She has taught me a lot, my little sister. The other day Mom and I were running an errand and drove past the homeless shelter in a nearby city.
“Oh, they need potatoes”, I pointed to the sign just outside the shelter. “We should get some and bring them by.”
Mom laughed and said, “You are so much like your sister.” This is the highest praise to me, so I fairly glowed at her comment.
She continued, “One time when she was sick, we were driving this same street and the shelter had a sign out saying they needed hamburger. Angel was quiet for a couple of blocks and then told me to go by her apartment.” Mom’s voice caught at the memory.
I smiled at this new memory popping up. I clung to it like a life preserver, eager for more.
“When we got to her apartment, she insisted on getting out of the car herself,” Mom went on. We glanced at each other and knew what this meant. My sister was very, very weak. She was fighting brain cancer, which had paralyzed the right side of her body. Any getting in or out of the car took all she had. But she was a feisty, pint-sized ball of determination, and if she wanted to do something, she found a way. At four foot nine, my little sis was a force.
“We finally got her out of the car, up the walkway to her apartment door,” mom’s voice swelled with pride. I knew the feeling. Shortly after Angel got sick, she and her husband separated, an intensely painful thing for anyone, let alone someone fighting for her life. Jason kept the apartment and Angel moved in with me until she could no longer make it up the stairs, then she lived with Mom. I knew that going to that apartment must have dearly cost her.
Jason opened the door and looked at her with surprise. “I bought some hamburger,” my tiny sister said defiantly. “Is it still in the freezer?” Jason looked very confused, but told her it was, to which Angel replied, “Go get it.”
Jason returned to the door, hamburger in hand and what I can imagine was an even more confused look on his face. Angel took the hamburger in her good hand and without a word turned to leave, Mom helping her back to the car and back into it.
Mom smiles at the memory and I join her, both of us with tears in our eyes at this shared moment, my sister’s incredible heart touching us once again.
“Mom, go back to the shelter.” Angel, with her rapidly diminishing independence often reverted to giving orders. If she couldn’t get the job done alone, she had no patience for relying on others to help her. It still makes me chuckle.
Mom obediently drove back to the shelter. Only ten minutes away, but by the time they arrived, Angel was wiped out and didn’t even have the strength left to take the hamburger in herself. Shaking and weak, her voice belied the strength she wanted to possess. “Mom, I can’t make it in. Can you take it?” She plead. Radiation, chemotherapy and cancer pretty much took all my little sister had. Anything else had better be worth what it took from her. This was.
Mom looked lovingly at this little heroine, my sweet, kind twenty-eight year old sister, and fighting back the tears, she gathered up Angel’s donation and carried it into the shelter. She gave it to the ladies in charge, told them it was from her daughter and made it back to the car before the dam broke. Exhausted, Angel slept the rest of the way home with no idea how amazing she was.
When mom gently woke her, Angel told my mom she wanted to go back and bring more donations again.
My sister never got to go back to the homeless shelter. The brain tumor took her life a couple of months later. In her twenty-eight years on this earth, she taught me a lot, my little sister. The biggest and best thing she taught me was this: Do what you can, when you can. Don’t ignore the needs of others, just do what you can. Give a smile, comfort a heart, feed someone hungry. And don’t put it off, thinking you’ll do it “later”. You don’t know if you will have a later, or if the other person will. Do it now.
Do what you can, when you can. She never actually said those words to me. She didn’t have to. She lived them. With what time she had, Angel used every bit of it, and then squeezed out a little more she didn’t have, to manifest God’s love for each of us through herself.
I think to myself that tomorrow I will get potatoes and gather up all the extra blankets and clothes we have at home and bring them to the shelter, the same shelter where my sister took her hamburger. I smile at the thought and then correct myself.
I will go today.
Susan Farr-Fahncke copyright 2006 email@example.com