Perfect

When I was ten I told my Mother that my sister Dawn was perfect.

This caused quite a little stir in the family. My Mother was amused and pleased…but Dawn herself was not. Sixteen years older than I, she was already married, a mother, and living a few blocks away.

Mother chided me that no one was perfect, but, stubborn then, as I am today, I held firm in my position.

I would not yield.

I suppose they then decided that the next step was for Dawn herself to intervene.

She called and said she needed to talk to me. So summoned, I soon found myself at her kitchen table. (Kitchen tables were the power-centers of our respective homes in those days.)

I remember pretty well what she said that day and certainly how she looked. My sister Dawn is beautiful, but not just in her features, or in her face, but in some enveloping warmth that radiates from her eyes. Ask anyone who knows her about her eyes. Anyway, it’s those eyes you call up whenever you think of Dawn. And it’s those eyes that stand out in my memory of this incident.

She sat to the left of me that day. Those eyes were very concerned.

Dawn told me that I must never think she or anyone else was “perfect.” If I did, someday, she would certainly disappoint me, and my belief in her “perfection” would make the hurt bigger. She couldn’t bear to think of ever making any hurt bigger for me. No one was perfect. Did I understand?

I said I did.

I really didn’t…. but I said I did. At ten years old, I understood that in my family…you had to “give” at a certain point or these things could drag on , interrupting your quality play-time for weeks.

Many , many years have passed since that sisterly confab in the Oakland Street kitchen. I have remained, from afar, the ever-interested observer of my sister’s life.

Dawn and her husband raised five children….that she loving calls “The Clan.” Somewhere, I have stacks of letters that detail the days and years while her little boys and girls grew into amazing men and women. It’s clear when you read them, that nothing has ever mattered to Dawn more than family, more than keeping the connectivity between those she loved. Her Queen’s treasure was those kids; her State Occasions…the cook-outs, the Christmases; the Coin of the Realm…the close-knit bonds of her beloved Clan. She collected her memories like other women collect jewelry…the Clan is her life’s work, her career ambition.

My friends and I often talk about the “science of credentialing.” Have you ever noticed in the first ten minutes of meeting someone new…how, in every instance, they project to you what they value most in their life…how they want The World to perceive them? Some people let you know how much money they have; some want you to know they are ill; some want you to know they have a key to some corridor of power..somewhere. In the first ten minutes of meeting Dawn, you’ll hear about her family and her friends. She has many, many accomplishments but the loves of her life… are her proudest medals and merit badges.

A move to New Hampshire one year required that Dawn double down her effort to keep the family connected. She clipped articles and wrote letters and started a family news “gazette.” She was tireless in remembering what was special to each of us. A note would arrive for one of my children, “I hear you won an award.” Cards to my husband..”Our favorite Brother.” Clippings that made me feel I was still only around the corner instead of states away.

When our Mother took ill, Dawn moved her to New Hampshire as well. I cannot adequately describe the outstanding loving care Dawn gave our Mother in her last days but I’ll say this: my Sister is the daughter every parent prays to have. If she could be cloned and marketed…you would not be able to keep a “Daughter Dawn” in stock. I remember my Mother’s eyes, darting, frightened as aging confused her….and the aura of comfort and safety that would instantly envelope her…as she connected with those eyes of her caretaker daughter Dawn.

Let me tell you, it is almost a religious experience to see such a thing.

Over the years, I have tried to absorb the lessons she lays out, not in platitudes…but in attitudes, action, love. But it’s difficult. I’m the Baby. Much loved, but the Brat.

Dawn has always had a strong circle of friends. To have her as a friend means to have another person fully engaged in your life. There is no one more high spirited, who will dance with abandon and laugh with abundance when life is handing you joy. On my wedding day, she and her husband (another on the list of those I adore) came to my hotel room to see me right before the ceremony. I turned to face her in my gown and she burst into tears…”This is the happiest day of my Life!” she blurted out.

My brother-in-law Marv, did one of his comedic double-takes…” We’ve been married all these years…you have five children and your sister’s wedding is the happiest day of your life?” I can still see the three of us standing there, laughing….because that’s Dawn…when she loves you , she’s got this osmosis thing going on. She feels what you feel.

Okay, for balance, I will mention…she smacked me once at the Beach…when, in full throttle of teenage tantrum, I said I hated Mother. Occasionally, she has had her loyalties mixed up, like when I asked her if she loved her infant Son as much as me. “Well, he’s my Baby,” said Dawn. “But I am YOUR SISTER” I reminded her coldly.

Yes, there were those incidents.

But enough. The point of my prose today…is really to talk about ME.

Many years have passed since I told my Mother that Dawn was perfect. There are years and years now of complied memories, hilarity, sadness, and stories to tell. There is fact and data that cannot be denied. And I have come to the following conclusions:

What a wise and precocious child I was!

What an intuitive prodigy!

No doubt, this formative incident lies at the base of my often unyielding embrace of my convictions today. Even as child I knew better than to let anyone undermine my own excellent intuitive powers.

I let them temporarily silence me, yes, but I never surrendered.

I WAS right.

Dawn has never disappointed.

She IS perfect.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank goodness for the good people. They are what makes life rich

  2. Socrates, surely a front-runner for wisest man of antiquity, redirected his gaze from the heavens above to the city-state of Athens below, the better to study that even more fascinating component of creation—his fellow human beings. Now that was clearly a hazardous move, as mere mortals fell demonstrably short of the perfection that the celestial sphere seemed to exemplify (which perfection, by the way, resisted attacks for the better part of two-thousand years until finally brought low by that newfangled invention, the telescope). Perhaps no man of his era better endeared himself to misanthropes by displaying the weakness, self-centeredness, and ignorance of homo boobiens than did this physically unattractive teacher of Plato. The best of the modern naysayers—for example, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Mencken—all bowed in their own way to the “Big S.”

    So . . . there is a long tradition in western philosophy and literature that equates belief in human perfection or even perfectibility with naïveté, hubris, and childish wishful thinking. But there is also, at least to my mind, an especially attractive strain within this tradition that recognizes the severe limitations of reflexively resorting to the motifs of degradation and original sin. Among our contemporaries, Joseph Epstein hints at brighter horizons in many of his essays, as in this passage from his “The Pleasures of Reading”:

    “People who have read with love and respect understand that the larger message behind all books, great and good and even some not so good as they might be, is finally, cultivate your sensibility so that you may trust your heart. The charmingly ironic point of vast reading, as least as I have come to understand it, is to distrust much of one’s education. Unfortunately, the only way to know this is first to become educated, just as the only way properly to despise success is first to achieve it.”

    And although he’d never be mistaken for Dr. Pangloss, Epstein leaves the door ajar for those who refuse to give up on humankind: “ . . . I may have reached the age when nothing seems quite new and everything begins to remind me of everything else. I may be coming to a time when only amusing children and acts of inexplicable goodness are capable of astonishing me.”

    Ah, if only I could introduce Joe to Joan. I’m confident he’d emerge from such a meeting far more inclined than he’s been to prop that door wide open.

  3. What a marvelous tribute to Dawn. For many years, as an only child, I used to beg my mother for an older brother. As I have grown older now, I pine more deeply for a sister, for surely that is a connectedness like none other.

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