Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing for My Sister

My very first blog post was on another blog, one I have since abandoned, on July 21, 2005. The fifth anniversary of my attempt to share thoughts with the world is approching.

That first blog post was entitled "Geezers and Geezerhood" and attempted to explain why people should be happy to be getting older. I wrote, "The health issues that tend to come with age, of course, are negative aspects of getting older, but on the whole, getting older is a good thing. I intend to keep doing it."

I wrote that as encouragement for one of my sisters, who had been having health issues for a long time and was feeling a little depressed. I don't know whether that first post of mine had any impact on her, but I do know that she regularly read my blog from the very beginning. Often, she read between the lines and knew when I was angry, depressed, or just frustrated with the world around me. She knew that many of my frustrations related to the fact that I loathed the work that I created for myself by starting my own business. She encouraged me to get out of it, to do something different, to retire and see the country on my own terms. From her perspective, all I needed to do was just do it. Her concern was for my health, physical and mental, and she never stopped encouraging me to "give it up" and enjoy life instead of scrambling hard for five or six or ten days straight so I could have a weekend or even an occasional week to do what I wanted.

If I had listened to her, I might have done the impossible and given up being tied to a desk for a life "on the road." She lived on a tiny Social Security check in a tiny subsidized apartment in an building operated for people near the bottom of the economic scale. She was able to see past the "need" for material things. She didn't need a big house, a nice car, or money in the bank. Sure, she would have been more comfortable with those things, but what she needed was to be able to help other people. She needed that as much as she needed air to breathe.

I possess only a fraction of the need to be of service to others that my sister had. I have it, but not the way she did. She was passionate about it, but she did not expect others to share it. She just went about doing it. She occasionally shared what she was doing, but she rarely revealed just how much she was doing for others.

My brothers and my other sister said aloud, from time to time, "I wish she would use the money we give/lend her for herself!" But she rarely would. Instead, if a neighbor needed food or a friend needed money to pay a bill or an acquaintance needed an attorney, she would spend her own money and any we provided on helping that other person. It was rare that she would actually spend money on herself.

Once, recently, I insisted on buying a "doctor's scale" for her that her doctor had been encouraging her to buy. She needed to weigh herself very accurately every day and report any signficant changes to her doctor because certain drugs she was taking could cause water retentino which could, in turn, put additional pressure on her already over-taxed heart. It took me months to get her to accept the money for the scale. It was less than $200, but you would have thought I was mortgaging my house; she did not want me to give up anything just to help her. She was not used to getting anything; she was only used to giving.

In hindsight, I realize that I was looking at situations from a different perspective than she was. I was used to having discretionary money, albeit not a lot. She was used to living week to week, and stretching her money to make ends meet. And I think she felt guilty taking anything for herself because she was spending "needlessly" on a vice: smoking. But I know how hard it is to stop that addiction, having kicked it only six years ago after a 35 years habit. In retrospect, I think she felt guilty that she was not using the money she spent on cigarettes on helping other people; she had another, competing, addiction: service to others.

My sister and I had very different perspectives on religion. She was a believer and had connections with the church, though she had deep divides with core elements of the church. I am not a believer, but I do share her loathing for the hypocracies of organized religion. I can't say with certainty, but I think her support for the church had more to do with the good works done in the name of the church than with its religious formalities. We spoke fairly often about my indignation with organized religion in general and my disbelief in a supreme power. She didn't defend the church except to tell me how a church near where she lived was exceptionally supportive of the community, especially people who were, like her, near the bottom of the economic ladder. She wished I would have believed in a supreme being, but she was satisfied that I appreciated the work the church did. And she had little tolerance for people who use the church in place of their brain; she preferred that people think for themselves and not depend on the church to do it for them.

Many of the people who lived near my sister lived deeply in poverty; she treated everyone the same way, though, regardless of who they were or where they came from. She was just as comfortable telling a wealthy attorney to return usurious fees to a poor client as she was inquiring of a street person when was the last time he had eaten. I know many people who are uncomfortable dealing with the "lowest of the low" strata of society; thanks to learning from my sister, I no longer have that level of discomfort. While she was quite liberal in her views, she was quick to condemn false liberalism in the rich socialite who would give money to the poor, but who wouldn't deign to speak to them or treat them as equals.

My first blog post, which was intended to improve my sister's mood, led to a flood of others, some of which my sister appreciated and many of which she probably did not. But like them or not, she read them; I think she read them because she felt compelled to read them, in case something I said might signal a need to talk something out. And she read those signals well, too.

My sister's death on February 19 brought her reading of my posts to an end. But I will continue to write as if she might read them and I'll try to continue to learn from her as I remember all she taught me, and all she tried to teach me.


YourFireAnt said...

A lovely eulogy, John. She was a good sister to you. I know it hurts a lot.


bev said...

I hope you do keep writing. I like the idea of writing as though for your sister. I'm sure she would have approved.

Springer Kneeblood said...

She was, Teresa. And it does. And I will, Bev...just not right now.

Phil said...

"My sister's death on February 19 brought her reading of my posts to an end. But I will continue to write as if she might read them and I'll try to continue to learn from her as I remember all she taught me, and all she tried to teach me. "

That's a great sentiment.

Springer Kneeblood said...

Thanks, Phil. Yesterday's memorial service brought it home even clearer. She taught me a lot and tried to teach me even more. Now, I may finally learn some of the things she tried to teach me, but didn't succeed the first time around.