Last weekend, I had the honor of standing up in my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and it was so good to see so many family members and have it not be associated with a funeral–which seems to be our go-to reunion occasion of late. And Cousin Heather was beautiful and so happy. It was a day filled with joy and a feeling of peace.
But it also served as a day of reflection for me.
Cousin Heather was my first friend and like a sister to me. As I’m the oldest of three girls, she was the one I modeled myself after.
And it wasn’t a stretch to think of us as sisters. We do look similar and people often confused us as sisters–when I was younger–and even at the wedding.
It was no less thrilling today as it was over thirty years ago.
I wanted to be her. I wanted to be as beautiful as her, as talented as her, as funny as her, as smart as her. My life was playing catch up to a someone who couldn’t have been a better standard bearer. She’s kind, thoughtful and curious. And she never seemed to mind having to spend time with me, even when I was small. And I had to be annoying. Grown-up Lyn can be a lot. I can’t imagine what it was like to deal with me as a kid.
So as far as role models go, I had one of the best.
During the reception, I had a lovely conversation with her youngest daughter. We talked about how gifted her mom is as an artist. She said she wished she had skills like her. I said I did, too.
I remember coloring with her at her kitchen table–and even though she’s a few years older than me–her drawing was the difference of comparing a child with a master. It was discouraging. But she told me I didn’t have to draw to be an artist. She said I would find my own thing.
She was right. And I shared the same advice to her daughter.
One Saturday morning at our Aunt Mary’s house–the usual Saturday hangout growing up–I told her that I wished I had freckles like her. She explained how she put pickle juice on her face to try and get rid of them. To bleach them out.
It was the first time I was ever aware that something I found magical about someone’s appearance could be the thing they disliked most. It was just as confusing then as it is now.
She also gave me the greatest birthday gift I ever received. A 45 of Rick Springfield’s Affair of the Heart and two Star Wars figures: Princess Leia and Yoda. She said I could add the record to my growing collection, and now I would have toys I could bring with me so I could be included when the boy cousins were doing their movie recreations on Saturday mornings. It was perfect.
Through my late elementary school and early middle school years, she helped me navigate tough times. I’m not sure she even knows how much her words mattered to me then and how I’ve held on to them still as a guide to seek safety and strive for success. But I do.
We haven’t reminisced about those times. She maybe doesn’t even remember. Standing in the sun on Saturday, I was reminded that it’s often in moments that are fleeting for you, when you are making an impact on someone else. Without trying. Without noticing. Without effort. Just by being you and being present and connecting.
She and I lost touch for a number of years. I was going through high school and college, while she was married and had her children.
We reconnected as adults. Peers. No longer a young kid idolizing her older cousin. She could lean on me during her tough times, just as I had–and would–lean on her.
We share ideas and talk about the world and encourage each other’s projects. It’s a relationship that means a lot to me. And standing behind her at her wedding helped me understand that it also means a lot to her.
Today is a difficult day for many women. It’s a reminder of memories hidden away. It’s a trigger for emotions we have spent our lives silencing. And it’s confirmation that things are still not equal for us. We are not inherently given spaces of safety and success, we have to seek them out and create them for ourselves.
Some will find comfort sharing their stories. Some will need quiet. All will need acknowledgement that we are not alone.
I’m choosing to use today to think about the women–whether through grand gestures or small moments–that have made an impact on my life. There are many.
My Cousin Heather is one of those women. And you are, too. Just by taking your time to read these musings makes me feel heard.
And sometimes that’s all you need. A moment. You give me that.
Know that today I hear you, I see you, and I acknowledge you. Do the same for other women in your life. Especially today.