siblings

Most of us are born into families with other children. Siblings are a complicated group. They needn’t be, but most often they are. Finding our niches within the hierarchical order is tricky business. There is usually a pecking order. And it normally runs oldest to youngest, with the latter having no one to peck on, so to speak.

Perceptions of life are affected by our own lives, so they’re necessarily skewed by what our brain interprets of the goings on around us. Obviously these interpretations are our truths, not necessarily lining up with those of others. This isn’t to say they’re not valid, for to us they are.

One of the truisms in life, I think, is that we should listen, really listen, to what someone is saying. We tend to hear what we want to hear. I wonder why that is? It’s almost as though we’re only using one ear. This is definitely the case in most marriages, mine included. But I guess when 2 strangers get together, there’s a lot to sort out, and for marriages to survive there needs to be give-and-take, a lot of it.

Give-and-take among siblings is another matter. When they live under the same roof it’s probably essential, to minimize the bloodshed. But when they’ve left the roost to find their own way in the world, coming together again can be, as I said, tricky.

I’m 61 and the youngest of 9. It’s not easy to throw off the mantel of “kid sister.” I don’t often see my siblings, so the issue rarely comes up. Nonetheless, it’s not an easy position to occupy, especially when I’ve successfully led my life outside the hierarchy. I’ve never been able to say to any of my siblings “I think you should do this.” Not that I would want to do so. I think they’re all just fine as they are. Just as I couldn’t tell a stranger how to live her life, I couldn’t do so with family. I could only offer advice and support, if asked.

I have great admiration for my husband and his siblings, always have. I’ve known them for nearly 41 years, having interacted with them  much more when he and I were dating. The last 30 years or so we’ve lived on the mainland, away from the rest of them. There was obviously a hierarchy among the 12 siblings, but it wasn’t overtly apparent to me. The camaraderie among them was palpable, still is. The banter back and forth among sisters and brothers is light, fun, loving. There’s no heavy talk about setting and achieving goals, working at better jobs, pressure to attend college. Not that these aren’t important. But I think my husband and his siblings set examples for one another. They led the way, they didn’t point in the direction and say “Go do it.” They just did it.

The pattern of showing by example has filtered down to all our nieces and nephews. Many have graduated from colleges on the mainland, and some have traveled outside the country, even as far away as Australia, one nephew living in Mongolia as a Mormon missionary for a couple of years. There is excitement within the family whenever we gather, catching up with one another, getting better acquainted with newborns, or children who’ve grown up in our absence. No matter the lives they lead, there is equality among my husband and his siblings, and their children and their cousins. And it’s for certain, they’ve all “got each other’s backs,” that’s OHANA, Hawaiian for family.

My mother-and-father-inlaw, and their marriage of 40 + years before he died, are to be credited for their successful, love-by-example raising of 12 children. A legacy they have surely left to all who come after. I’m very fortunate to have found love and comfort under the shelter of my in-laws welcoming “umbrella” these many years.

for everyone coming in out of the “rain”…hugs…hugmamma.  

the “power of words,” beware

Spent the night tossing and turning as negative thoughts about this, that, and the other, crept into my overactive brain. As I fought to regain control of my positive self by repeating good thoughts, I finally felt as though an invisible hand reached in yanking me from the fray. I’m sure you’ve had such moments, perhaps not as I’ve described. But I’m a writer so I tend to dramatize.

The “invisible hand” was the realization that Kitty Kelley, via Oprah: A Biography, had inadvertently infiltrated my spirit with negativity. It may be that all she says is true, as told by those she interviewed. Of course it’s their perception of events and occurrences to do with Oprah. Meanwhile, the woman herself did not speak on her behalf. So we must take the words written about her with the proverbial “grain of salt,” in this case a whole shaker full.

I don’t question others’ perceptions; I do question the author’s need to slant her “tell all” with overwhelming negativity. As a biographer, Kelley feels compelled to delve deep. But the truth she reveals can be edited to corroborate what will drive readership and therefore, sales. Just as Oprah may not be the altruist everyone perceives, Kelley may not be the diligent author she presents herself to be.

Other than financial gain, why would Kelley choose to decimate Oprah’s visage as the great humanitarian? In speaking of the failed attempt by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu to get Oprah nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Kelley writes:

I started the Nobel movement after Oprah appeared at the Dream Academy Dinner (May 24, 2005) to raise money for at-risk children whose parents are in prison,” said Washington, D.C., publicist Rocky Twyman. “When she stood up, praised God, opened her purse, and gave that Dream Academy a million dollars, I wanted to get her the Nobel Peace Prize…but the Nobel committee did not want to give it to a celebrity. So I formed a committee, and we talked to Dorothy Height (president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women), who was all for Oprah because Oprah had given Dr. Height two-point-five million in 2002 to pay off the mortgage on the NCNW headquarters….Dr. Height contacted Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu, and we set out to get publicity to collect a hundred thousand signatures for Oprah’s nomination to present to the Nobel committee….

“Unfortunately, we only got forty thousand signatures…because a lot of men, black and white, refused to sign…and a lot of religious people would not sign because they said Oprah was not married to Stedman and she gave a bad example to our young people by her lifestyle. I believe we all sin and come short of the glory of God, but these folks, mostly from black churches, and all conservative and law-abiding, felt very strongly that Oprah had put herself above the laws of God. I was stunned, but I’m afraid there are strong feelings against her in our (African-American) community….Of the forty thousand signatures we were able to get, most were white, not black. We got a lot of publicity and raised awareness for her getting the prize, but in the end I guess God did not want it to happen.”

Good read, but essential? Only in a gossipy tell-all book, trying to leach off the wealth and celebrity of another. I got sucked in, yes, but most biographies I’ve read have a thread of compassion running through them. When I turn the last page, I’m usually filled with sadness that once again fame and wealth has destroyed, rather than helped, someone’s life. By comparison, Oprah: A Biography, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. All the negativity consolidated in one place by the author’s self-serving manipulation of the facts, goes against my beliefs.

My gut instincts now tell me to be wary of silver-tongued writers. Readers with a stronger stomach and a less-sensitive constitution may be unaffected. I take what others say, to heart. Living and working in New York City left its mark, for I am cynical. But my island roots run deep, and my Aloha spirit makes me more empathetic, especially when Oprah’s childhood was not one of happiness and privilege. I may not condone all she does, but I take the good with the bad. She’s human like the rest of us, no matter what she and her fans might think, and say.

the power of words…be wary of their effect…hugmamma.