Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Divine Daina

by Zinta Aistars

My sister Daina walking to Z Acres

She is, you know. Divine. Even though you could count on one hand the things we have in common, my sister has been shoulder against the wind from day one for me.

I may not have fully appreciated it growing up. With four years between us, in those early years that seemed to be a lot. Nor did our interests and dreams align.

Our grandmother holding me up to my big sister
She was the girl in the family ... the one who liked feminine things, the ribbons, the curls, the pretty dresses. She adored babies. Babies freaked me out. She helped Mamma wash the dishes and make the beds; I crept down in the basement to help our father in his workshop, hammering together frames for his paintings, asking how to use this tool, how to use that one. She was obedient and practiced piano like she was told, playing for 12 years and becoming quite good. I whined too much after three years, whined and sputtered until I was released from taking lessons.

She was always the good one.

My sister, cheerful and sweet, honey smile, open arms. She's always given me a warm place of healing when my adult life grew too hard. My sister eloped young, the first time I knew her to break a rule or parental expectation, but then beat all the odds of doing so and raised a wonderful, tightly-knit family with three great kids in a marriage that is now in its fifth decade. She is co-owner today of a wildly successful business outside of Chicago.

Me? Marriage turned to ashes. Poverty banged at my door on a frequent basis. Single parenthood tested every limit. When I wanted to give up, she wouldn't let me. So what if we had nothing in common? So many times I wondered how we could find a common thread, a common ground on which to stand for a meeting of hearts and minds. My sister lived in prosperity while I sometimes wondered how to get food on the table for my babies. How could she possibly understand?

She didn't, doesn't, because some things are not truly absorbed until you feel them on your own hide. To truly understand poverty, or single parenthood, or any number of hardships, one must live it. Otherwise, it's all academic. It's all statistics, numbers, meaningless theory. You have to feel that rumble in your belly before you get it.

Daina on a winter visit to Z Acres, playing in the snow
And yet. Somehow. My sister and I have always found a way to connect. For all our differences, we did find the common ground. Sometimes it was nothing more than a mutual taste for mushrooms; we both absolutely love them. We both find peace in Nature. We both love going north to cooler climates rather than south to heat. We both enjoy travel, although to different places. We both are avid readers, although we tend to enjoy very different types of books. We both love to garden, even while her garden is more landscaped and mine something of the wild. Maybe what it boiled down to, was this: she has always tried her best to understand.

So what if she builds big and I love the tiny house movement. All we need is that one spot, that one place of common ground, where we can meet and share each in the other's world. We open windows for each other. Through her eyes, I see a world different than mine; through my eyes, she has learned to look past broken glass.

Mamma tells me I am the mean one. Quick to draw the bottom line. Then laughs. She tends to ask me first when she needs a champion, then asks her other daughter for a sympathetic ear. She needs us both.

Mamma's right. Daina smiles even when she doesn't feel it. She wears hearts up and down her sleeves. She's gentle, she's kind, she's sweet. Her children adore her more than any kids I've seen, and that says so much about who she is and how she gives.

Daina in a wheat field near Z Acres
I sometimes ponder this ability that my sister and I have both worked on all our lives: to see across our differences, her stable and neat life and my messy one. I am sure she hasn't always understood my choices, nor do I always get hers. I couldn't walk her path any more than she could walk mine. Yet we have found ways to understand each other, love each other, be there for each other, communicate and connect, even when we start and end at different places. What we don't understand, we have learned to accept.

That's the value of a lifelong relationship. It tests us, bends us, stretches and challenges us. It teaches and expands us. It shows us worlds we would not know on our own. We have done that for each other, and we are both better people for being sisters.

Z and Daina, on a hayride this fall 
November 10 is her birthday. I celebrate it, too, as a day to mark all that my sister has been, is, will be, and what she brings to my life.

We may not have worked so relentlessly at our relationship if it weren't built on blood, true. Growing up with our different personalities, different dreams and goals, we often went each our own way, but bonded as young women, building families, finding our commonalities, finding that blood really is thicker than water, and that in a harsh world, family really is everything.

It began as a familial bond. It has been enriched over our lifetimes for reasons of mutual respect, shared memories, and dreams that were, after all, not so very different. If living at Z Acres has been a blessing, it has been an added blessing because my sister comes out for seasonal visits. We share the change of the seasons in Nature even as we bond over the seasonal changes in ourselves. The two little girls now have laugh lines, and cry lines. The two young women now have paling hair and the wisdom of years behind us. The familial bond has turned into a bond of friendship between two older and wiser women, building bridges over time and place and sometimes, it seems, different planets.

All things come and go. Marriages, friendships, work colleagues, all can be variable. But my sister is forever. This weekend, I celebrate her and the gift she is to me.

Daina in the pine forest of Yankee Springs, where we often hike together

1 comment:

  1. You are blessed with such a treasure of a sister. I, too, have an older sister, 4 years older than I. We are also different, and yet the same in so many ways as we get older. Now that our parents have gone on to heaven, we find that we cling all the more to each other as we share common memories that no one else on earth understands. (we have two older brothers, but they don't think the same as we girls do). I so appreciate this story today. We do need to celebrate our sisters. They are a gift to us to cherish. Thank you for this reminder.