All her life I have taken care of her.
When we were children, she looked to me. A timid child of fear, she looked to me.
I was there in her vulnerable times, the times when Dad and Mom had tucked us in, said prayers, kissed goodnight—and left. I was there. I was there when she peered into the darkness.
Lying in bed, she said to me Shari. What was that? And I murmured sleepily, night after night, Probably just a branch rubbing against the window. Probably just Mom putting away some dishes. Probably just an owl saying goodnight. Probably just, Jean.
Murmuring sleepily was key. I knew that the right degree of drowsy in my voice would lull us both into peace. It was important that not both of us be frightened. Two children could not cry at once, or the world would dissolve itself into weeping. Someone in the room had to be strong. I remember only one time that we shared tears in the absence of an adult.
All my life I have pooh-poohed her fears.
In a deep unconsciousness inside, a place where unspoken knowledge lies in casks for the tapping, I stored a few vintages she did not. I drew strength there, tasted the knowledge of things deep down. First, I knew I was fabricating shamelessly. Realistically, but shamelessly. Second, I knew it helped us. Third, I knew it didn’t matter whether my explanations were “true” in the strictest sense, or not, because they were grounded in the truth that there was nothing out there to get us.
Most nights, I was convinced of what she was not: we were safe.
Therefore I could scoff sleepily at things that went bump in the night.
All my life I have pooh-poohed her fears.
I was there in her vulnerable times, sometimes against her will and my own. I wasn’t the only one there. Dad and Mom had a special place in their hearts for their second girl. And sometimes she threw off our protection and tackled things herself, while our jaws dropped. But we were sisters, just we two, and thrown together much. I got impatient with her. I hurt her. But I was often there—there when she faced not only nighttime fears, but fears that grew as she grew. Fears about God. About confession. About strange people and places. Shari. Do you think we should…? Shari. Do you think…? Shari. What is that?
I said pooh-pooh. I had a few fears of my own, but I never told her.
She grew up. The fears didn’t leave, but she began to learn how to do battle with them. I was proud of her. She got spunk. She grew muscle. She faced dragons I never did, and as she advanced, quaking but determined, they melted into mist. There was nothing out there to get her.
Then one day, she called me and said. Shari. I have cancer.
I felt shock. Sorrow. Anger. Pain. But as we cried (we were adults now, and could cry together) I told her what I knew deep inside. I hate that you have to go through this. It’s going to be hard on you. But you can do this thing. You can beat it.
I knew this was true, because nothing had ever got her before. We could take care of her.
And she did it. She did six months of intensive battle with that dragon, and it melted into mist. Victory!
Then I got another phone call, so soon, so soon. Shari. The cancer is back.
And all I can think is No. No. This will not be. There is no dragon that can hurt her, that can take her down, because she is my little sister and I will take care of her.
Maybe this is the first dragon that is real… and I cannot fight it for her. For the first time in my life, I cannot pooh-pooh her fears.
Now she is strong while I am weak—she, the timid girl when all is going well, the tough cookie when obstacles come. Her courage mounts. She is strong. She has faith. And I am the one afraid. I cannot take care of her. What will happen if I cannot take care of her?
Probably just a mistake, Jean. Probably just a branch rubbing against the window. Probably just, Jean…
PROBABLY JUST THAT YOU NEED TO LAY DOWN ALL YOUR DREAMS, POUR ALL YOUR ENERGY INTO WINNING IN THIS ONE CONSUMING FIGHT. PROBABLY JUST THAT LIFE ISN’T FAIR! PROBABLY JUST THAT GOD DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING!!
Probably just, Jean…
I am angry and afraid and I cannot fabricate.
Is there something out there to get her?
Is this dragon real?
No, it is not real.
It is not real, because there is a Dragon Slayer. His name is Jesus, and He already did battle with the dragons and whipped their butts. Every dragon that we face has already been conquered, and I know that when my sis advances on this one—when she is pale and quaking and determined—it will melt into mist before her. She’s going to win.
His name is Jesus. He slew not only cancer, but fear, and despair, and death itself. There is nothing out there to get her anymore.
And so I draw my puny sword. I fight alongside her. But for the first time in my life, I let her go. I let her face the dragon, because a Man stands between them, His sword drawn and flaming, the fatal thrust already struck.
She’s going to win.