A week and a half ago, I recounted in this entry the amazing, ongoing impact being both a Little and a Big through Big Brothers Big Sisters has had on my life. Today, my first Little Sister shares her experiences with this phenomenal program. Both of us urge you to consider joining this program, the benefits of which will likely extend–for both Big and Little!–well beyond its one-year commitment.
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I often see a confused face when I mention my sister Deb. I try to describe her as a mentor but that just doesn’t quite do her justice. Hopefully if any of my friends read this they will finally know who I’m talking about when I tell them I’m going to visit my sis for a week.
I remember the day I realized I wanted/needed a big sister. I watched as my (biological) older sister left for a visit with who I understood to be her mentor or “big sister.” After she left I remember asking my mom if I could have a mentor too. I recall thinking something to the effect of “if my sister is under that lady’s wing then whose wing am I gonna be under?” This was the first time it occurred to me that you could in some sense adopt a sister. I think I was 9 years old when Deb and I were paired together through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. My visits with Deb were a very positive outlet for me; they always gave me something to look forward to.
As Deb mentioned, we had many trips to the sub shop. (I still get peppermint fro-yo with gummy bears when I go.) Sometimes I would come along and watch her martial arts class at the Dojo. Other times we’d watch movies, or go sit at the fountain on campus. She’d let me tag along with her and her friends (which she also still does now). She took me to watch my first basketball game AND my first baseball game. She made me a mix tape full of songs front and back; a few of my favorites were Wild World and Forever Young. My writing abilities don’t allow me to do these memories much justice but my heart is full thinking about them.
At some point along the timeline Deb moved away to Korea. We kept in touch for a while, and then fell out of touch, as people often do as time goes on. But thankfully I ran into her sister at the Lane County Fair and we were reunited years later when I was a teen! Seeing Deb for the first time in a long time was a great feeling, despite how much time had passed, we were still at our cores very much the same. It was that great feeling of seeing an old friend and instantly feeling at home.
I am now 21 years old and still blessed with this wonderful sister and friend. Little did I know when I was 9 that at 19 I’d be flying in an airplane for my first time to visit her in Los Angeles! I enjoy as much as ever our heartfelt conversations about our lives and life in general. I am enjoying an ever deepening friendship with my big sister . . . and now that I’m writing this I realize I will mostly likely soon become a big sister myself . . .
I’m notorious for my bad memory. Oftentimes, when I meet people whose names I ought–and clearly do not–remember, they smile encouragingly and say, “That’s okay. I’m a face person, too.”
I appreciate their kindness in assuming I have to be good at remembering something, but it’s at this point I say, “Oh, no. I don’t remember those, either.”
Try as I might to remember all the details of my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, most of them are lost to me. I can’t remember, for example, whether I was in third grade or fourth grade all those Wednesday afternoons I ran the couple of miles from my school to my Big Sister’s small apartment bordering the University of Oregon campus. I can’t recall why we stopped one of our craft-making sessions to enter the bowels of the strange, man-filled cavern she called a “fraternity,” where I clung to her like we were actually living The Exorcist. Also lost to me is what exactly I did with a pair of socks she loaned me on a rainy afternoon, cautioning me not to lose them because they held sentimental value for her. I don’t remember why this was, but I do remember her reaction when I told her I’d lost them.
My early experiences taught me bad news would often be greeted with violence, so it was hard gathering the courage to tell her. I still didn’t quite get what “sentimental” meant, but I knew it meant something was important. Which meant losing them would mean Bad News. If nothing else, she wouldn’t want to be my Big Sister anymore.
She was sad when I told her. I waited for her crushing response to my bad news, but instead found only a gentle smile. “That’s OK. I probably shouldn’t have expected them to come back.” Seeing my own heartbroken expression at this statement, she smiled wider and told me it wasn’t because she expected me to be bad, but that I was a little kid and losing things was something little kids excelled at.
A few months later, she graduated and moved. We kept in touch via snail mail for several months, but I eventually lost her address and wasn’t able to reply to her last letter.
Over the years, I’d think of how much I loved my time with my Big Sister. Most of the memories became a little frayed, then threadbare, then entirely dissolved, but the accumulated joy of my afternoons with her remained. I vowed I’d become a Big Sister myself someday. I thought about this vow often as my 18th birthday neared. It was always fairly non-commital: Yeah, I’ll totally get around to that. Someday. But it’s a long bus ride. And I’m just so, so busy!
When I was 19, I worked at the YMCA. During that time, the local Big Brothers Big Sisters lost much of its funding and opted to join forces with the local YMCA to keep operating. The more I interacted with its small staff, the more I felt like a tool for not having applied yet. For pete’s sake, they’re just upstairs, Deb! Get it together!
Eventually I did. Before too long, I was getting into the director’s beaten-up truck to meet my potential Little. He was saying something about how a lot of people were anxious they’d be rejected by their would-be Littles, but that he’d never once seen such a thing. Still, I asked him, “Well, what if? Say she doesn’t? Just for planning purposes . . .”
Eugene’s a lot smaller than Los Angeles, so neither the drive nor our conversation was long.
There’s much I don’t remember about that meeting. What I do remember is my new Little Sister, who didn’t reject me but instead asked, “Wanna see my room?!”
Twelve years later, that Little Sister remains a beloved part of my life. I occasionally peek at the journal Amelia and I shared during the last few months of our “official” match. I grin as I read entries recounting our reading The Neverending Story together and our trips for Peppermint Stick frozen yogurt with gummi bears on top. I giggle at her frequent tribute to Justin Timberlake.
Since we first became Sisters, I’ve moved to Los Angeles and Asia. Twice, in both cases. Amelia has graduated from elementary, middle and high school, and is preoccupied with thoughts of J.T. no longer! Our relationship is more complex than it was when we were both younger and less busy, but it remains a source of joy and inspiration.
Being a Big Sister has been a blessing. I wonder if my Big Sister feels the same, all these years later. Does she remember me? Does she have any idea how much her patience and encouragement meant to me? I hope so.
We may never speak again, but the conversation doesn’t have to continue in the present for her impact on my life to continue into it. Indeed, almost every time I hear the word “sentimental,” I smile and wonder what my Big Sister is doing these days. I may not know what exactly she’s up to, but if she had her way, she’s not only practicing but rocking medicine now.
The commitment Big Brothers Big Sisters requested was once a week, most weeks, for one year. Occasionally I think on this and marvel that from such a small commitment such abundant, lifelong joy may flow.
I may not have the greatest memory, but those feelings? They’re the kind the stick with a girl through the decades, no matter what else she may forget, or remember.
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Read Amelia’s post here!