Its raining here in Honduras the morning I write these words to send comfort to my loved ones so far away. We would be with you if we could. But our son has other plans. We are waiting for him to enter the world and it could be any day now. When he is old enough I will tell him about his Aunt Anne, whose life we celebrate today.
I’ll tell him first how much I used to bother his aunt when she was a teenager. I used to sneak into her room after she left for school in the morning and listen to her Def Leopard and Run D.M.C. tapes. While I was standing in her room singing along I looked at all the pictures on the walls. These were pictures of really cool things. Because they were in Anne’s room. I risked her wrath to go through her stuff in the morning because anything she had was something worth knowing about.
I tell my son how I shaped my identity based on what I thought Anne would think was cool. She wore a jean jacket with little circular buttons on the lapel, I would do the same. I stole my sisters shoes and wore them to school. On more than one occasion. She was friends with boys who skateboarded. I would get a skateboard. I would get a flop haircut. Or at least comb what hair I had over my eyes in an approximation of a flop. I would look just like them. Because Anne thought they were cool. And the definition of cool was whatever Anne thought was cool.
Anne went off to school and I was left to figure out what was cool on my own for a few years. That didn’t work out very well for me, so I decided to follow Anne to college. She went to St. Ben’s and married a Johnnie named Jon. Anne told me that Jon lived on the fourth floor of St. Thomas Hall his freshman year at school. This she said, was the cool floor. And so it was. I met my best friend in the dorm room next door. He introduced me to my wife at the end of our freshman year.
I’ll tell my son these stories and hundreds more. This is just a small sample of Anne’s superpowers. I’ll tell him how Anne gave me three-hundred dollars one Christmas to buy presents for the rest of the family, so they wouldn’t think I was a deadbeat. This is not a loan, this is the kind of thing our dad would do, she told me.
I’ll tell him how much his aunt Anne would have liked to meet him in person. I know that she did, because she told me so. I told her that she was going to see him, that she was going to see everything. Because we know, in my family, that when someone leaves, they are never really gone. You just have to know where to look for them. That’s the trick.
So we’ll tell our little guy that if he wants to see aunt Anne’s smile, he can watch his uncle Jon play with his cousin Christopher. He’ll find it there. On two faces at once. If he wants to hear Anne’s laughter, he can tell a joke to his aunt Karen. He’ll hear Anne’s laugh. If he wants to understand Anne’s determination, he can go fishing with his Uncle Doug and his cousins Sam and Natalie. They’ll come home with monsters or a minnows, but they won’t give up. If he wants to hear Anne’s voice, he can listen to one of grandma’s stories.
He’ll find his aunt Anne in all of those places. But what I really want him to do is to look for his aunt in me. I want him to see me working as hard as she did to let her children know how much she loved them. I want him to see me doing all the things that Anne did to make those around her feel valued and important. I want him to see her in me everyday.
And I want him to ask me to tell stories about my big sister, Anne. I love telling stories about her. I stopped stealing her shoes and wearing them many years ago. But she is still my hero. He’ll see the light of her eyes shining through mine as I remember her. And he’ll be able to find her in that sparkle.