Saturday, September 17, 2005

When Strong Women Cry

My little sister is a strong, independent woman. This is a woman who never runs away from anything. When our brother died ten years ago, without batting a perfectly mascara'd eyelid, she stepped up and took custody of his orphaned five-year-old son and although she has never been married, today finds herself as the single mom of a teenage boy. That alone should have earned her the Congressional Medal of Honor. But that is only the beginning. Her job as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for over thirteen years has her spending twelve-hour shifts talking to people whose houses are on fire, or their child has just stopped breathing, or their neighbor has just been shot, or their husband is having a heart-attack, or their wife is having a baby, or some such emergency. Emergencies are her daily life. She proudly wears three "stork" pins on her uniform shirt indicating the number of babies she has helped to successfully deliver via her calm directions to nervous fathers over the telephone. There is not a lot on this earth that can rattle my sister.

When she broke down and cried two weeks ago, I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. She is, after all, super-human. But sometimes even Superman gets weak in the sight of kryptonite and Hurricane Katrina was my sister's kryptonite. Because her job is in public safety, she was not one of us lucky ones who got extra days off from work while the power was being restored to clean up storm debris and get our lives back in order. No, she was at work during and after the storm, sending out rescue units and taking calls from frantic people who's homes were flooded or destroyed. She was at work when she found out her own apartment building was no longer habitable. She was listening to other people's problems when the reality of having to find a new place to live settled on her. Still, she wasn't rattled.

The next day, when she thought to herself "to hell with 'em" and turned her car around on her way to work and headed over to see the damage for herself, even then she didn't cry. The sight of clothes and furniture and photo albums along the beach did not rattle her. She is a strong woman. She made it to work anyway.

It took a couple of days for it all to sink in and it wasn't until she realized that lots of other people were needing places to live and she would have to keep one step ahead of the crowd to find decent housing that she began to get rattled. When she did find a place...a little out of her price range...but a suitable place to raise a teenage boy, she thought she had tackled a giant. But then her car started making a funny noise. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. She could handle being homeless, she could handle working non-stop, she could even handle TTR (Temporary Teenage Retardation) but she could NOT handle a broken-down car. Not now. Not today. And suddenly, the enormity of her situation hit her. And while she thought nobody was looking, she sat on the porch of her temporary home and cried, quickly and quietly. She didn't have time for tears. Someone else needed her to be strong and she was determined to be strong. But the tears came anyway.

Lucky for her, she has a big family and we have all rallied around to help her. My brother lost his home too, but he has a working wife and is better able to handle his loss financially. My sister has only herself, to pick up the pieces and carry on. And she has the added burden of someone else's child in her care. My brother and his wife will struggle together. My sister will struggle alone.

Today I'll help paint the rooms in her new home while she goes to work and waits to find out if her loses are covered by FEMA... or if she is on her own. She will persevere through all this. She always does. And I never fail to be amazed at her strength. She has done so many powerful things in what she considers her "uneventful life". When our mother died, it was this sister who immediately went into survival mode and started CPR and held Mama as she took her last breath. She is a powerful woman, indeed.

I know most people hate to see a crying woman and men consider it a sign of weakness, but I think my sister has earned the right to front of anybody...any damn time she wants to.