My little sister, Catherine, was born just a few months before the “Y2K” scare. Remember Y2K? The world anticipated a disaster because of a computer programming shortcut, expected to wreak widespread havoc upon failing to roll over from 1999 to the year 2000. I still remember the tiny, sparkly shirt my infant sister wore on Dec. 31, 1999. I was a child at the time myself, but I was old enough to hold my breath with the rest of the world at 11:59 p.m. that New Year’s Eve. The rest of the world, that is, except my infant sister. She kept about the business of being a baby: eating, sleeping, and the occasional smile that would fade into a yawn. She had a tenacious grip on life, Y2K or no Y2K.
In some ways, it seems that the time in history into which my sister was born was a foreshadowing for the next 20 years of her life that would follow. As is the case for many people, Catherine’s life has not come without its share of trying times.
Not too long after Y2K, when Catherine was only a year old, she broke her arm. Before her second birthday, terrorists drove passenger planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. By her fourth birthday, America was fully involved in a War on Terror, and much about the world as we’d known it had been turned on its head before she ever reached kindergarten.
By eight years old, my sister Catherine landed in the hospital for several nights after months of respiratory illness. I missed a few days of classes in college to come home to see her; I remember wheeling around her favorite stuffed animals on her IV pole on the pediatric floor of Self Regional. And the next few years of her life weren’t all a piece of cake: she was in and out of the doctor’s office, following doctor’s orders to build her immunity and strengthen her lungs.
By the time high school rolled around, my sister Catherine had become a pro at dealing with life’s curveballs — and a good thing, too. A hand injury knocked her out of playing volleyball during her senior year of high school, and a case of appendicitis led to emergency surgery just a few months shy of her high school graduation. During her first year of college, she was assigned a deeply troubled roommate, and our granddaddy — who couldn’t have been more proud of his last grand-baby — passed away over her Christmas break.
The funny thing is, if you ever were to ask my little sister Catherine to tell you the story of her life, she’d hardly mention any of the things I just told you. She wouldn’t reach for the words “adversity” or “disappointment” or “hardship” to describe her life so far.
Catherine would tell you instead of the love that surrounded her in her early childhood, all of the wonderful friends and teachers she knew in school, and how important it was to her to be part of the teams on which she played. She would tell you about long, lazy weekends spent with our grandparents, the muffins we would always make on the first day of school, and memories of the terrific doctors and nurses who led her into good health on numerous occasions. If you were to ask her about her life, Catherine would go on and on about the brightest days.
To walk alongside my sister Catherine in life is to walk alongside someone who immeasurably values her joys over her sorrows; it is to walk alongside someone with a tenacity for goodness and with an indomitable will to live.
My sister plans to be married soon. Months ago, before we’d ever heard the term “COVID-19,” she and her fiancé planned for a wedding this summer. Now, as we quickly approach their wedding date, so much about the future remains a mystery. Admittedly, Catherine is as uncertain as the rest of us are about what will happen over the next few months.
But there’s something she understands that maybe the rest of us — I, certainly — don’t fully grasp. The Apostle Paul wrote something to the church in Corinth about the people of God, how they’re regarded “as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Sometimes I forget that as the people of God we possess something intangible, something so dear and holy and true that it can only adequately be described as “possessing everything.” Then I turn and see my sister — her joy for life, her confidence in love, her unbreakable spirit — and I remember.
Here, at the doorstep of our pandemic summer, I think I’ll take a page from my little sister’s playbook — a chapter titled, “Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything” — and I’ll remember the lessons I learned from a baby on New Year’s Eve at Y2K.