I’ve been quiet lately, these last days of winter. Now, mid-February and, with its 78F degree days, Phoenix is rapidly moving toward another long and endless summer. Our few winter days seem to number less and less each year. It’s getting harder and harder to comfortably wear sweaters or wrap a woolen scarf decoratively around our shoulders. I guess our beautiful weather is why people flock here each winter — we call these winter residents, of course, snowbirds. I don’t know what they call us who live here year-round. Crazy, maybe.
This year I never could seem to settle into the enjoyment of winter in Phoenix with its sunny, warm outdoorsy days. Instead, I continually whined about it being so nice, sounding like a fussing 7th-grader because I couldn’t wear sweaters like all the other girls. In all reality, I did get to wear a sweater — ONCE. Nevertheless, I grouched and grumped my way through another short, yet delightful winter. Yes I did!
Until this past Monday.
What changed? I spent the day with my sister.
I don’t think I’ve ever before mentioned my sister. So, everyone, meet Sis. Sis, everyone. My sister, 5 years older than I, often got saddled with my tagging along. I was a sickly child, so tagging often meant she had to keep me occupied and down in bed. Since I was often confined to bed for months at a time, she got the worst of the bargain. I was a BAD patient! I was terrible to my poor sister, in spite of all the games of Go Fish! and hours of paper dolls and coloring meant to keep me quiet and in any position other than my preferred one of jumping on the bed and flying across the room. Eventually, I got through my fragile childhood years and we grew up. We married and had our babies and lived our lives. We grew a little older.
Then my sister got sick.
Illness didn’t strike her body, but rather, tragically, it claimed her beautiful mind. Hit with incapacitating mental illness, my brave sister fought through years of illness deep within her brain. It took a very long time to find just the right cocktail of medication to keep her even-keeled. Before finding the right help, she lost her home, her mobility and most of her dignity. It took a long time for her to find even a small patch of comfort. A very long time … and there was nothing I could do. She had no bedside for me to sit beside. She wouldn’t let me hold her hand. Her battle was so very inward, there was no part of her to touch that made a difference.
She’s better now. We’re both better now.
Now, every week or so, I drive the hour to my sister’s tiny apartment. I take her to appointments with her doctor or to the store or to the post office. We go to lunch at her favorite place … it’s always the same, because she’s most comfortable with routine and sameness. Changes feel abrupt and frightening to her. So each time, we eat at her favorite place where we try to sit at the same table and eat the same things.
That’s when it hit me — on Monday — in my sister’s favorite restaurant, mid-dip of my tortilla chip into a scoop of same-o, same-o guacamole. Right in that moment, I realized that I wouldn’t give up all the miserable, melt-the-skin-off-my-face days of a Phoenix summer, or the sorrow of never seeing a winter snowflake, or watching kids catch fireflies in jars because it’s too hot here for fireflies, or wearing sweaters and scarves because it’s too hot here for ME. I would NEVER give it up, because in that moment, this past Monday, my sister was smiling because she had just managed to remember a joke she had heard and because we were laughing and laughing and because we were dipping chips into guacamole and it was all just so darned good!