I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sibling soulmates

Norma Jean and me

Long, long ago, I did just about everything during my childhood with my sister, Norma Jean, who was born less than three years after me. We were the beginning of a much bigger family, which ultimately culminated in the birth of seven children over a twenty-year period. The last child was born almost sixty years ago, and we have not all survived to this date, but most of us have, and most of us have many wonderful memories of our childhood. I didn't know how blessed I was to have such a happy early life. These days, I know all too well how rare those halcyon years were.

We have both endured our share of pain and loss over the decades, but we have never lost our connection with one another. Even after many years of separation because of circumstances, deaths, marriages and divorces, the connection with my sister has endured and strengthened. After her husband died in February 2011, I began making a pilgrimage across the country, from my home in the Pacific Northwest, to hers in Florida, to spend time with her. That first year I spent three weeks there, and afterwards it became just over a week. But I went every year until last year, when travel became dangerous because of the coronavirus pandemic. Soon it will mark two years since I spent part of my winter months in Florida. And there is no way for me to know when, if ever, things will return to their pre-pandemic state.

Once a month, every fourth Wednesday, I have a standing date to spend time with Norma Jean on FaceTime. I am always a little anxious just before I make the call, not knowing if she remembered, but she is there, waiting for me. It is interesting how much can change in a month; we are both older and showing our age in big and little ways, like me forgetting family birthdays or anniversaries. After all, those little girls are now septuagenarians. 

However, we still share so much with one another and somehow a couple of hours on the monthly call flies by, having again connected with each other and gotten caught up with the latest episodes in our daily lives. These days, not much is happening in either of our lives, because of our efforts to stay safe and distanced from others to keep from catching the virus. Just yesterday the first vaccine was approved for use in the US, and I think by this time next year we should be back to whatever "normal" will look like. I don't think we will return to the world as it was before.

I am just glad that the little sister who has journeyed through life with me is still healthy and living a relatively happy life. She still swims most days in an outdoor pool, getting in her daily mile, and we both enjoy comparing our activity level with one another. Although I have other siblings, none of them are what I would call close confidants, as the two of us are. I guess it's partly a matter of birth order, but for whatever reason, I cannot imagine a world without my sister Norma Jean in it. She truly is my soulmate, and I cherish her and feel her presence in my life, even when I haven't seen or talked with her for awhile. This monthly visit is pretty darn perfect, and I count on her being there.

Sometimes we need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything, or to do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported. —Unknown

There are also sisters of the heart, ones you choose and enjoy being with, even though you aren't related by blood. But I've found that those sisters come and go, as we move on through life. I've got plenty of close friends here in Bellingham, but right now I cannot actually sit with them and have a glass of wine together. Or hang out in the coffee shop, or do much of anything together. When this is over, some of them will emerge as friends once again, but in between now and then, I feel a loss of connection and without the constant virtual presence in my life of Norma Jean and the solid presence of my dear life partner, SG, I think I would be having a much harder time, going through this isolation. It's not easy being an extroverted person in lockdown.

But! The universe has provided me with a new and very useful tool during this time: the internet, the blogosphere that gives me such a different and meaningful way to connect with others. I have now been blogging for more than a decade, and I think of many of my virtual friends as being as essential to my mental health as any other person. As I sit here writing in the dark, listening to my partner's breathing as he sleeps, I can feel your presence through the ether. Those of you who tell me every week how much this connection means to you, as it does to me. I picture many of you in my mind's eye, and I think of you as I write. These words sometimes don't make much sense, but it has become a sacred duty that I spend some time trying, anyway, to reach across the miles and hold you in my heart.

And with that last paragraph, I realize that I can now begin the rest of my Sunday. I have come to my virtual church and spent some time listening in the dark to whatever the universe is trying to tell me. What miracle has given me the chance to do this every Sunday, to finish up and hit "publish," and reach all of you so easily? Whatever it is, I am grateful. More than just a little bit, and just now I realize how important this all is to my continued sanity during these trying times.

