Imperfect Reflections Pt 1: My Sister
This multi-part series is not about reincarnation nor Buddhism. It is about women who cause me to reflect upon my life due to me seeing something similar about us, highlighted by differences in detail and outcome.
Indian Soldier: Are you the Lord Buddha?
Dalai Lama (adult): I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.
-- Lines from the movie Kundun
In some cases, these are women who have enough in common with me that it evokes that idea of "There but for the grace of God go I." Though I certainly don't mean it as a put down of them. I just don't know an equivalent phrase that lacks the unfortunate subtext. In other cases, these are women who have walked a path I want or wanted to walk (in some sense) but haven't.
I consider their lives to be good food for thought for my own journey. It is a somewhat rare opportunity to think in a meaty way about both the road taken and the road not taken in my life.
It is a means to illuminate the path I am on in a meaningful and useful way. It is a means to objectively measure its value and see a necessary detour instead of a bleak and pointless sense of being lost, with no hope of getting there from here.
My sister is the first such example I have.
She and I are similar in height. I am slightly taller and I have naturally curly hair, whereas her hair is naturally straight.
Nonetheless, we look enough like each other that friends of the family who didn't see us regularly have mistakenly called us by each other's names on more than one occasion. She has also been asked when she had her hair permed like that by friends of hers visiting her home and seeing photos of me in the living room.
She is 6.5 years older than I am, yet we were both STAR student of our respective graduating high school class. In other words, we each had the highest SAT score of our graduating high school class and were also in the top 10% for grade point average.
We also each won a National Merit Scholarship to the University of Georgia (UGA). In high school, she was inducted into the National Honor Society and I was inducted into the Math Honor Society.
Because she is several years older than I am, I had the benefit of watching the choices she made and seeing how they turned out. This allowed me to make more informed decisions than her. I got to kind of virtually A/B test my future life path by comparing my goals with her choices and outcomes.
My path was made somewhat easier because I traveled in her wake. I often could replicate things she did that got results I also desired, but I could also choose differently if the outcome she achieved was not something I desired.
Although we both graduated from the same public high school in Columbus, Georgia and we both won a scholarship to the UGA, she accepted hers and I ultimately turned mine down. That decision of mine is a long story in its own right, one which does not fit here.
In a nutshell, her choices have allowed her to live in various cities throughout middle and northern Georgia and mine allowed me to live all over the US and also spend some time in Europe. This was more important to me than having a degree at a time when I was unclear of what I desired to do as a career. So I spent many years as a military wife and I was happy with that choice.
My sister has had a long and impressive career, which I had also wanted but never really had. For most of her adult life, she has worked for the federal government.
She is a high ranking civil servant and has testified before congress. She makes more money and has a more prestigious title than most women and certainly more than I have.
Yet, I don't look at her life and wish I had chosen differently. For one thing, I see the price she has paid and it is not a price I could have paid.
I was born with serious health problems. I believe it literally would have killed me to try to follow the kind of path she has followed.
For another, she is part of "the system." She is unusually successful for a woman within that system, but I see that system as seriously problematic for people, especially so for women. I also see the toll it has taken on her.
It is a system I would like to see change.
I believe remaining outside of the system best positions me to help lead what will hopefully be a quiet, peaceful revolution. And if there is no revolution, I at least am not being ground beneath the wheels of the current system.
Looking at my sister's life gives me a sense that I am still on track, though it no doubt does not look that way at all to other people.