Weekend with Sis

Teenage SisterThis is a movie still of my sister when she was about 14 years old. If you were to meet her today, more than 40 years later, you’d still recognize her from this picture. Her hair is not as long and, like everyone else in the family, it’s silvery, but you wouldn’t have to squint much when comparing the picture with the live person today.

For several decades she’s been living in the Outaouais region, which is about a two-hours’ drive from Montréal. Her son — my nephew — is starting university at the U de M this fall, so we’ve been seeing more of each other in preparation for his move, and I suspect this trend will continue once Gui’s in town. Sis has been encouraging me to go visit her more this summer so that I could take refuge in her air-conditioned home, but I only got around to it this long Labour Day weekend while B.I.L. and Gui are out trekking in Peru.

I find it somewhat amusing (aMMusing?) how she and her boys have been not-so-subtly hinting at improving where and how I live. Although I have an appreciation for other people’s pleasant (read “grown up”) home decoration and furniture, I have never been too concerned about such stuff for myself. Yes, I’ve recently been giving some thought on and off to moving, especially in response to the noise level but also to the mildly dilapidated condition of my current place. However, I despise with a passion moving, plus, from what I’ve seen, there are very few places available that would be as spacious while within my budget. Some might see Sis and her little clan’s hints and suggestions as meddling, and I must admit to having a mild sense of unease at having my nephew — whom I hasted to add is a fine young man — living in my general neighbourhood, although I’m not sure why. It’s not like I have to sweep a harem of men under my bed at a moment’s notice to prevent them from witnessing my shame, for there is (unfortunately, perhaps) no such shame to witness.

That said, I have been enjoying connecting more with Sis. She, along with everybody else, have been witness in the past year not to shame but to a change in me that some say is visible just by looking at me. A year after therapy and a few months after receiving the final divorce papers, I seem to have taken a calmer yet more effervescent demeanour.

I found particularly interesting our meandering chats this weekend about work. As a physiotherapist, she has a job whose impact, I argued, is far greater on her “clientele” than mine. However, she drew an interesting parallel illustrating that it’s how we tend to engage with people that makes the real difference. In our respective line of work, we’ve both had “clients” who’ve jokingly asked if they could adopt us.

For instance, she referred to one of her patients recently who claimed never having received such attention to deal with matters peripheral to his treatment, namely coordinating arrangements for insurace coverage. Yet, Sis claimed, she didn’t do for him anything that she wouldn’t do for anyone else. That brought me to think about how I behave with clients at my job, in particular how I take the time to explain their options and help coordinate any new service enrolments they might need.

“You’re right,” she said, “we’re not changing the world at our jobs. But by doing what comes naturally to us, we can affect some people positively and, when they go back home that night, they might feel that they’ve had a very good day and that not everybody in ‘The System’ is rigid or out to ‘get them’.”

I don’t think that’s a big mental contortion to give meaning to our work. It’s more our acknowledgement that it’s harder to always colour within the lines than allow ourselves to go a little bit outside the lines if it can help someone. And for me, it’s the difference between doing what’s right without going overboard with a full-fledged rescue operation — of owning what I own but not owning what I don’t own.

My marriage and divorce may have been the biggest karmic lesson of my lifetime, but clearly there have been spinoffs from it that aren’t necessarily as big but are turning out to be just as meaningful.