It is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. 5773. I stop by my sister’s apartment between classes because she’s had a cyst removed this morning and had been anxious about it.
My sister writes poignantly about her life with autism, as if it were a dance partner that never lets her leave the floor. It is a consuming life fraught with anxiety and limitation, stress and vexation.
The surgery goes without a hitch. Painless, no stitches. My sister appears relieved.
But the day sours when my mother who has opted to stay with my sister pounces instantly—her irritation iridescent. I am taken aback, smarting from what feels like a slap in the face planted with angry words. I cannot understand where she is coming from, what current of anger roils the exchange but it ends horribly. My mother storms off. I creep in my sister’s darkened bedroom where she rests awake.
So many times my sister has phoned me upset that our mother has slammed the phone on her and then unplugged it so my sister can’t get through if she tries again to call. Maybe six months ago my sister called me sobbing. “She slammed the phone and said she never wants to talk to me again.” Her words twisted through the tears and phlegm.
I assure my sister my mother will eventually calm down. She will phone in a day or two. Be patient I counsel. Easier said than done. My mother calls me later, her aggravation plump and red. She tells me she has written my sister a letter. But she will not plug in her phone (except to dial out).
My sister gets the letter. And another. Within a few days my mother calls her.
So on this Rosh Hashanah as I lean tearfully on the windowsill in the bedroom slack with shuttered light, my sister says Be patient. Give her time.
“She was like that with me this weekend,” my sister offers. “I don’t know why, Leaf. I’m sorry.”
I look at my sister lying in bed, her face always so youthful, her prematurely grey hair dyed light brown. Born when I was nine, her autism never allowed her to catch up, to meet me in adulthood. She is forever young. But today she is wise. The advice she offers is not merely mine parroted back. She knows of what she speaks. She has earned her knowing far more rigorously than I. She has crawled on her belly through a lifetime of barbed wire fencing and stinging nettles to know what she knows.
Our relationship has never been easy but on this first day of a new year so old it reminds me how a life is but a flicker in time, sisterhood emerges as a salve. Dayenu.