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and I hope you will find many connections in your own life. Be well, dear friends.


Anvilcloud said...

What a great theme for your weekly essay. You carried it through splendidly.

As a side note, although I haven't glimpsed too many pics of you and mostly at a distance at that, I thought you would be the one on the right. Basic physiognomy carries through the years, it seems. When my grandson saw a photo of baby Sue, he immediately knew it was she. Mind you, he also was hard-pressed to relate baby grandpa to me now.

gigi-hawaii said...

You really are very lucky to have Norma Jean in your life. I have 3 sisters, but am not close to them at all. I never call them up. However, there is one sister whom I invite to my family parties from time to time. I like her better than the other two.

ApacheDug said...

What a sweet picture of you two, and a sweet read. This honestly warmed my heart. (I don’t mean to sound so Hallmarky, but it did.) I remember you writing about Norma Jean before, I’m sure you two had all sorts of awesome adventures. I can relate to this sibling-relationship very well, I come from a family of 6 kids and have a sister less than 2 years difference in age I’ve always had a special connection to. (But we live hours apart, and her life is far busier than my own.) I too have become... increasingly appreciative of relationships I’ve made right here, in the blogverse. (Is that even a word?) Anyway, thanks for this morning’s very kind read, and I hope you & SG (and NJ) are all doing well. PS. I know that’s you on the left :^)

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am so sorry that you cannot go to Florida for a visit, maybe next year! Facetime is a wonderful tool and makes us all feel less alone. Your friends in the blogging world are here for you too! I enjoy my visits to your blog throughout the week:)

Elephant's Child said...

This is a truly lovely post. I am so glad that you have Norma Jean - and she you.
I have three (half) brothers. The youngest and I are very close which fills me with gratitude.
You are so very right about how dear to us our blogging friends become. I hope your week is filled with joy, with wonder - and with exercise. Stay well dear friend and I hope the hip pain you mentioned is easing off.

Betsy said...

I read your post with a feeling of kinship because this is how my sister and I are. She is the older by 3 years. As children those years made a big divide, as an adult, not so much. We also have two much older brothers, one who died from COVID in April.
My sister and I can go weeks without talking and then spend hours on the phone. It's unconditional love that doesn't come from casual friends.
I am so grateful for my blogging friends that have kept me sane through the past year. They are my daily touch points.

Arkansas Patti said...

You two look so much alike you could almost be twins and it seems the closeness is in more than looks. I know how you looked forward to those Florida trips and am so sorry this year has put a crimp in those fun days in the sun. Thank goodness for the miracle of electronics which has let all of us stay somewhat close to our loved ones.
Yes our blogging friends do fill the void that is left by the distance Covid has imposed on our families. I don't want to think what all this would have been like with out Blogger.

Marie Smith said...

That is the cutest photo! Love it.

I have one brother and my husband is an only child. When my brother and I get together it is special. We enjoy each other’s company and share a bond that only we have as children of Mary and Sam. We would have gotten together this year but the pandemic spoiled that plan.

Next year!

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I love this post because I feel like I'm one of your virtual family members. :-) We have been following each other for years now and I always look forward to the new edition of Eye on the Edge and your comments on John's Island. This blogosphere thing is pretty unique and cool. So, thank you for sharing your thoughts today. I hope you and SG have a good week ahead. Stay safe and take care.

Red said...

You have an excellent relationship with your sister. I'm sure many people would like a similar relationship. Relationships take work. You and your sister visit in person and on line and so keep things going. I do enjoy this Sunday morning blog which wanders around many different topics.

Linda Reeder said...

I guess I got busy again, since I am just now reading your Sunday post. It's 4:00, the rain has returned, and it's getting dark. I sort of watched the Seahawks game, which they easily won. Now Tom and I will finish up the gift wrapping.
Our daughter has been texting with us and others about Christmas plans. Having a child/grandchild in the work force has complicated things a bit, but we'll work it out. We do plan to gather the seven of us for Christmas. I hope we are not making a mistake.

