For the past twenty years my sister, Juliette, has been my dearest friend and mentor. Our relationship was not always this easy or loving. We grew up in a household with very little adult supervision, so much of my relationship with my older sister, with whom I shared a room, was filled with strife, stemming from my need for approval and acceptance. I was much like a little puppy dog following her around longing for her attention, and when it came, I was in pure ecstasy. She would direct my two brothers and myself in the most creative games
and play one could imagine. But she often exacted a toll, such as trudging through the icy cold snowdrifts of a Chicago suburb to get her a Gessler’s hotdog. It always seemed worth it to me to do whatever she asked in order to have her light shine on me.
In my sophomore year of high school, both she and my older brother moved away. My little brother and my father had died suddenly several years before that. For the balance of my high school years, I was bereft of any sibling companionship.
For many decades we saw each other only briefly, and although we did enjoy many moments of love and laughter, we never knew when the dark golem would rise up from the depths and cause our relationship to wither in the cold blasts of a psychic winter. It took many, many years to blow up all the hidden landmines that were buried in the field of our relationship. It was during those years that I started to build my own separate identity. I began to develop my own style of dress. I began to explore my own spirituality and friendships. I traveled, married (several times), birthed my son, and, in general broadened my horizons independent of her powerful influence.
When I entered my 50s, through some mysterious grace, Juliette and I came to a deep, deep love and appreciation for one another. We began by setting a once-a-month phone date. The landmines continued to show up and I became discouraged once more that we’d ever get beyond our emotional battles. Then, at some point, I gave up. I surrendered to the idea that we would never, ever have the close friendship for which I longed. Without saying a word to her, I laid down my weapons, my defenses, and most of my expectations, and totally embraced the fact that we would never be friends.
This is where the mystery comes in. It seems as if, simultaneously, she did the same thing. Through some mysterious grace we entered the field that Rumi alludes to when he says, “Out beyond any ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” (note: Coleman Barks, Open Secret). We met in that field and came to the deep, deep love and appreciation for one another that we had been craving.
She now has become my spiritual mentor and guide. She listens to me with compassion, withholding judgments. She is one of the most spiritually aware people I have the privilege of knowing. And the extra bonus is that she truly loves and adores me as I do her. This is one of the highest blessings in my life.
Juliette is one of this country’s most brilliant drug and alcohol counselors, working mostly with teenagers, and has been a follower of the 12-step movement for over 30 years. She has shared with me many of the precepts espoused in its literature and has taught me many of the short phrases used by so many 12-step programs. She describes them as medicine for her soul. One of the acronyms is: HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. It is a reminder we can use for ourselves when we feel out of sorts and want to turn to our addictions. Another acronym is SLIP, which stands for Sudden Loss In Perspective. And, of course, the slogans we’ve all heard: Keep It Simple, One Day At a Time, and Easy Does It.
In a recent conversation, she reminded me of a simple practice that the Tibetan teacher Pema Chodren teaches. She tells us that smiling is an antidote to fear. And when we might ask, “Just how can we do that?” – she says you simply turn up the corners of your mouth. Try it, right now, turn the corners of your mouth up and see how you feel. It’s a miracle.
Another tip that Juliette recently shared with me was an early morning process. Upon awakening ask yourself the question, “What do I really want today?” Followed by the question, “What was my happiest moment yesterday?” And thirdly, “What will my new mantra be for today?” An example of a mantra might be: May I grow in my ability to accept more of God’s perfect love.
I’m so blessed to have someone in my life who knows me so well and with whom I share such a long history. She truly cares for my well-being as I care for hers.
With that in mind, I send out blessings to everyone who reads this with a prayer that you too may enjoy such a relationship in your life. It’s both a miracle and a grace.
Justine Willis Toms