The Edge

The Edge

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Edge

The night before I left for Israel was spent in the same kind of conversations that had filled the previous week. “But why Israel?” my father would ask, in the same tone he used when he asked “Why China?” or “Why Russia?” or “why” any other country I had announced I wanted to visit. “There’s a war over there, you know,” he would add. “Yes, Dad, I know. There are wars everywhere,” I would answer. He would ask why I insisted on going to such dangerous places. Finally, I would hear the words I’ve heard all my life: “Well, you’ve never listened to me before. Why should I think you’d listen now?” In typical fashion, he would close his eyes, heave a long sigh and shake his head.

When these “discussions” took place, my sister, Kristy, would always try to diffuse the tension. Although she realized long ago that it would never work, she’d try just the same. “Kath,” she’d suggest, “why don’t you go to England for summer school. It’s not dangerous there.” But as always, she didn’t understand.

None of my family has ever really understood me. I’ve never fit my family’s idea of the way I should live my life. England was not exciting enough. I wanted to go somewhere and experience something different. My soul has always been restless to venture into unknown places. My mother has always said that I have “gypsy” in my blood.

My sister and I are three and a half years apart in age, but a world apart in the way we live our lives. She is conservative and quiet. I take too many risks, and the only time I’m really quiet is when I’m asleep. I’ve spent most of my adult life apologizing to my sister and the rest of my family for being different, for embarrassing them by something I wear, something I do or something I say.

I’m the one who wears a hat with fruit all over it and a brightly colored outfit somewhere, when everyone else is dressed in simple black. I’m the one who tells the wrong joke at the dinner table. I’m the one who cries when we watch a sappy old movie. How embarrassing for them! Someone once told me that he didn’t envy my job of having to be the emotions for the whole family.

Since my sister is so different from me—or since I’m so different from her—we aren’t very close. The older we get, the busier we become, and the less we see of each other, even though we live only half a mile apart. When we do get together, I feel that she’s holding her breath and waiting for me to do or say something “wrong,” while I’m walking on eggshells and praying that I don’t. But inevitably, I do.

Because my sister seemed the least upset with my summer plans, I humbly asked her for a ride to the airport. “No problem,” she said casually, “but don’t tell Dad!” I smiled and agreed. It’s not that our father is some kind of tyrant. We know that he loves us very much; that’s evident from all the sacrifices he has made for us. I would not have gone to law school if it weren’t for him. He’s just worried and has a hard time separating his worry from his love.

On the way to the airport the next day, my sister was quiet as usual. But for the first time since I’d decided to go, she started asking questions about my trip: where I was planning to travel, where I was going to stay. She seemed truly interested.

My family is not big on emotional goodbyes, so with a “have a good time” and a quick “love you too,” my sister was
gone. I was sad because I felt she just couldn’t understand. I wished at that moment that she could come with me, but I knew she wouldn’t.

I checked in, took my seat and started to get organized. I glanced inside my bag which my sister had loaded in the trunk before we left for the airport. There, along with my passport, traveler’s checks and other important items, was a small white envelope with “Kath” written on it in my sister’s handwriting. I opened the envelope and found a bon voyage card. It was a lighthearted, funny card with a cartoon on the front. Most cards my family members give are funny cards, and this was no different—or so I thought.

When I opened the card and read what was inside, I realized that my sister—who I had decided just couldn’t understand—actually did understand. It seemed there was a small part of her that wished she were me, maybe a small part of her that always had wished she were me. The card was blank except for what my sister had written:

I really admire you for experiencing life in such a full way. I love you.

Your sister, Kristy

On the other side of the card, she had written:

Apollo stood on the high cliff;
“Come to the edge,” he said.

“We can’t,” they said, “It’s too high.”
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t,” they said, “It’s too high.”
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t,” they said, “We’ll fall.”
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And they came, and he pushed them,
And they flew.

That day my sister, for one brief moment, showed me a very precious side of herself, a side she had never shown before. Or maybe I had never looked deeply enough. With tears running down my cheeks, I turned and looked out the window toward the terminal. I saw my sister standing at the window smiling and waving to me. As the plane backed out of the gate, I saw her lips say “I love you.” I smiled back because for the first time, I knew she really did.

Kathleen Louise Smiley

“Don’tworry, Mom.I’ll becareful.”

Reprinted with permission from Dave Carpenter.

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