Monday, March 9, 2009

a tribute

Given for my dear cousin Shirley Ming Chang-Divadeenam, whose life we remembered today.

I’ve known Shirley since before I can remember. Our mothers are sisters, so Shirley is my cousin. But she’s the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had; and I have been blessed to have her in my life. Although I’m sure there were times when it wasn’t cool to hang out with her six-years-younger cousin, Shirley never let me know it. I looked up to her, and she took care of me and always made me feel welcome.

Shirley taught me gentleness when I was six. Shirley had some small bird figurines made of fuzz and wire. I had similar ones, shaped like baby chicks, but she also had a rooster and a hen. I wanted the whole set, so I took them. But kids aren’t very good at stealing things, so it was obvious I took them. Shirley asked me about her missing chickens, but she without accusation or anger. I felt sorry for what I’d done and started to cry. She comforted me, and I gave the birds back.

When I was in junior high, Shirley took me to Six Flags Magic Mountain, a theme park with roller coasters. Magic Mountain was the big kids’ park compared to Disneyland, which was obviously for little, elementary school kids. Shirley was the first person to take me to ride roller coasters. She was old enough to drive but nice enough to bring me along.

Three years ago I was engaged to be married. For whatever reason I had not been interested in wedding dress shopping, although some girls are, even before they have any plans to get married. A couple of months were left before the wedding, and when we were in Kansas visiting, Shirley learned that I did not yet have a wedding dress. She let me borrow hers, which had been preserved and boxed. Even this, she was willing to share.

Of course, over the years our relationship has changed in subtle ways. For one, we were no longer just an hours’ drive away from one another. Perhaps more significantly, we took on new roles and responsibilities as adults. But throughout my life she has always made me feel that I am a valuable person. Through her kindness, she always demonstrated her love.

I expect this is why I liked spending time with Shirley so much. When I was a child, her family would drive to our house in the morning, and after dinner, they’d be ready to drive home. Often I begged them to spend the night so that I would have more time to spend with my cousin. Occasionally I would successfully persuade her parents, and they’d stay over until the next day, but eventually they would have to leave. I would stand at the curb as they got into their car. We would exchange our goodbyes through the rolled-down car windows. The car would start to pull away, and I would follow it down the street and around the corner, running and waving.

Today, as I felt back then, I miss Shirley very much. The friends and family she leaves behind have experienced a tremendous loss. But I tell myself that she had somewhere to go, and seek comfort in knowing that one day we will meet again.