I have two living sisters, the siblings closest to me in age, and we have a fairly close relationship, as long as we don't let politics get in the way. It's not easy accommodating sibling Trump supporters.

Rian said...

DJan, it is wonderful that you and Norma Jean have this connection. I lost both my older sister and brother years ago to Cancer. I miss them both so much... still. But I have DH and my children and luckily we are all close enough to get together and talk often (mostly talk/less getting together since Covid). And I have a cousins who I grew up with that keep in touch... and of course 2 close friends who discuss everything... and my blogger friends (some of you I feel very close to and love reading your posts and hearing your comments) So like you, DJan, I'm very lucky to have had a good childhood and loving parents. We have all lived through some difficult times, but still have a lot to be thankful for. I'm so thankful for all of you out there who are willing to share with me.

Rita said...

You two are so lucky to be soulmates and so close. Special sisters. :)

William Kendall said...

You're very lucky to have a sister you can depend on.

Both of my sisters are poison.

Gigi said...

It seems I'm falling further and further behind in blog reading - so I missed this gem yesterday. I think if we didn't have the internet during this pandemic, I think this would be a lot harder on most. As it is we can at least reach out to others for some type of connection.

I always wanted a sister - but didn't so I found my own "sisters" in adulthood.

John's Island said...

W O T Y - I'm looking forward to see what you will choose for your Word of the Year 2021! :-)

Linda Myers said...

I've been reading about you and Norma Jean for years. So glad you have each other!

Galen Pearl said...

I love your description of your relationship with your sister, and I confess to a bit of envy. I have one sibling, an older sister. I have wanted for so many years to have a deep close relationship with her, and there are times when I convince myself that we have one. But really, when I'm honest, I know that while we care for each other, we are not close. There are I'm sure many reasons for that, but whatever they are, I do miss the sister I imagine in my fantasies. And when I can let go of that, I appreciate the sister that I have. We are all just who we are, and I know that my job is to accept her for who she is, not fault her for who she isn't. I'm glad that you have had Norma Jean all your life and such happy memories with her.

Margaret said...

What a wonderful description of your close relationship with your sister! I had three brothers, and always wanted a sister. I have some friends who fill that role for me, but as you noted, relationships have changed during this pandemic. Some of those friendships I'll keep and others will have run their course. It makes me sad, even though it's reality.

Anonymous said...

I'm a only child and has always longed for sister. I also always wanted a daughter but that never happened either. Sherry

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for this lovely tribute to all of those who become the planks in the bridge over which we travel from one part of life to another. It is such a gift to have Norma Jean as your soulmate. My soulmate, Annette--a convent friend, died in 1998 of cancer and I miss her still. Her steadying hand, her listening heart. And it's so true that your weekly posting has drawn many readers together to feel Oneness with you.

You used the expression "virtual church" to describe what this posting is for you. You so appreciate Emily Dickinson and I remember that one of her poems speaks of her "going to church" by going out into nature where she found Wholeness. Take care. I so hope you will be able to make your trip to see Norma Jean again this coming year. Peace.

Glenda Beall said...

Like you, DJan, I have a dear sister who is so, so dear to me. Now that my husband is gone and my older sister is gone, Gay is the most important person in my life. I have one brother left now and because of the virus, I can't go to see him, but we talk on the phone. I will spend Christmas with Gay and her husband and they are so good to me. It is wonderful to be with people when I spend most of my time alone now.
The Internet has been a lifeline to me for connecting to others. With Zoom I host meetings for writers and with Zoom I teach classes. With my blogs, I can express my feelings and share the work of other writers. I enjoy reading your blog and some others which inspire me or inform me about life in places I will never see. Thanks for always brightening my day.