Siblings – Friends we can’t get rid of!

“No one knows better than a sister how we grew up…she’s your mirror shining back at you…she is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were the only child! Do you have a sister? If you do, you’ll know what I mean.”Barbara Alpert

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We were four siblings. Three sisters and a brother. I was the fourth and the youngest for the first ten years of my life. I enjoyed being the youngest… my father’s pet and my mother’s unruly filly. But life had something better in store – a younger sibling! 

The announcement that I was going to get another brother thrilled me no end. My elder brother was my friend and partner in crime. I enjoyed playing with the boys more than the girls who I found to be “sissies” and forever crying, throwing tantrums, and more interested in who was wearing what and only liked playing ‘house, house’. {That’s a true confession of a 6 yr old!)

I wanted to play ‘Cowboys & Red Indians’, ‘Robbers & Police’, gymnastics and rougher sports and games than most girls my age cared to play. So, another brother was more than welcome.

What I didn’t realize was that a ten-year age difference wouldn’t work out as I had envisaged…our interests would be worlds apart by the time he grew up!

I never got to develop a really close relationship with my sisters. They went to boarding school when I was five or six. We’d meet only when they came home for their annual holidays. I would be in awe of them.

The eldest was seven years older than me and the other was my senior by five. When they passed out of school, they left home to pursue whatever professional training/jobs they had applied for in the city. We were living in the country then. My elder brother remained my pal-at-home a few more years and left too.

The younger one was too young to take his place. A three-year-old isn’t much company for a thirteen-year-old! I grew up through my teenage years of schooling, practically, as an only child. And because the school was very far from home, I didn’t have friends to hang out with on the weekends or holidays.

Books became my friends and I became an avid reader. Thanks to my elder sisters’ fondness for reading, there was never a dearth of books. They kept a steady supply. And thanks to an American friend in the American Peace Corps, and stationed in our town, we had more than enough books of all genres.

I traveled with my book friends and experienced different cultures and traditions; their emotions, their actions, reactions, responses and values as I lived with them. This worked against me as my schoolmates couldn’t relate to the books I read and so I couldn’t discuss them either. It created a chasm.

The distances were constant between us siblings. Rarely were we all together, and even then, it was never for long. But, whenever we got together, we would pick up from where we left off as if we had never left… never been absent from home.

We’d talk one to the dozen, laugh our guts out – almost literally – because we’d be doubled up in laughter, our arms folded across our bellies, tears flooding our eyes!

With the years passing on, we got married and home meant another place.

I and my eldest sister lived in regions far from the rest and each other as well. The youngest who joined the Army moved from the north in the Himalayas to the southern lush green regions and the western arid zone… what I’m saying is, we hardly met.

Those were not the days of internet and wi-fi; no mobile phones, no face time, no emails and chats. The occasional snail mail and cards made their slow way to keep everyone updated. Though, by the time people were updated, the information was already outdated.

Yet, when we gathered at one place to attend a wedding or a funeral… or I’d make an annual trip with the hubby and kids in tow to meet the family, it would always be like we met just some days ago! It was always comfortable, always fun. We’d be howling with laughter at the silliest things, we’d be singing the same old songs… and we gossiped about the same old people. We bonded like only siblings can.

At the time of writing this, we’re in the same situation of vast distances between us… in miles. I’m the farthest from my siblings, yet, when I think about it, it is just the oceans, seas, and continents that separate us.

Although I value physical nearness (nothing can replace that; no internet – Whatsapp, Facetime either), but I am also grateful for all of these modern technologies that bridge the gap. I’ve been in places, in another country, without leaving my chair! 

I have driven through the streets in Canada with my son as I sat comfortably in my room in South America! I’ve been a part of a baptism service for my grandchildren (virtually), making the vows I had to make… as if I were there in the Canadian church myself. Facetime is the closest to personal and physical nearness.

But, it is not these hi-tech facilities that keep me close to my family.

The bonds of birth and a shared childhood; same roots, same family ties, many shared experiences… survive over and beyond the distances.

Is it because we are siblings born of the same parents? No, what keeps siblings together is a relationship. And like all relationships, it takes a lot of working at, to grow strong. It takes a lot of love, forgiveness; patience and tolerance, understanding and respect for siblings to grow as sisters and brothers. This is best explained by Maya Angelou in this short quote: 

“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters and brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them the mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” –Maya Angelou

Yes, siblings – sisters and brothers, as defined by Maya Angelou, are the friends we not only “can’t get rid of” but whom we never want to get rid of.

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