What a sad day for my family. My sister is at the Brain Trauma Center tonight at Ohio State University Hospital. She was taken by paramedics to Mansfield General on three different occasions this past week. Yesterday was a hearing between her lawyer and Wal-Mart and she broke down in a big way. Uncontrollable crying.

 

At least her lawyer is finally getting somewhere with the cruel, cold corporation that once loved my sister because she was so good at her job as a greeter and caught all kinds of shoplifters and treated disabled people with such affection. She was the award winner for the whole store for getting the most people to contribute to a charity drive.

 

My sister was actually on a store camera when she fell 21/2 years ago on their buckled asphalt near Lawn &Garden and hit her head hard on the parking lot. Just before I went to a wedding today at Shorewood I called her to have her tell me about what is in her will for me and how she is cashing out from the stock market next week and will go somewhere on her own. My mother thinks all of this is causing her to lose her mind and that she may be going insane. How do you begin to comprehend that? We don't know.

 

With the busy lives people have today they often don't have time to listen or even want to hear the details of what's causing you so much pain. Life is full of running errands and taking orders and trying to unwind with your loved one at Starbucks. My sister (only a year and a half older) thinks overall I have been a selfish and insensitive sister when presented with her entire life as someone who is not mentally retarded but "slow." Before she hung up on me just before the wedding, she said, "You think like Daddy used to talk." She obviously wanted to get the message through finally. Maybe I will finally take the rare wisdom she has always had seriously.

 

Here's a couple of Bette Midler songs my sister Rita has always loved:

 

"The Rose"

Some say love, it is a river

that drowns the tender reed.

Some say love, it is a razor

that leaves your soul to bleed.

Some say love, it is a hunger,

an endless aching need.

I say love, it is a flower,

and you its only seed.

 

It's the heart afraid of breaking

that never learns to dance.

It's the dream afraid of waking

that never takes the chance.

It's the one who won't be taken,

who cannot seem to give,

and the soul afraid of dyin'

that never learns to live.

 

When the night has been too lonely

and the road has been to long,

and you think that love is only

for the lucky and the strong,

just remember in the winter

far beneath the bitter snows

lies the seed that with the sun's love

in the spring becomes the rose.

 

 

"WIND BENEATH MY WINGS"

 

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

It must have been cold there in my shadow,

to never have sunlight on your face.

You were content to let me shine, that's your way.

You always walked a step behind.

 

So I was the one with all the glory,

while you were the one with all the strength.

A beautiful face without a name for so long.

A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

 

Did you ever know that you're my hero,

and everything I would like to be?

I can fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

 

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,

but I've got it all here in my heart.

I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.

I would be nothing without you.

 

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

You're everything I wish I could be.

I could fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

 

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?

You're everything, everything I wish I could be.

Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings,

'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

 

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.

You, you, you, you are the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly away. You let me fly so high.

Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

 

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,

so high I almost touch the sky.

Thank you, thank you,

thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

 

 

To give you an idea of who my sister is, here's a piece I wrote on her years ago when I thought I was going to write a book about the two of us:

 

I'm currently working on a piece about the growth of paganism in our culture, but thought I'd fill the void with a Bible-related account from my sister, Rita.

In high school, starting at age 15, Rita worked an after-school job as a nurse's helper for a state-subsidized nursing home devoted to severely disabled people.

Her favorite resident soon became a guy in his 50s named Louie, who was both disabled and classified as "mentally retarded."

She tells their story as "buddies" like this:

"Louie was born with severe birth defects, including a clubfoot, and very bad asthma. His mother shoved him a state institution and he never got schooling. She never visited him and practically disowned him. Pretty much she just treated him like crap.

"Louie had a hard time going to the bathroom, not only because of his foot but because he had chronic asthma. He would accidentally pee himself.

"He lost his teeth when he was very young due to malnutrition from his mother.

"I remembered from my first days at the nursing home he was always making potholders. Now don't ask me how he was taught this but he was real good at it and used to sell them to everybody. He'd say, 'You want to buy a potholder off me today—I got one for a $1.'

"He'd ask people, 'You know what I'm saving the money for? I'm saving for teeth.'

"When he first told me this, I said, 'Good for you, Louie, that's really wonderful! You're really trying to do something nice for yourself!'

He said, 'Well, I feel like I need to do something because I can't stand chomping on my gums.'

'I said, 'You're right, that would feel pretty uncomfortable chewing.'

"After Louie started learning different things about me, I used to tease him and call him my boyfriend. The point is he got to talking to me about everything and he said one day,

'You know, Rita, I don't understand this. I've never had schooling in my life. I don't necessarily know how to write except for my name, but can you figure this out—I can read the Bible all the way through and tell you what it says through and through. I've memorized everything I've read.'

"I said, 'Wow, Louie, that's a gift from God!'

"Anyway, time went by and you really weren't allowed to talk about religion when you worked in a nursing home.

"One day I'll always remember was when I was invited to go with the whole nursing home, staff and patients, to Geauga Lake (an amusement park in northeastern Ohio). The other chaperones wanted to split off with the easier patients—the ones that wouldn't pee their pants and all that other stuff—but I took Louie and all the other mentally retarded one. I had about five or six to chaperone and I took off with them to show them a good time.

"I remember saying, 'Louie, pick out a ride. Pick out anything. It's your day.'

We found the first ride that had the right kind of steps for his foot and I said, 'Louie, we need to go one step at a time up those steps, so you hold onto me and I'll hold onto you and we'll get up there.'

"I said to all the men, 'We're going to do this all together guys because we're going to have a good time together.' And they said, 'Yeah!'

"So here's Louie trying to go up the steps with asthma and all, and he's getting up there and getting up there and getting up there--he's getting to the platform. Finally he got on this ride and then we all got on.

