By Matt Gordon
Life is a stormy business, isn’t it? My child just turned three, and it is hard to fathom how charmed his existence is—he eats and plays and wrestles and laughs. The immense challenges of his life come when a toy is irrevocably broken beyond even Elmer’s capacity for healing. I look on at his trio of years and I feel my smile in my heart. But there is a lump there too, for I know what is coming. Breaks in bigger things. The clouds come for us all, sooner or later. And when they do, we are told to find the silver lining—where is the hope, the letup, the good or the better? The silver lining has shown up in hospital rooms and concentration camps and orphanages. We strain our eyes to find it, to be a people hopeful and joyful in a world that often isn’t. Better even still are the people who don’t just find the silver lining, but become it for all around them.
My sister is one of these people.
Leslie was born as the fourth and final child of parents who would separate when she was very young—the clouds came early for her. I recall the spectacle of her birth, how I longed for a brother, found yet another sister, shrugged and moved along. It was like my son unwrapping a birthday gift he already owns. Thanks, but no thanks.
My other sisters followed suit. We weren’t downright mean to this new invader, just passive and unimpressed. Perhaps this was the beginning of Leslie’s penchant for hopeful joy? She was dealt a lackluster bunch of siblings, so she made a family of the Olson Twins and the gang from Grease. Blaring from her lonely room came the constant jive of “Go, Grease Lightning”—she had no bandmates but the music never stopped.
With complexity and confusion, she was thirty before thirteen—adolescence is an odd jester in the court of life. Sandra D and Danny Zuko were replaced by Windows Messenger, an early version of IM and the equivalent of today’s texting. Perhaps she was making up for a lack of community early in life, but she more than compensated for any social deficit, pecking away on our old computer keyboard into the small hours of the night. I recall at least one standoff between her and my mother that involved that very keyboard being unplugged and hidden behind locked door to keep the teenage socialite from late night virtual dishing about the news of Jackson Middle School, all emotions and emojis, brave faces against the gales of growing up.
She played soccer in college, in a town with nothing to do and for a school with more rules than the Old Testament. I followed her there as an assistant coach to her team, and I got to see her take the song-and-dance of her youth and the gift of late night gab to bring light to a community. A team full of misfits with ratcheted discontent was turned to a sisterhood of grinning characters—her cheer and creativity and personality at the center of it. A bright spot shining through what could have developed into a dark storm.
She has moved along since then. Her stage is now the world; her job, making it a kinder place. She takes drifters and dreamers and learners from all over the world and helps them find a home. Isolated international students are guided to community; her work team forever forged to a family—her cheer and creativity and personality at the center of it.
My wife has said to me before, “I wish I could just make people comfortable like Leslie does.” I shrug the comment off noting that she doesn’t have to precisely because that is what Leslie is for. Need a laugh, to find a pool for your kid to swim in, a book suggestion? Need a gift idea or party theme? Need to check in on the state of a travel document or find a friend in a new city? Need nerves to dissipate in a social gathering? Need to make a bunch of strangers a family? That is what Leslie is for.
My sister just sent me a text about a circumstance beyond her control—you know, one of those situations you are hurled into and can do nothing about. A single text about it summed up her outlook about life well: “I hope it turns out beautifully or completely insane. No in-between. Haha!”
No need to find the silver lining when you are the silver lining for all gamut of outcomes.
Merry and bright is a standard cliché this time of year. It is also a person I know. I hope you know one too.