When our mother died my sisters and I began to drift apart. It happened gradually, but steadily.
In the year that followed her death we spent oodles of time together, crossing state lines to enter each other’s territories, as if to huddle together for warmth. Her death had left an enormous void as all deaths do. While she was alive we had gathered often, at her request. When she died we congregated in the hope that we might maintain that cohesiveness. It had always buoyed us. It felt good.
We were sisters. We could enjoy our time together without her, couldn’t we? When she was alive we laughed a lot, we played practical jokes, we whispered conspiratorially about anyone who got up and left the room. When she died we hoped to recreate it all. For a time she was all we talked about: her life, what she meant to us, how she loved to laugh, and how easy it was to laugh with her. We wished for one more day to tell her all the things we never said, or hadn’t said often enough.
Eventually life interceded. Jobs and kids took precedence over our grief. We began to consider what, if anything, we had in common. Had we convened only to make our mother happy?
Six sisters with the same parents, and yet very different. Two of us are, and have always been, that big, bad word: Liberals. Two are Conservative with a capital C.
Another, altered by a near death experience, will tell you we are all one traumatic brain injury away from voting Democratic. She will tell you that if you cannot rely on the safety net so often maligned by the GOP, you are one closed door away from the ranks of the homeless. When picking yourself up by the bootstraps and soldiering on becomes next to impossible, community is what is required.
That tidbit of truth is more of an aside. In our turbulent political time, with the election less than a week away, I can’t omit that segment of her story. She has become a product of her circumstance and environment. She wasn’t born with a traumatic brain injury.
I moved to California the minute I graduated from college. Does that have something to do with my bleeding heart? I suppose you could argue that. Was I already formed, or was I formed by where I decided to live?
In an earlier post I wrote about the Enneagram. The sister who shares my Liberal values also shares similar types. She’s a type 6 with a strong 9. I’m a 9 with a strong 6. Our sisters are all different types.
Why are we so different? Birth order is one theory. The book and new film, Cloud Atlas, would have us believe reincarnation is the answer. What we do in one life affects the next. We take that DNA with us to the next life.
Judith Harris, author of the controversial book, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1998, asserts that our peer groups and random environmental factors have more to do with who we become than who raised us.
Steven Pinker, a Harvard and MIT educated experimental psychologist writes in The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature his belief that children’s characters are shaped by their genes, and by chance experiences. Parents cannot mold their children’s nature.
Both of our parents died of a heart attack. Our genetics are predisposed to heart troubles. Common sense tells us to do everything possible to mitigate our genetic predisposition. Diet is of the utmost importance. This is true of the general population. But for us, because of our genetics, it plays a greater role. We are born that way.
This summer plans are underway for a reunion. The six of us will convene for the first time since our mother died. My sisters will remind me that we all met six years ago for our father’s 70th birthday. I don’t count that. Grudges were still being held for hurt feelings from years earlier. Not all of us were happy being in the same room. A husband would later leave. Life and death, and health, once again, interceded, and lives were irrevocably altered.
This reunion, in some ways, will be a fresh start. We will celebrate our vast and complicated differences formed at birth, and by the choices we’ve made. We will gather as we did when our mother was alive. We will laugh until the tears stream down our cheeks. For you, Mom.
What do you think? Are we born that way?