From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Love Covers a Multitude of Mistakes

Sisters are so special. The connection can run the full range of emotions: from a full-blown, hairbrush-throwing fight to the comfort of a counseling session with shared tears and lots of hugs. My sister and I experienced many fights and many nurturing moments through our lives. But my most significant childhood memory displays true loyalty on my sister’s part.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. The scars have disappeared, but my feelings about my sister truly took a turning point on that late summer afternoon—the day after my sister Michelle’s twelfth birthday.

Michelle and I were as different as night and day. I was the “little sister” and always looked up to my big sister with envy. She was tall and skinny, with long, beautiful blonde hair and teeth as straight and bright as a white picket fence. Somehow she always looked delicate and dainty even after she came home from a long day at school. I was a different story altogether. I was short, chubby and had a two-inch overbite. If you ever saw me cleaned up and put together it was only on Sunday morning when my mother curled my short hair and put a dress on me. That look only lasted about the first thirty minutes of church, before I found a way to tear my stockings and scuff up my patent leather shoes.

September 27, 1982, was Michelle’s twelfth birthday. She had been begging for a ten-speed bike for a long time. My parents couldn’t always give us what we wanted financially, but the love we shared could fill one thousand mansions. This particular year, they had saved their money and bought Michelle a bike. Not just any bike—a beautiful, pale-as-the-sky, blue ten-speed bike. Her very first bike with gears. The seat was high and dainty, the handlebars were curved and cushioned with pink rubber. There was nothing childish about this bike. This bike had “woman” written all over it, and I was jealous.

Michelle rode up and down the driveway showing off her new gift. Her hair flowed behind her, and her smile showed she was proud of her biking skills. I waved and smiled and acted as if I was truly happy for her. And I was happy for her, in a deep dark secret kind of way. I knew that she came home from school forty-five minutes after me. I also knew this would be plenty of time for me to take joy rides on her bike before she arrived. So the smile was real. It just maybe had a tinge of envy and deceit behind it.

I had to go to my room that night to plan. I had a few obstacles to face the next day. First of all, since I was younger and shorter than Michelle, I’d have a hard time getting on the bike. But if I walked it to the front porch steps, stood it up, and stood on the second step, I would be able to get on the bike. Next, I began to search through my shoes for the biggest soles. I found a good ol’ pair of thick, wooden clogs. Luckily they had a strap on the back, and the sole was a good two inches. My next obstacle would be sneaking the bike out for a ride when my mother wasn’t looking. Considering my sneaking skills, this would be easy as pie. I was ready. Plan completed.

The next day in school, I could hardly concentrate. I was so excited about the adventure I would face that afternoon. I could almost feel the wind blowing through my hair and the smile that would last a lifetime.

I got off the bus and ran all the way to my house. I threw my stuff down and yelled to my mom, “I am going to go bike riding with my friends.” This is what I usually did in the afternoon, except I had a big-seated purple and pink bike with plastic fringes coming out of the handlebars and “baby” written all over it. My excitement was almost about to explode through the top of my head. My friends would be calling me the coolest kid on the block. They’d all look at me with envy.

Envy would now lurk in their eyes.

I took the bike to the front of the house, stood on the second step and sure enough, I could reach the seat. My feet barely reached the pedals, but I knew I could always straddle the front bar or stand up and ride if my legs became too tired. I was on, settled, then off into the big world of biking adventures. I rode about a half a mile down a straight road to my friend’s house. This is when the first problem occurred to me. How was I going to stop? My feet could barely reach the pedals, much less the ground.

I soon searched out where I could ride up to something, anything, like a tree stump or step or rock to put my foot on. In my desperation, I jumped off, the bike skidding a few feet to the left but luckily I didn’t even drop the bike. It was a perfect stop. My friend and I went for a ride; she couldn’t believe I had the nerve to ride my sister’s new bike. She had three older brothers, and I told her she didn’t understand my sister and our connection.

The ride had been simple up until now. “It is time for an adventure,” my friend said. “Let’s test out the brakes on the bike.”

Within minutes I found myself at the top of “the hill.” This was not just any hill; this hill was the biggest hill for miles. It was straight down and graveled. Once you started this ultimate ride there was no stopping. You had to get to the bottom of the hill to be able to stop or you would skid and slide and possibly injure yourself pretty badly.

There I was, and time was slipping away from me. My sister’s bus would be pulling up within minutes at the end of the street. So I had to either ride or walk the bike down. I had a crowd of kids cheering for me now. “Sheri! Sheri! Sheri!” So I clenched my hands tightly around the handlebars, somehow hoping to reach an angel to watch over me. I took a deep breath and I was off . . . the first few seconds, I was steady . . . then as the bike picked up speed, it began to wobble a little, then a lot and too soon I lost control. The back wheel skidded off to the side, slinging me onto my right thigh. I slid down the rest of the hill on my right leg with my left leg straddled over the bike. All courage was lost, there was no turning back now, I screamed and cried and yelled “HELP!” The rest of what I thought would be an adventure turned out to be a nightmare. My leg was covered in blood, my body shook with fear. I was covered in dirt and small pieces of gravel. My face was completely smudged with wet dirt from the million tears I had already shed.

Suddenly, I heard someone yell my name, “Sheri, it’s okay I am coming!” Blinded by my own tears, I could not see anyone. But I knew that voice—it rang clear to me. It was my sister. Her bus had already arrived, she dropped her belongings and was running full force to save me. Delicately she picked me up, placed me on the handle bars, and she rode me all the way home. She spoke not a word. Just pushed those pedals as fast as she could all the way home to my mom.

My mother rushed to the front door to meet us—she had heard my crying. My sister ran in the house to get the Band-Aids, alcohol, washcloths and later even a cold drink.

My sister never fussed at me for scratching her new bike or for riding it without permission. She didn’t even tell me how stupid it was for me to try to ride down “the hill.” She only loved and nurtured me. This is what sisterhood is all about. There are times to fight and times to love, times to laugh and times to hug, times to play and times to pay for your mistakes. And my sister chose all the right decisions. My consequence was much beyond what I deserved. My knee was sore and scabbed and unbearable to move for days. My sister was my hero. Her loyalty and character has never changed over the years. She’s still a sister who rises to the occasion to encourage me when I doubt, strengthen my weaknesses and sometimes even tell me I am making a bad decision. But her best quality is to just be a “sister.” Not a mom, not a doctor, not a psychologist, but just simply a “sister.”

That September afternoon, my sister was just that—a sister. I learned many valuable lessons that day and still apply them to my life today. Love covers many mistakes. When pain is absolutely unbearable and you become blinded by the many wrong bike rides you’ve taken, listen for love. You may not see the person running toward you, but you can listen. Listen to the beat of your own heart. And if it is love, you will hear it. If someone wrongs you, still love. Always love. For we are somehow all sisters in this great big world of problems. So learn to listen to your heart by loving those in need, those who need encouragement, and most importantly, love the unlovable. For love covers a multitude of mistakes.

Sheri Jennings

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