into my lap because I am not sure I showed appreciation. In fact, I am quite sure I didn’t.
There are only so few creatures in the world who love with such depth, who laugh with such heart and who face an angry and judgemental world with such courage. There are only so few hearts that can take such pain and rejection, and still love so completely, so unconditionally.
Today, she is my best friend, my soul-mate, the only person in the world I would trust with the deepest places of my heart. Having been through what we have, and facing what is to come, I know I could never make her understand my love.
I am not sure I have ever been so loved.