Volume 16, # 7 – July 15
“I Hope I Can Be Like My Big Sister When I Grow Up”
This past weekend my sister should have celebrated her 49th birthday.
Instead, we buried her the day before I celebrated my milestone 40th .
For once, I was in no mood to celebrate on this birthday and frankly have not been particularly celebratory on most of the days since. Life goes on I suppose. My sister, Rashidah, would want it that way. But my life was made less whole by the untimely departure of my big sister from this sick and twisted planet. Time spent with her made it feel less sick and twisted. She was my kindred spirit in a great many ways and because of that; in a world that grows ever more uncertain by the moment, I always felt totally understood, appreciated and loved in her heart. Though I have tried mightily to seek it out, that comfort and familiarity is something that I have found to be exceedingly rare. So although I’m relieved Rashidah’s no longer dealing with the side effects of the hole in her heart that ultimately helped claim her last breaths, it will be a long time coming before my heart feels whole again.
Although I was the smallest in my family; and usually on my block, I wasn’t ever scared of a fight and I owe that to my big sister more than anyone because she had a totally different interpretation of leaning in before Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg made the term part of our nomenclature. My sister Rashidah is fiercely loyal to those that she loves and even more protective of them. Some of my family members were reminded of this trait just a few years ago when Rashidah almost caused a riot when someone had the audacity to make a snide comment about my father’s organization of the family reunion.
“Don’t y’all be talkin’ bout my daddy!” she yelled out as her husband attempted to restrain her. You could say what you wanted about Rashidah. She knew who she was, so that didn’t bother her in the least. But attack her children, parents or siblings and a wrath so intense would kindle that even ISIS and Al Qaeda would be seeking out a peaceful resolution with her.
But few saw that side. Most only knew Rashidah to have a smile on her face and to quickly put one on yours. Rashidah had a great sense of humor and was almost always in a good mood; far different from her constantly irritated (and to her, irritating) younger brothers who both woke up angry; and only grew more annoyed as the day went on. Far too many women have been trained to be in competition with one other. But my big sister was always quick to fellowship with sisters of varying backgrounds, and was comfortable enough in her own skin to pay a sincere compliment to them. “I like your hair like that” or “that dress is so pretty, it really suits your figure,” she could be heard to say. She showed me it was ok to fight –sometimes literally, and sometimes with her- for what you believed in. She showed me that it was ok to love. And love unconditionally in a way that most people talk about but almost never really practice. All of my parents’ children initially had hopes of emulating their union that is at a remarkable 50 years and counting. But only my sister was able to be true to her vows until death due her part, leaving this world with her heartbroken husband at her bedside. Like me, my sister had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Unlike me, she was a nurturer. Not just to her own children. To all children. And she was this way even when she was still very much a child herself. When I was a shorty and my mom had to be hospitalized for a spell, it was Rashidah that kept everyone’s life in order. And when our parents sent us to Birmingham for glorious summers with our grandmother, Rashidah was the one that most assisted Mary Pearl in helping to lasso in me and my rambunctious cousins. My brother and I, early on, developed a deep passion for hip-hop that helped us form a close-knit bond in between our daily (hourly?), UFC-styled fights. But it was my sister who first tapped into my musical imagination. Even more than my parents playing Nancy Wilson and Marvin Gaye, the soundtrack of my childhood was scored by my big sister who commandeered the boom box at our crib during a time where you could still listen to FM radio without wanting to blow your brains out. She put me up on Denise Williams, Stephanie Mills, Patrice Rushen, Shalamar and Stacy Lattisaw in helping to show me very early on what soul music was, and what it wasn’t – a lesson I still haven’t lost. It was my sister’s friends for whom I developed my first crush (you was looking good at the funeral, Deneen) so I probably have my sweet tooth for women partially to blame on her as well. Though I always found her decision to revert back to the Christianity that my parents had rescued her from to be totally bizarre, I truly respected her courage to be true to herself and live her life like she wanted to. Ain’t no telling how my parents would have responded to my unique drum beat had Rashidah not been there to set the rhythm before me. I’ve been totally off beat in the months since she left me.
All of these wonderful traits made it where even people who wanted to hate my sister (sadly, most of whom share her blood) could not. This shit is cliché I know. I hate saying it, it’s so damn cliché. But it’s the truth: no one had anything bad to say about Rashidah. I would love to say that she never had anything bad to say about anybody but that would be a lie. But if she did have something bad to say, you certainly wouldn’t have to guess or wonder. She’d tell you directly and would make no pretense if she wasn’t fucking with you. That raw realness that could always be counted on is what I’ll miss the most about my sister.
Today’s world is full of ambiguity. One day Bruce Jenner is outpacing dudes in the Olympics, the next he has a mangina. We recently learned that the leader of Spokane’s NAACP is a white woman, which is not a problem on its face except she appears to have been born a white woman who has decided to live the existence of a black woman as an adult. Routinely these days, my most trusted loved ones and confidants talk with split tongues without batting an eye. Everywhere I look, up is down and down is up. So it was so very comforting to have people like Rashidah in my life who; although her views and values evolved like most of us, I didn’t have to guess or wonder about who she was. Or who I was to her.
And I am happy that my sister left this earth without having to wonder or guess how I felt about her. I can’t begin to fathom the various health-related challenges that she’s had to fight through for most of her adult life. She did so with dignity, strength and little complaint. I am deeply relieved she is no longer in any pain. Still some months later, I have yet to figure out how to mend the hole in my own heart after having lost her. But I hope this tribute to her serves as a first step in a long journey towards healing. Rest in peace, Rah Digga. I love you.