Tuesday, May 28, 2013
my sister's 70th birthday
I didn't do much from another state, but we plotted and schemed, and now she arrives innocently at her very own home in a strange reversal of her life. Here waiting surreptitiously inside are the friends she has served pot roast and pie week in and week out, with eager eyes and hushed giggles at her door. Then Surprise! Here is the woman she befriended at the shoe repair shop opening arms, I'm glad you're here! and another she took in like a daughter, whose own little girls now call her "grandma" Come in! We have decorated a cake and drawn pictures with Xs and Os just for you! Most of them are strangers to me.
At thirteen she was like a mother when I was born. She wheeled me in a buggy around the small town, hoping she would be imagined that way. I think she was born a mother.
Dozens of us are packed tight against each other to see her face. Some standing and clapping, some sitting because they can't stand. Her second husband and love of her life at the back strains his neck to see. Everyone is young again for a few hours, because she is young. My sister is young although she has brittle bones and broken discs. Young though she has endured excruciating pain since her thirties. Young with love, young with generosity, young with selflessness. She is never without pain; it is only a matter of relativity: Is today better than yesterday?
After half the party has left, we intimates hunch around her, sluffed but regal in her chair, smaller than I remember, her hair still red without chemicals, a basket of cards and a handful of gifts on the ottoman at her knee. Nothing extravagant. All pink and vibrant.
I begin to see her as I've never seen her. Here in her world away from mine, I see that I am after all not one of the intimate ones. I grow quieter and believe I might have disappeared, which I would like. My forehead is heavy and I am in its shadow, my mind is dark with wondering what I have done with my life as I watch and listen to her effortlessly thank each one whose card she has just read, one at a time. Each one someone who receives a call from her every week to see how they are, someone who finds that they need her because they have no one better. And who could be better?
On the table at her elbow, stems of white bridal veil spray around pink roses in a vase. My eyes fill and blur while I think of her twenty years from today, surrounded by the same friends, some absent because they have passed. “All life is an act of translation,” Fady Joudah said. The question is, what are we translating?