My sister has a “big” birthday coming up. It’s shocking, really, to sit with the memories of the years we have lived together, she having arrived on earth 19 months before me. She of the eagle eye, the sharp wit, the one who notices a dangling hem, or a flower pot moved from one window sill to another. Our mother told her to watch out for me, the baby, and she took it to heart, protecting me from harm whenever possible. Kitsaun (her name composed of the Japanese mother in the bed next to mom’s at Children’s Hospital, “Kit,” & our father’s first name, Saunders), was always more accomplished and precise than I – she was given dad’s dress shirts with buttons and creases to iron while I received the flat pillowcases; she had the long, sinewy arms placed high in the air while tap dancing while I shuffled off to Buffalo with heavy feet. We worked together at Dipti Nivas, the vegetarian restaurant I owned and managed in my twenties, she the banker, produce and dry goods orderer; I was the server sweetly interacting with the customers. It is easy to remember Kitsaun swinging all three of my children through her legs and high into the air, or her tickling them until they cried, and the way she and mom cheered for them at volleyball games or at their concert performances. “Auntie” was never quiet or demure – she owns our mom’s “tell it like it is” spirit and outspoken speech. People who read my memoir Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart said that was my love letter to my sister. But that was 14 years ago and my love for Kitsaun has grown so much more brilliant and deeper. It is a joy and honor to have a sister with whom I am so close, who cares so much for me, and with whom I can remember the values our parents gifted us: wanting to serve humanity, fighting for the rights of anyone marginalized or not seen, learning to eat healthy foods from a mom who cooked brown rice and drank carrot juice when we were teenagers. We marvel all they taught us including that seeking God is a path to freedom.
Happy birthday, dear sister! I am so grateful you were born.
I have long believed in the power of stories: cultural lore, family memories, recounting brave movements to overcome injustice, and the long journey of lessons learned while having a life. Listening to others' stories is an art, the gift of witnessing.