Growing up, I looked to them as my role models. Close enough in age but still old enough to make every thing they did glamorous. I mapped out my life by my cousins, Rachel and Julie. They were wiser and hip, funny and loving, and I wanted to be them. When Rachel worked at hagen daaz as a teenager, then that was my plan. When Julie worked at the mall, then that was added to the agenda. It did get a tad complicated seeing as I was trying to fit two lives into my own, but I was sure I was up to the task. When they went to UT Austin, that was my first choice university. More like sisters than cousins to me, I looked to them as my models for how to grow up, how to be cool, how to be a woman making her way in our confusing world. In the absence of actually being them, I at least wanted to be as close to them as possible. So they obliged, carting me along on errands while home for the weekends: bra shopping, trips to the post office – I didn’t care. It was the time together I was looking for, the setting was inconsequential.
As we all grew up and Julie moved across the country to start her own family, she still is the closest thing to a sister I have. She knows me in that way that so few others do. She remembers the day my mom brought me home from the hospital and she and Rachel decorated the house. She can recall twirling me around the dance floor during the hora at my bat mitzvah. She flew to middle-of-nowhere Abilene, Texas to watch me accept my diploma. She listened through the years when I complained about my parents or more often my brother, when I cried because I missed home, and all of the moments of pain and joy in between.
And even better than a sibling, we have none of the history of rivalry and bickering; just an intimate knowing of each other and where we come from. Today, as adults, I’ve given up trying to be Julie and am satisfied instead to be her friend, her cousin, her pseudo-sister. And to this day, she remains one of my heroes.
I can’t tell you the celebrity gossip or name the singer of the newest hit song or list prominent politicians as my heroes. But I do have heroes and feel lucky that they are members of the circle of family and friends that I keep close by my side. It’s funny because while I adore her from afar, she is often unaware of her greatness, as so many truly great souls are.
I watch her with her two kids – her patience and sense of humor, her sensitivity and easy laughter. I know when I compliment her on the amazing family she has created, she thinks of the times when she isn’t so patient or sensitive, the mistakes and things she could do better. But a real hero is never satisfied with his or her greatness – there’s always room for improvement – and Julie is no different. When I watch her son gently put his arm around his sister, I see the evidence of her love passed down and around to those she touches. And her life isn’t easy. I’ve long since abandoned wanting to be here – to be a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a mother, let alone a mother to a little girl with diabetes…it’s not an easy life. And my heart aches for her as she walks through this life with more fear for her daughter than many have to experience. I don’t know that kind of hard. My life is hard in a different way to be sure, and yet, with all of this, she still shines.
The annual diabetes walk is this Sunday, and ‘Bailey’s buddies’ are gearing up to walk. She doesn’t have to organize the 60+ walkers or design t-shirts or put together a home video so moving that even I, the girl who remained dry-eyed during ‘terms of endearment’ and ‘beaches’, sobbed all the way through. (there’s a link to the video that everyone should watch! Bailey's Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvg-68AWlA4) She doesn’t have to do it – she does it because she has a big heart. Because she has a loving soul. Because she yearns to make the world a softer place for her daughter. Because she longs to find a cure for the disease that rules so much of their day.
And what she doesn’t realize is that she makes the world a softer, safer place for me just by being part of my world. Another unsung hero living among us.