As the oldest sister of five, I have a lot of experience in family dynamics. When we were very young my sister was my playmate and an adoring fan until I morphed into a bossy know-it-all, complaining when she followed me around. Our third sister was much closer to the second in age and they became a team, referred to collectively as "the girls." Our one brother was next, and the fourth sister came much later and was our baby doll, our charge and the one with whom I watched the first episodes of Sesame Street after my day at high school. Later, we became much closer as we had our children and traveled back and forth for visits. This is the ebb and flow of our family relations, always shifting and changing, yet always remaining close.
Over the years, we have also become deep friends. We've helped each other through stages of life, parented together, created magical holidays for our children. We were Santa's elves, sewing dress-up clothes and fanciful aprons for surprise Christmas gifts. We've made puppets and puppet shows, themed birthday parties, slept on each other's couches and guest beds, cooked together, laughed uproariously and wept together. We've taken each other in when necessary, and talk at least once a week. When I was suddenly widowed and lost, it was my sisters who first rallied around me, holding me up every time I collapsed to the floor. One sister called me nearly everyday for a year, saying it was the "Sisters Assurance Program."
Many years ago, I made a dance piece called Three Sisters. It was inspired by my own family and by a poem by Adrienne Rich, called Women, which begins:
My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of black obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.
Sisterly activities of sharing, talking, playing, growing through the same experiences taught me to cherish our uniqueness while rejoicing in the love that connects us and holds us together. We often discuss long ago events and discover that each of our perceptions are very different. This is an interesting and wonderful fact - every human filters experience through their own unique lens. One sister remembers something and another remembers something else. Both views are true; they are not the same, just as the sisters themselves have different characters and ways of being in the world.
We each grew some daughters of our own who are sisters themselves, and who are all different from each other and from their cousins. One is very organized and accomplished; her life is orderly and she prefers it that way. Another is a little wild and prefers to be impulsive and random. One is a dancer, another an actress, and another loves to skateboard. All of us are highly creative, but in different ways. My sisters, too, have different ways of expressing themselves; one is quite shy and gentle, another is very intellectual. All of them, from both generations are funny, intelligent, sassy and beautiful women who make an impact on the people they encounter, especially their sisters, mothers and daughters.
This weekend was Sisters Weekend. A small group of us gathered, arriving by plane, car and train. We slept in beds of sisters, I with mine and my daughters together, wandered art museums and the length and breadth of Boston in a day. We laughed and talked, shared and primped each other, and as sisters also like to do, we shopped. We encouraged and praised each other; we listened. We laughed when the younger sisters poked fun at us older ones, claiming we looked like identical prairie dogs in the middle of the night, alternately popping up and back down in alarm, in response to the loud party in the next room at the hotel.
This morning, we hugged and said loving things when we parted, back to the train, the plane and the car. We are all so alike and so different from one another. And we love each other because of this. It is a reminder that family life provides metaphors for human interaction - how we get along with our siblings is reflected in all our relationships. By lovingly accepting each other as unique and interesting, we encourage compassion towards others we encounter who live, think and respond in different ways.