On the Nostalgia of Siblings


(PHILIPPINES, Cebu) Elaine before her first Holy Communion. (Photo taken by the author's father.)

Today is my little sister’s 27th birthday—a fact which makes me feel eminently old.

(You know you’re aging rapidly when your little sister hits her late twenties. And you know you’re in denial about aging rapidly when you insist on calling said sister “little.”)

In any case, a memory:

Elaine at 6 or maybe 7 years of age, me at 9 or 10; recess in one of our grade school’s many covered spaces; me tripping hard against a low metal railing—the inadvertent victim of an all too-violent game of tag; the agonizing pain on my shin, an injury that would persist for years (I remember favoring that leg all the way through high school); my inconsolable wails of grief, eventually subsiding into occasional whimpers; my classmates’ helplessness and their subsequent abandonment (the bell was ringing the end of the break); then moments later, Elaine’s small, concerned face swimming into view; my little sister, bewildered by my pain and perhaps a little frightened, aware of the need to go back to her classroom, but unwilling to leave her big sister behind, sitting down on the floor next to me, taking my hand, and very gently wiping my face with a hankie. 

I don’t know why that memory’s remained so vivid all of these years. I’ve had countless unforgettable moments with Elaine—instances generated out of a familial bond that’s blossomed into an abiding and affectionate friendship—but that particular incident when we were both children is among the ones I most cherish. Maybe it’s because I associate my sister’s act of gentle mercy at that time with a kind of atavistic kindness—a genuine altruistic impulse beyond the sort engineered by social conditioning. This was, after all, an incident from childhood, that period of time when what siblings feel for each other is a fierce, unquestioning and inexplicable hostility. But what I remember from my sister’s desperate attempts to console me then was one small and bewildered child’s attempt to comfort someone who, in her world, should have never needed comforting, should have never been hurt, should have remained indestructible through the sheer fact of being older. But in the face of all that—of the impossible, of the ridiculous, of the absurd—there was simply the love of one sister for another.

And the fact that it exists is what has me celebrate today.

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