Baby Sisters, Birthdays and Buckets of Tea

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One summer afternoon, more than 4 decades ago, a 3 year old little girl watched her mummy and her new baby sister sleeping on the bed. The recently fed baby girl had her tiny fists tightly curled and the 3 year old took one of the tiny fists in her own little hand. It was soft and warm. She carefully and gently uncurled the tiny fingers, and noticed little gossamer threads of what looked like silken strands of spider webs between the fingers. The little girl carefully inspected the spaces between each of the fingers, and gently wiped away the cobwebs. As she let the baby’s fingers go, they returned to their tightly curled fisted state. The 3 year old then examined the other hand and found the gossamer cobwebs in that one too. So she carefully wiped those away as well, with her own little fingers…and as her baby sister’s tiny fist curled around her own small finger, soft and warm, the 3 year old little girl thought, though she did not have the words to express it at the time, how amazing this tiny person with the tiny cobwebby fingers was…

A couple of years later, the little girl is now about 5 years old and has started school. She was the proud owner of a treasured box of pencil crayon. It was a yellow box with a picture of a peacock on the front of it, and it held the standard 6 crayons including the 3 primary colours, green, brown and black most likely. The little girl’s father would have sharpened the crayons with a sharp kitchen knife because in those days, plastic pencil sharpeners were not the ubiquitous thing they are now. So anyway, this treasured pack of pencil crayons was stored on a shelf in a cupboard. One day the little girl discovered that her baby sister, who was now walking and talking, had tugged the precious crayon box off the shelf. The crayons had spilled on the ground, and in the fall, some of the pencil points had broken. The little girl was furious. She turned around with an angry cry, and kicked her little sister in her stomach, knocking her down. The whole incident was witnessed by one of their aunts who was babysitting the little girls, and reported to the parents of the two little girls. Thankfully the baby sister suffered no serious injury from being kicked in the stomach. The big sister got a beating for kicking her sister, as well as a lecture from her father about the expectations and responsibility: big sisters were expected to be responsible for looking after their baby sisters, not kick them in the stomach, even if they misbehaved.

These are two of my earliest memories of my little sister who celebrates her birthday today. Growing up in the home that we did, our shared genes and life experiences as children and teenagers, means that my sister understands me in ways that no one else does. We have not just watched each other grow up, but have actively egged each other on through the process to live the fullest life that we can. We have survived hardships and celebrated milestones with pages of letters,cards, and notes on scraps of paper, buckets of tea, telephone calls and emails. These days we have become fluent in Whatsapp as a convenient and easily accessible way of tugging the strings between us to make sure that we are still connected. We have sat in silence on a verandah, or on a long drive, shared meals, beds, memories, side-splitting laughter and heartbreaking gut-wrenching tears.

The sense of awe and wonder I felt as I uncurled those tiny fingers and brushed away the gossamer cobwebs has only deepened as I have watched my baby sister boldly go forth into the world in search of her truth. She is one of the most courageous people I know. It is not the absence of fear that defines courage, but the willingness, and the ability to face what scares you with an open heart and mind. Courage is stepping into the river of pain and suffering ( your own as well as that of others) in search of wisdom, understanding and compassion for your fellow human beings. Courage is using that hard earned wisdom and knowledge to go back and help others who are struggling to cross the river. My sister personifies courage for me. When my fresh out of the packaging baby sister clasped my little 3 year old finger decades ago, the expectation was that the big sister would look after the little sister…but I feel that for at least half my life, my little sister has held my hand and looked after me. My birthday wish for her is that we have a few more decades together, to hold each other’s hands, be present in each other’s lives and help not just each other but as many others as we can to complete this journey that we call life.

 

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