I grew up the middle child among three, between a sister and a brother with three years spanning between us. Growing up with siblings profoundly altered my childhood — and everything that followed. Sister and brother were my first playmates and now as an adult, my oldest friends.
From sharing a small bedroom with a cot and bed, to each living in the four corners of the earth, our relationships have stood the tests of time and distance. Like olive trees that grow stronger with cuttings from parent trees and become more grounded to bear fruit as they spread their gnarled and twisted branches, weathering storms and changes around them, I attribute our strong connection to how we were raised with “cutting” from roots and stems of family genes. Our mom and dad believed in the importance of our relationships and were persistent in fostering our sibling love. “You don’t let anyone, or anything come between you,” mom would say. But she needn’t have said it. We grew surrounded by family of aunts and uncles who didn’t let anything come between siblings. Their emotional intelligence, their assertiveness and equanimity, their empathy, their self-awareness, and distinction between creative and critical thinking all had a role in being examples.
Siblings. They are the link to who I have been at every stage in my life. They are the only ones who share collective memories of growing up and can reminisce together with laughter and with tears. They are who I feel most at ease with, my absolute comfort to just be me. I don’t have to think about it – I just am around them. Whether it’s because of all the time spent together while growing up or the lack of need to pass judgment on each other, there is something unique about the way we are able to connect with one another.
That connection is hard to describe in a single word. It’s the comfort felt when you sit in the same room with your brother and sister, in pure silence, yet the three of us know how the other is feeling. And sometimes it’s picking up right where we left off, even if it’s been weeks, months, or years since the last deep conversation. It’s the knowledge that, at the end of the day, we’ll always be able to call on each other for support.
The relationship which I have with my siblings thrives on differences — not only the ones we have had as children, but those which we continue to create as adults.
For example, my idealist nature contrasts sharply with my sister’s practicality, while my brother’s rectitude stands out above my Christian ethics. Yet as time has worn on, we have come to share far more interests and common family traits that run through our DNA than I would once have thought possible.
Sister’s role in my life as I am sure in my brother’s life has changed as we grew: a doting, prideful protector in her preschool days, an often-disinclined playmate as she grew a little older, and, following that, a brilliant young teen whose analytical mind pushed the status quo to the limits and as an adult, her direct approach to solving life issues. These shaped me into understanding the expanse of my abilities. Brother’s role in my life was as playmate in our preschool days with whom I shared little mischiefs as we grew older and while we may have had separate interests in our early teens, somehow, we grew to share exploratory adventures, hiking, and camping in “forbidden” territory and experiencing life-threatening moments that enhanced our resilience with emotional regulation.
My siblings are two of my biggest advocates (and of course can be the biggest pain in my butt). They have been there with me through thick and thin. But that’s what siblings are for: to be your number one fan at your best and kick your butt when you are out of line.
From the time I can recall, sister and brother are collaborator and co-conspirator, my role model and cautionary tale. They are my scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach me how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. They carry the innate gene of compassion and I learn from them the ways in which our needs and desires relate and clash onto each other.
To the outside world we all grow old. But not to sister and brother. She still calls me Sil, he calls me Sily. “We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.” (Clara Ortega)
Just like the olive tree.
Charcoal drawing (Siblings) by Puzant Godjamanian (private collection)