My Personal Journey

Love Letter to my Sister

I went to my sister’s 50th birthday party in London last weekend and she asked me to give a short speech about her. This was prompted by her best friend (my sister is too humble for this to be her idea) who was sharing the party and had asked her husband to speak on her behalf.

Unknown to me several very accomplished and famous BBC reporters were in the room – the best friend is a BBC producer – and had I known I would have been much more intimidated. But I didn’t and so I gave a good speech – funny, just the right mix of humor and seriousness, and Sue loved it.

I love and admire her so much I decided to share it here:

When Sue asked me to say a few words for her tonight I was a bit at a loss. It took me a while to come up with anything because the problem is, you see, in my memory growing up Susan was always perfect.

She was neat and clean. She was always good. She was smart. She read books. She played nicely. She didn’t get into trouble and the parents never had to spank her, unlike me…

You can see from these early photos of her that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth – and in the picture of the two of us going off to church, when I was about 3, I am looking up at her adoringly. It was the admiration a little sister (who was always in trouble) had for her perfect big sister.

But I am relieved to say that when we were teenagers the perfection showed a few cracks. When looking at pictures I did find one of her with a perfectly horrible 1970s haircut – I took pity on her and didn’t ask Daddy to print that one out for you. She wasn’t good at sports, and I remember camping with her and her getting cross with me that I didn’t wake her when a bear came to our tent in the middle of the night and I was too scared to move – so she did get irritated with me sometimes.

But these were minor imperfections and as she exited her teens she was doing well at the whole perfect thing again. Perfect grades, a scholarship to Cambridge, erudite brilliant friends.

And then thankfully she began to rebel and I began to have hope. At 21 Sue went to Turkey to work on a commune much to the parents horror. Luckily they weren’t there when she came home to London. I opened the door for her and she threw herself into my arms she was so glad to be home. And she was no longer neat and clean – she stank and was filthy. It was a marvellous thing to see.

But Sue flirted with perfection again in her 20s She lived in London so she was close to home (unlike me who went to California), she had great jobs, spoke several languages, travelled all over the world and the parents were very proud of her when she got the Coopers job. I call this phase the “Our daughter the management consultant” phase.

But I am pleased to say that in her 30s she fell off the wagon bigtime and followed her heart. She fell in love with a man from a distant country, different culture and different faith. Excellent move! I of course rallied to her side. Here was a chance to celebrate with her in her imperfection – and for her to need me!

And I can tell you at her wedding to Paran, Sue never looked more beautiful. As you can see from this picture she was deliriously happy. Everything was marvelous and she was in love – and a few of you here tonight were there with us for her wedding in Malaysia.

But, darn it, she was always the smart one. She planned a strategy to rope the parents back in by having both her children at home in England so the parents were hooked. And then a couple of years ago she sealed the deal by moving her family back to the UK so she can raise perfect, proper English schoolchildren. And they are quite perfect. Unlike my two Americans.

So I give up. Here she is, 50 years old, half way through her life, accomplished, happy and from the point of view of this little sister, still perfect. And I couldn’t be more proud of her. Happy Birthday Sue.

Interestingly, several people came up to me afterwards who loved the speech because they were themselves second children and could completely relate to the experience of growing up with an elder sibling who was perfect!