As an eldest child, I was constantly anticipating the future; that elusive but ever alluring chance to “grow up.” In 2002, driver’s licenses, cell phones, romantic hand-holding encounters, and new shades of eye shadow were all in my not-too-distant future, and I knew it. Our family life was perfect – the youngest was nine, and I was 14: the daily rhythms of life were predictable, constant, and wonderfully oriented around me and my three siblings.
But when my parents broke the news that a little baby would be joining the family in September of 2003, visions of my perfect little life were shattered. Somehow, this new little baby was going to disrupt everything.
And sure enough, on September 12th, 2003, life as I knew it drastically changed: Little Felicity Anne came into my life that day, and the imprint she left in it was an indelible one.
The “new baby sister” experience I had was far from ‘normal,’ too; from the get-go, the poor little creature suffered from severe sensory issues, night terrors, sleep apnea, and oppressive anxiety. When she was 2, my (tirelessly dedicated) mother was finally able to get a diagnosis of autism, and so therapy began, around the clock. Inevitably, this meant that my siblings and I were involved. At one time or another, one of us was doing something to help her cope – to teach how her world worked – how she worked.
But over the ensuing years, I was a grumpy participant. Looking back, I am so ashamed of my teenage self-centeredness. Even then, the guilt I felt over my resentment at how she changed my world was acute, and was intensified by the fact that, for some reason, she was enamored with me, her big sister. But why, oh why, was it me? Of ALL the people in her life, I least deserved it.
Because of her autism, *[writer’s note: though through those years of therapy, her autism was eventually dissolved], for many years my little sister (literally) didn’t know how to be angry. The emotion did not occur to her. When playmates wounded her feelings, sparring with them was never her instinct. Her little heart only knew how to give (often undue) adulation to those around her.
Somehow, she knew how to love at a much deeper level than most children her age ever did. She developed a keen sense and intuition for the feelings and well-being of other people; even those complicated creatures we call adults! She would write letters to people “just because” – making them smile and bringing grand beams of summery sunshine into their bleak days. Somehow, she just knew how to make people feel special, and took great pleasure in doing it.
Compassion was a specialty of hers too: one of the most memorable stories about my sister occurred when she was four; somehow, she heard about the plight of orphans; how no one loved them, how they didn’t have good food to eat or beds to sleep in, and her little heart yearned to take initiative. When she discovered that giving them money would help them, she walked around our church and the surrounding community for weeks – holding a little coffer in her tiny hands and asking complete strangers to surrender their superfluous pocket change “to the orphans in Africa.” Her face, as she looked up at them, with her big green eyes and imploring face, was so certain that anyone would give of whatever they had if only they knew what kind of plight these far-away children suffered.… And after a few weeks had passed, to everyone’s utter shock, she had raised a total of over $400.
I left for college that same fall, and her tears of sorrow and pleadings to go “get Misstina, get Misstina!” gave me tears of my own for those few years I spent away. After all, she was only four! I was 18 – exploring the world in ways she wouldn’t even understand… until 14 years later. Would she know me? Would I know her?
And yet, college, romance, and independence called to me. I got married a few years later, and she was my flower girl; so sweet, so precious, so beautiful. I remember when she cried during the ceremony; six years old, and afraid to lose her big sister. Yet she grieved in that moment so silently, without interrupting anyone or anything, and again, I felt I didn’t deserve her sorrow.
There were times when my parents feared that death would take her suddenly, because the purity of her angelic mind was so set on “being with Jesus,” that it seemed impossible that God, Himself, wouldn’t want to wrap her in the same tenderhearted hugs she was always so keen to give others.
But she stayed. And as Time itself matured, so did I. I began to spend more and more time with her – like movie nights with me and my husband as she wedged herself between us on our tiny couch - assuring us that Jurassic Park was “not scary at all!” (Oh how we laughed in disbelief!)
I don’t remember when it happened, but a time came when I realized how intensely I loved her – how deeply I admired her – how I couldn’t imagine life without her – and how never, ever EVER would I wish ANYTHING away about her life’s entwinement with mine. In fact, I began to wish I had spent more time with her, had more interactions, more conversations with those bright eyes over the years – sacrificing so many more of my activities to her child-like wishes and passions.
We became closer than we ever had – she humbled me in ways no one else could, and her benevolent heart shaped mine in ways no other heart could. As games of “find the secret door of the Leprechaun” turned into conversations about how to navigate the bewildering maze of the ‘doors of adulthood,’ the friendship that unfolded between us quickly became a marked part of my life.
And one day, about two or three years ago, she told me that she couldn’t wait to be 14. In fact, she had been waiting ‘her whole life’ to be 14.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because then I’ll be half as old as you! It will only happen once: I’ll never get to be half your age ever again!”
Though that sentiment might sound insignificant to some, it was an incredible honor to me. She had been waiting ‘her whole life,’ so to speak? Again, the question, ‘but why me?’ ran through my mind. Surely it wasn’t that exciting… was it?
Though I cannot answer that question for her, today, September 12th 2017, her patience has been rewarded: she is 14 years old today, and she is the emblem of all I wish I was when I was 14, and all I hope to be throughout the remainder of my life.
Little does she know that today symbolizes something far greater than her life-long excitement to be half my age:
Today, my little sister embodies the young woman I never was; a young woman who pursues charity, humility, and generosity like the supreme virtues they are - breaking down the walls of the world’s selfishness with the hope of her love, the strength of her loyalty, and the power of her compassion.
I titled this piece “Ode to Felicity” – and it was meant to be taken two ways: as a tribute to my little sister, Felicity Crippen, and as a song of sorts, dedicated to the happiness – the ‘felicity’ that she has brought me. It was only appropriate that I write this today, on her 14th birthday, for the girl who changed my world. This young woman, coming into her own, is a far better, wiser, and kinder soul than I could ever hope to be. And when I grow up, I want to be just like my Felicity.
Happy 14th birthday, sweet one. You deserve all the joy and more you have brought to my unsuspecting soul.