My youngest sister, Shira Beth Brenner, was born 29 years ago today, sending rays of sunshine into a house that was in darkness.
You might think it’s hyperbole for me to say she saved the family. We were surviving, after all. But we were surviving badly, reeling from the death of my brother barely two years before.
Shira helped us smile again.
I was a bitter 15-year-old home sick with the flu and a Crohn’s flare up the day she arrived. She was an especially adorable baby and was a welcome distraction from everything that was going on at the time.
She’s quite a kid. If not for the big chip on my shoulder, I might have been more like her in my 20s. I’m happy with how my life turned out and believe I had to go through the dark stuff to get here. But Shira has really been an inspiration to me. She crisscrosses the globe without fear and has an easygoing way about her that’s nearly impossible to crack. I know, because I’ve tried.
I’ve always been the teasing sort of brother. I tell everyone who will listen that I remember when I could fit Shira in a beer mug. I remember once, when she was about 4 or 5, she told me to stop teasing.
“I can’t help it,” I said. “I tease you cause I love you.”
“Then don’t love me,” she shot back.
I told everyone about that exchange, and with more than a little glee.
Around the same time, I was having a lot of parties in the basement of the Revere house. The morning after, Shira would often make the rounds, stopping at the various friends who would be passed out asleep on my bed, on the couch or on the floor.
Even back then, no matter how much I drank the night before, I would always wake up early so I could sneak cigarettes without being seen.
I’d always enjoyed watching her make the rounds. My guests didn’t always enjoy it, but that was fine with me.
In more recent years, as she traveled and I got absorbed with work, marriage and parenthood, we didn’t see much of each other, save for some holidays and a couple birthday dinners.
But I’ve seen a lot more of her this year in the last three years, as my father’s ailments forced us all closer together.
At one point soon after a series of strokes, we siblings worked in shifts, helping to keep Dad out of trouble. He may have trouble seeing, swallowing and walking, but he still likes to keep everyone busy. Shira usually got the task of sleeping over on Saturday nights. She never complains and always smiles.
I’ve heard it said that a kid like her lives life on a rainbow, always in a zen-like state despite all the hard reality around her.
In Shira’s case I think that’s true. And it’s something we can all learn from. She’s not oblivious to the reality around her. She just handles it with a lot more grace than the rest of us.
You could say she’s doing for the family today what she did the day she was born — giving the family color and light at a time when we need it most.
Happy Birthday, kid.