There were old poems from my father. A gift to my mom when we were small. Me, maybe four or five. My sister, two or three.
Even then, there was an essence that he saw. One poem for each of us. Mine had oak trees and quiet. The seriousness of a first-born child.
My sister’s was light. Laughter and delight in tiny tennies, “dancing to any ole tune.”
Maybe these traits are innate. My dad sensing them early on.
Growing up, my sister’s joyful abandon was both my envy and frustration. Sharing clothes in high school, she would regularly return white shirts with random stains.
“I’m sorry, Jess. I didn’t mean to.”
I knew it wasn’t purposeful, she just wasn’t thinking. And that’s what made me crazy.
Later, in my twenties, less thinking is what I longed for. I watched in wonder, as my sister boldly twirled through the world without hesitation. She traveled California in a souped-up Dodge van with hand-sewn curtains and a bed. She painted a slogan in huge letters across the back doors, proclaiming “We know who we are when we dance.”
Though I certainly had my own daring adventures, it seemed my moves were always much more measured than hers. Not that she was haphazard, just loose. Not that I was rigid, just more cautious.
And much less patient. I remember my sister telling me a story of her meditation practice with a fly. How when it landed on her bare-skinned body, she chose to just let it crawl. She did not flick it away. She gave no resistance. Its little legs were irritating as it roamed, but she simply surrendered to its presence. Found liberation in her full submission to the discomfort.
I so admire this yielding patience. This willingness to let. My sister’s ability to let with lightness and a laugh.
I’d like to think that I’d do fine with my own fly meditation. But I’d have to be in the mood. The truth is, in the day-to-day, I’m just more attached to control.
Somehow, with my sister, this yen of mine for order never fails to become glaringly apparent. As in this scene, on my last visit with her in California.
We’re in our late thirties now. Mothers with purses and sons. She’s behind the wheel of a standard, family car, her four-year old, securely fastened in the back. I’m following behind her in a rental, Jeb in the passenger seat beside me.
I don’t know where we’re going in this labyrinth of neighborhood streets. Too complicated to give me advance directions, she says “just follow me.”
As I tail behind them, I can tell by looking through their back window that it’s White Stripes on the stereo. I see her smiling in the rear view mirror at her son, his arms in an air drum fervor, pumping in time with Meg White.
Delighted fun and bass drum leak from the cab of their car whenever we come to a stop sign. My sister is pure smiles, bobbing her head and clicking on her turn signal.
Our car is quiet. Jeb is still beside me, taking in the trees. “Can we please not have music mom?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
I continue following my sister’s cues until she slows and flips a U on a small side street. She pulls up beside me, rolling down her window.
Jack White’s in a bubble of sound surrounding them, his sing-songey invitation asking when we’re going to ring his doorbell. My nephew smiles at us through his window, still rocking out.
My sister’s sparkling, not a worry. “I think I took a wrong turn back there. Just keep following me.”
My face betrays me. Maybe it’s my eyes that roll, or my lips turn down and pucker. It’s just a simple U-turn, but I’m annoyed in only the way a big sister can be.
“What Jess?” she laughs. “It’s no big deal. We’re close. Just follow me.”
It’s embarrassing how easily agitated I can become. And never is it so obvious as when I’m with my sister.
I swirl in my bi-polar chasm; both irritated that we didn’t reach our destination in single-pointed efficiency, and disappointed at how I let it matter one iota.
In my dance of the inner extremities, revealed expertly, through the divine mirror of my sister, I am humbled. I try to keep in step and still honor my own groove and rhythm.
I think we do know who we are when we’re dancing. We’ve all got our own style. Seems the key is to just stay light enough to move.