As I wrote this, I might have teared up a few times. I partially blame that on the contents of this letter, and also the fact that Your Hand in Mine by Explosions in the Sky has been on repeat for 20 minutes.

I’d like to tell you about the little bird. 

She’s always been bright. Not just shining like the sun. No, she’s always been intelligent beyond her years. She can flow with the winds like no one else. Her nerves might cringe and creak behind the scenes, but to the world, they see the face of bravery. This is the little girl who changed my life. My sister. The one who almost wasn’t here with us.

See, when Bethany was being born, this little problem called the umbilical cord wrapped itself around her neck…and she stopped breathing…for four minutes. I can’t say how or why, but she still managed to fight her way out of the womb. She came out a fighter. Hands raised in defiance of death. She hasn’t put them down since.

This same little girl who managed to become my favorite little nuisance growing up. She’d consistently kick over my Lego creations and steal candy out of my room, but I remember that this same little girl taught me to be brave.

We used to have a cool house with a laundry room. One afternoon, I walked in to find Bethany pulling on the legs of a plastic shelf. On the top of this shelf was a massive organizer holding tons of screws and bolts. Bethany continued to shake the leg with persistence, and after a few moments, the leg gave out. Down came the shelf with a bullseye painted on her head. I remember pushing out and feeling the shelf move away from Bethany. The organizer slammed into the ground with a massive thud. Our Mom came rushing into the room to find Bethany crying and me trying to explain what had almost happened.

I used to wonder why that story always comes to mind. Then I figured it out. Sometimes when we’re young, we can be a tad bit arrogant. We go places we’re not supposed to, we do things that aren’t in our best interest, and we say things that we don’t mean. Don’t get me wrong, we do it as we get older too, but I’ll get to that later.

Bethany saw that leg as a challenge. For what reason, I’ll never know, but it almost claimed her head as the victor. Brave, loud, silly little Bethany wouldn’t have been so brave had that smashed into her head. In fact, I still believe it would have done potentially worse than a few stitches. I believe it would’ve stolen parts of what has made her the little bird.

But Bethany continued to be brave. Even at 5-6 yrs old, she would put me to shame as she fearlessly jumped in line for roller coasters that she was too short for…all the while I continued to chicken out… I wasn’t having it. Everything was too scary.

Somewhere along the line, Bethany inspired me to put my hand out. Not knowing if it would be cut, but knowing that it was time to take a chance. So I began getting on those roller coasters, flying down steep hills without brakes on a bike, tossing myself out of airplanes across multiple states, and never looking back at the crying little dinosaur who was out-shined by the fearless little bird.

Our Great Grandma was a staple in our life. She spent her last years living every day with us. Waking up to breakfast with Bethany and myself, playing games of solitaire until someone got bored, or watching a bit of Wheel of Fortune to end the night. I was too young to know how much these memories would matter to both of us. But when Great Grams passed on, it stole both of our hearts…

In fact, it stole Bethany’s far more than I could have ever known.

Great Grandma loved birds. I don’t mean as in enjoyed them once in a while. No, I mean she had books and books of photographs she had captured throughout her years and the knowledge to match. More than anything, she loved cardinals. I’m not exactly sure what it was, maybe the beautiful colors…or their confidence as they flew…Either way, she had a love for birds.

As we’ve grown older, I began to call Bethany “little one.” . . . Over time, it’s become obvious that isn’t a fitting nickname. She’s much more than that. She is wise, kind, gracious, funny, beautiful, and more than anything, she loves so well. She has become the dream of our Great Grandma. She became the “little bird” that sat next to Grams as she taught her solitaire and a silly love for Ohio State (I can’t say that I support that one). I look at Bethany and Grams in pictures and maybe I get to see something that not many others will…I see my Great Grandma’s hope. She was a strong woman…and she passed that on to my Mom…and most of all, my sister.

Today is Bethany’s birthday. Her and Grams used to celebrate these together. Sadly, they didn’t get to do that today. But I’ll write this. In these moments where I wish I could gift Bethany just one more day with Grams, I can hear her voice, I can feel her hand, and I know what she wanted me to pass onto Bethany.

She wanted me to lead well, to admit my mistakes, to hold strong, and to be kind. As I grew older, I found that I’ve become a little braver, but I attribute that heavily to the little bird. She taught this goofy T-Rex how to live a little larger.

Fly little bird, take the skies and make them your own. Great Grams would be proud of you…She is proud of you. We all are.

Happy Birthday. 🙂

“She decided to free herself, dance into the wind, create a new language. And birds fluttered around her, writing “yes” in the sky.”
― Monique Duval