I heard recently that the our most formative relationships of all are with our siblings. Of all the mesh of relationships that define a person, from childhood to adulthood, the most vital and critical to who we are is that with our sibling(s). Well, if that’s true I am a fortunate woman indeed. In many ways, I think Hilary and I share a bond even more intense than usual, given how often we were in a foreign country with only each other for company. Certainly, as I’ve noted before, she is the only person on this planet who shares the unique terroir that cultivated me into who I am.
And yet, isn’t it remarkable, that grown out of the same soil, two people can be quite different? It seems to me that we’re converging as we age, which is a tremendous joy for me, but still, we are not very much alike. Two of my beloved blogging friends know Hilary well in person, which, I assure you, should elevate them further in your esteem. My sister is probably the best and keenest judge of character I’ve ever known. Her demeanor is somewhat reserved, but don’t ever mistake that for her not paying attention. Behind Hilary’s gorgeous greenish-brown eyes is a brain that is never at rest: she doesn’t miss a single thing. Not with people, not with the world at large, not with books. It was Hilary who busted me for having skimmed Middlemarch so quickly that I missed an entire (important) plotline. She shamed me sufficiently that I went back and read it again, every single page.
Last week, one of my aforementioned blog friends, Kristen from Motherese, was tweeting about Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector. We went back and forth and she observed something about sister-heroines of both Goodman’s book and the Austen/Eliot era. I responded that next to my sister I’m a mental midget. And it’s true. I grew up in the shadow of Hilary’s formidable intellect; but somehow it wasn’t a cold shadow, or a scary one. She has always urged me on, made me read more closely (see above, re: Middlemarch), pushed me to think harder, to articulate more carefully what I think and feel.
I humbly submit this as proof: last summer, we drove 45 minutes each way, with my father and brother-in-law, to visit a famed used bookstore on Cape Cod. This was the entrance hall. It was among the most enchanting afternoons of the whole summer, browsing peacefully, contentedly, next to my brilliant, wise sister.
Hilary is living in Jerusalem this year with her husband and two daughters (ages 3 and 5.5). I read her dispatches about life abroad hungrily, drinking in her adventurous spirit, hoping that with this I can quench some of my own odd, insatiable restlessness. Someone kind recently noted that Hilary’s family’s choice to spend their sabbatical year in Israel is further testament to our parents having raised us “bravely and well.” Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Now that I’m a parent, I stumble daily, and keep a little mental list of all the ways I fail Grace and Whit. I don’t feel brave, ever, and I rarely feel as though I’m doing it well. The more I grow into being a parent myself, the more I appreciate my own parents, and the family they created for both my sister and me. Regularly, I share questions, disasters, and triumphs with Hilary, and having her to share this journey with is one of my great sources of both solace and support.
Naturally, I don’t have any recent pictures of Hilary and me (the one above is from Thanksgiving, 2008). But I do have a picture of our four children, those inheritors of all that pumps through each of our bloodstreams, those non-redheaded children (how? how? how?) who I hope will always be dear to each other. Those siblings who are, daily, in ways more numerous and imperceptible to note, shaping each other just as Hilary so generously and kindly shaped me.