"I never saw anybody enjoy their day more. We did anything they wanted to do within reason. We had a ball.

"When we wanted to go to the bathroom, no problem. I said, 'Louie, I'll have to walk you to the door and you'll have to go by yourself. Go slow, and take your time because we're going to have a good time and we're not going to worry about you falling. We're not going to worry about anything.'

"And he said, 'Okay, Rita,' catching his breath and all because he had chronic asthma.

"As the day went on, we'd pass other people from the nursing home and the chaperones would say to me, 'Oh, I'm so tired. It's so hot out here.'

"They were complaining and here I was laughing inside, singing in my heart, thinking to myself, 'We're having a great time. I don't know about you, but we're having a super time!'

"Of course, I had the ones nobody else wanted, but I loved them. It was so nice spending time one-on-one with the people who really needed love.

"So get this, when we got back on the bus to go back to the nursing home, Louie said, 'I had the greatest time,' in his huffy voice--he was catching his breath, trying to smile and laugh at the same time. Then he said, 'I love you,' and I said, 'I love you too, Louie.' "And then all of a sudden I got a hug from all the men I took care of and I said to them, 'I love all of you the same and don't you ever forget it.'

"Then, when the other nursing home employees were huffing and puffing, complaining about the hard day they had, putting everybody into the toilet and everything, the activity director stood up in the bus and said, 'I have an announcement to make. I would like to say 'thank you' to somebody who did a wonderful job taking care of her group. And I would like to present this person a present from them.'

"And she named my name. It was a little heart trinket box and you know how I liked hearts when I was younger. I still keep it as my keepsake box.

"Time went by and, as you remember, I was in the hospital from the car accident we were in. Well, all 27 people in the nursing home took time to write me a card in the hospital.

"And then here's Louie, somebody's whose been crippled up since birth, and he's made me a heart from construction paper as a special homemade card. He told me later he made it to look like a lightbulb with hearts at the bottom but without it coming to a point at the top. It didn't come to a point at the top.

"After that, guess what happened? Louie had almost earned all the money he needed for his teeth but guess what happened? He died.

"Since he was pretty much deserted by his mom and dad and everyone in his family, they asked me to give a eulogy at the funeral. I was so upset from his death, though, I just couldn't find the right words. I kept praying about it and I feel bad about it to this day. I still say sometimes to God, 'Say Hi to Louie for me.'

"Louie had a spirit of gold. Even though he was always the worst of clients at the nursing home because he couldn't do much, we hit it off like buddies from the beginning. I remember one time I said, 'Louie, how would you like to have a good back rub tonight to help you sleep.' He said, 'I haven't had one of those in years and I don't even remember having one. I don't mind if you do.'

I said, 'Good, because I'm going to give you a good back rub and give you some lotion and then you're going to sleep good.'

 

Here are some questions I asked my sister about Louie:

Lisa: "What exactly did he ever say about the Bible?"

Rita: "He could tell you anything that happened in the Bible and interpret it. I don't remember--it's been so long ago--but he would read it daily. Every day like clockwork. He would read in the morning, I think, but I worked in the afternoon, and I know he read before he went to bed."

 

Lisa: "Did he tell anybody about what he learned?"

Rita: "Oh, yeah, he used to quote story after story."

 

Lisa: "Did people listen?"

Rita: "Well, yeah, but you know when people hear religion they want to turn the other way. And then people would sometimes say things like, 'You're out of your mind. You don't know anything. You're different.'

"Me, I knew just to believe what I saw in him as a person. He was a man bound-and-determined man to get some teeth and he was bound-and-determined to get them by making potholders. He used to make towels, too, all kinds of stuff. Just trying to get along.

"The things I learned off those people were incredible. There was love there. There was magnetism there. There was spontaneous love. There was conviction. There were highlights in my day all the time. When I thought the whole world was ending, they always picked up my spirits.

"They said, 'It looks like you need a hug today.' I said, 'I sure can use one—give me a big one! Give me a big, bigger hug,' and they'd squeeze me and I'd say, 'Sing for me,' and they'd sing for me. They always did something to make me feel good because we were never allowed to receive gifts.

"But my gifts were internal. I saw God working in me to work FOR them."

 

Lisa: "You also saw God working in THEM for YOU."

Rita: "RIGHT! I mean I was taught morals, wisdom, spiritual life, giving life, Corinthian love. I was taught discipleship. I was taught religion. I was taught everything I needed to know to grow. They are the ones I credit. It was addicting to me because God gave me the strength to go to school full-time and, after school was up, go to work full-time. That was illegal of course, but I didn't know any better. I didn't know any better that I wasn't allowed to work until I was 16. You're not allowed to work past so many hours when you're 15.

"But it must have been God saying, 'You know, Rita, I think you deserve to be in that place right now. I'm going to choose that one.' Eventually it just became natural. Everything and anything happened for me. I felt God had responsibility for it—you know what I mean?

"I can't see myself ever forgetting those memories. I felt so strong it was God's way because I remember very well on August 10, 1978, when I called several different places, asking, 'Are you accepting applications?' and I'd get, 'No.' 'Do you need someone to pump gas?' 'No.' 'Do you need someone to be a waitress or clean up floors?' 'No.' Then I said, 'Oh, I'll just pick one more out of the phone book.'

"The last call I made was to 994-4250 and I asked, 'Are you accepting any applications?' The guy said, 'Well, what's your name,' and I told him. I said, 'Rita Leland.' He said, 'How old are you?' and I said, '15'. He asked, 'When's your birthday?' and I told him. He said, 'C'mon down and I'll talk to the manager in the mean time' and later on they said, 'We'll talk.' "