Sibling Compassion

From Cain and Abel to the March sisters, sibling relationships run the gamut. While I’m not well versed in siblit (sibling literature, anyone?), a recent encounter between our two granddaughters surpasses anything even Louisa May Alcott could write.

Because of Covid, fourteen-month-old Leah has not had the kind of social interactions a second sibling would’ve had by now. No Mommy-and-Me events at the library. No trips to the market. No playdates. Throughout Leah’s short little life she has been away from her mom for two hours max. By pandemic standards, we have seen her a lot — three one-week visits plus a mad-cap weekend when our daughter married last November. No matter; when they came for Passover earlier this month, Leah kept her pudgy-licious body Velcroed to Mommy. She peered at us curiously, as if trying to figure out why we were larger than our FaceTime personae, but would not venture too close.

With competent adults in their midst, my son and daughter-in-law took a much needed break. Their good-bye wave was preceded by copious hugs and kisses. Leah was distracted by four-year-old Olivia’s antics and a lot of shielding on my part. She was fine until she wasn’t. When the moment of realization dawned, Leah stood stock still as if testing the air for her mother’s scent. She looked around, didn’t see the one-who-is-always-there, and began to scream as only a bereft and furious toddler can.

Before we could even attempt to console her, Leah threw herself at Olivia, knocking her to the carpet. She lay atop her big sister and keened. Olivia, pinned beneath this tiny bundle of grief, patted her sister on the back and whispered, “It’s OK, Leah. It’s OK. Sister is here. Mama will come back.” Olivia wasn’t disturbed by Leah’s cries. She didn’t push her away. Secure in her own self, confident in her role as big sister, Olivia simply lay there embodying compassion. Leah wailed a bit longer as Olivia kept up her patter of comfort. Soon enough, Leah hopped up and she and Olivia began to play.

The kids returned from their errands. Mother and daughter were reunited, none worse for the wear. Martin and I remain awed by those moments of sisterhood. It was one of the most extraordinary interactions of love I have ever witnessed: Leah bereft and launching herself toward the one remaining soul who could comfort her; Olivia, calmly offering just the right words and touch.

Daily, we are bombarded with the worst that humans are capable of.   I wonder if instead we were offered a steady stream of similar acts of compassion? What a a world it could be.

With thanks to Martin Darvick for the photograph (circa 1988) of our kids.