What I admire the most in other human beings is not their accomplishments, but their relationship to life. My definition of a hero: a person who is joyful among the inevitable sorrows. Joy is the most admirable quality, the most courageous in my book, second only to a loving heart. But the two are united. I doubt you can feel joy without a loving heart.
My sister Cheryl is my hero. To be near her is a joy.
I've had the good fortune to be close to Cheryl for fifty-seven years. She turned sixty-one this August. We celebrated her birthday with pizza and wine and talking all night long, as we've done so many times. I never tire of talking to her. I love to watch her face, her beautiful blue eyes, how she lights up with laughter so easily.
In five decades, we've only had one fight. It was over a bouillon cube. I was nine, and Cheryl was thirteen. Dad at work, Mom at the grocery store. For an after-school snack, I decided on a bowl of delicious chicken bouillon, easy to make. Cheryl mentioned that she, too, would like some bouillon, but she'd make it later. Okay, so I ate my soup. When later arrived, and Cheryl saw there were no more bouillon cubes, she snapped. She chased me around the backyard, holding a fork above her head. I screamed, causing Vera, our next-door neighbor, to come running over to our house. The bouillon war ended. I probably caused the war by my younger-sister need to wield my cube of power.
Other than the soup escapade, Cheryl and I have never felt sibling rivalry. We've always been for each other, never against. We share the deepest kind of friendship, together since the start of life's adventure. No one knows me better than my Cherie Amour.
When we were kids, we made up our own language: nostril-speak. At the dinner table, Cheryl sat across from me, and we "talked" by moving our nostrils. "What's so funny?" Dad or Mom asked. We stilled our nose flares. "Nothing," we said, laughing.
One of the saddest days of my life, and the happiest, was when Cheryl married her high school sweetheart, Dave. I was happy for her, but sad she was going away. Her maid-of-honor, I stood by Cheryl's side in St. Isidore Catholic Church and wept. I couldn't believe I wouldn't be living with her anymore.
When our mother died in a car accident, Cheryl and I became even closer. Our younger sister, Kerry, was in the accident, and it was a miracle she lived. All three of us became closer because of this tragedy. For a few years, Kerry lived, off and on, with Cheryl and Dave and their three children. I came home from teaching and traveling in Europe--broke, without a car or a place to live--and Cheryl helped me get my life organized again. When Cheryl gives, there are no strings attached. She doesn't keep score.
Cheryl and Dave were married for thirty-two years. Dave died of cancer and complications from alcoholism when he was fifty-seven. They had been divorced for a year, but Cheryl took care of Dave and stayed in the hospital with him during his last days.
When she was fifty-two, Cheryl went from riches to rags and back to work after thirty years of being a housewife. It was difficult to find a job, but she found one at an elementary school, as the secretary to the principal. She's great at her job, the kids adore her, and she always adds the extra touch, dressing up in crazy costumes for the many holiday festivities, bringing into the office whatever is needed to lighten the day.
Recently, Cheryl's youngest son, twenty-seven, has come back home to live with her. This has happened a few times before. Since his father died, he's had a rough time of it and is trying hard to re-invent himself beyond his addiction to drugs. Cheryl has given her son many chances, and now another one.
I've learned from my sister that love is another chance, as many chances as it takes.
Cheryl leans toward the light in the darkest times.
Sometimes I call her Wirly. She's a whirl of action and grace, love and joy.
And she knows everything there is to know about hair and make-up.
This previous weekend:
"I love this lipstick," she says, twirling a teeny lipstick brush in the air like a magic wand, then applying it with a flourish to her lips.
"What kind is it?"
And off we go to the bathroom, so Cheryl can show me the intricacies of an incredible lipstick, and then we'll talk about our hair, and then it's too late to go to the movie, so we'll stay home and eat bouillon soup and talk some more, adding to the story we've been telling from the beginning.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society