10 April 2009

Why Is This Night Different?

My sister Sharon was mercifully released from the grips of breast cancer this morning. She and I had a complicated relationship. So much lost, too little found.

We shared a love of music and my nascent tastes were the fruit of hers - Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Laura Nyro – though through the years, I'd occasionally return the favor. She worked as a sound engineer at several D.C. venues and well-known artists would specifically request her services, such as Nancy Wilson, who wrote Fred and me a note of apology and good wishes a week before our wedding when Sharon was supposed to be at a pre-nuptual event, but was instead with family of a different sort. In fact, the majority of my favorite memories center on the ways music enabled her to connect, and not just with me – on the Kirby Scott show (in an orange windowpane suit she sewed); at the Civic Center seeing the Beatles; in musicals at Northwestern High School; playing her guitar; scrubbing Anita Baker and Patti Austin tracks of vocals so I could serenade Fred at our wedding; and the haunting and ultimately heartbreaking full-length feature of my family she crafted from home movie patches and tape-recorded snippets, on top of which she laid the perfect soundtrack. I can’t bear to watch the thing, what with the shots of Daddy cuddling little blond me in Bubbie and Zadie’s backyard to the strains of Debarge’s “Who’s Holding Donna Now?” and the video and audio of Shabbos dinner at Grandma’a house around what is now my table, set to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and Grandma’s surprisingly thick Russian inflection.

I sat at that table tonight and remembered Sharon was smart, sensitive, a wicked Scrabble player, articulate, funny, and the sweet side of saucy and sassy. The me who emerged from my chrysalis in my twenties and gained so much confidence in my thirties is partially a product of trying to emulate the best of her. Why she and I never could connect long-term is a question, one maybe I’ve wrongly avoided asking, even today in my grief, though until a few years ago I didn’t fully appreciate her significant challenges. It was more than the cancer that made her disappear. I used to describe the twenty-two hours she spent as a guest in my Rehoboth house as the worst in my life, and it’s not because she ran into it with her car, but because of the crash course I got of another kind.

It is somehow appropriate that freedom was delivered during Passover. The fifteen stanzas of Dayenu, for her (and my mother) the pinnacle of the seder, all conclude with the word dayenu, the translation of which means "it would have been enough," and though for any of us there could probably never be enough, she miraculously managed to eke out another year after last year's crisis. She even breathed two days past Wednesday morning's dire prediction. I wish she had fought as hard to live her life as she fought having it taken away.