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What Older Sisters -- Or Siblings -- Do

I watched the families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee appear on “The Larry King Show” last week and could not help but see the profound sadness in Lisa Ling’s eyes. Although she maintained a calm and slightly smiling visage, you could see the fear in her eyes that belies the hope of which she spoke, hope that her sister and Euna Lee would be released by the North Korean government.

I knew then that Lisa was the older sister of the two. You could tell.

I’m the youngest of my mom’s four daughters and my dad’s five, and the youngest of my mom and dad’s children. As the youngest, you enjoy the blissful position of not having to be responsible for anyone younger than you, or anyone else for that matter. You are free of having to account for any harm that befalls a sibling. You don’t have that “You are in charge of your younger siblings” thing seared onto your brain as my mom’s oldest daughter does, as do all of my older siblings. As the youngest, you don’t get punished for the actions of others in the family because you’re not responsible for anyone else.

I doubt my mom’s oldest daughter would be as composed as Lisa Ling were she on Larry King seeking my release. As my mother got older, a lot of mother-type activities got farmed out to her and my mom’s second oldest daughter – Girl Scout stuff and the like my mom didn’t have time for. Even as old as I am, my mom’s oldest daughter refers to me as “Bad Baby” when I act out of line or say or do something of which my late mother would not approve. She just slowly shakes her head and says in a low, disapproving voice, “Now, c’mon, Bad Baby. You know better.” We’re ten years apart, and she still feels responsible for me, to the point of making sure that my birthday is observed with a cake as my late mother always did (BTW, she baked me a slammin’ carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for my last birthday. I still can’t button some of my pants because of it.). I would imagine that were I detained by a despotic government, she would feel responsible for seeking my release. She would probably feel responsible for my being detained in the first place. Responsibility for her five younger siblings has been drummed into her, against her will, for her entire life. I don’t think she knows anything else, despite the fact that she never really wanted to be responsible for us. As she told my mom when I was in utero, “I don’t want another brother or sister. I want a puppy.” A fifth younger sibling, and the responsibility that came with it, wasn’t what my oldest sister wanted.

I could see that sense of older sister responsibility in Lisa Ling’s eyes. I sensed that she, too, felt responsible for her younger sister’s situation, as illogical as that seems, and powerless to extricate her sister from it, as she was probably programmed to do since childhood. I would imagine that, in the world of older sisters, that is the worst condition to be in, especially when responsibility for your baby sister has been your “normal” all your life and the consequences of harm to her had always been placed on your shoulders.

To her credit, Ms. Ling held it together, gave a cogent and seemingly non-propagandist account of how this all happened, to the best of her knowledge, and stated the fact that her family was seeking a humanitarian release of her sister and Ms. Lee. She apologized more than once for “the girls,” stating that it was never their intention when they left the U.S. to stray into North Korea. As the older sister, however, I would imagine she would say or do just about anything to get her baby sister back. I know my older sisters would, even my oldest brother.

I hope for the return of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, not just for themselves, but for their families. I hope to see the sadness in Lisa Ling’s eyes disappear and be replaced with joy and relief because of the return of her baby sister. And if Lisa is anything like my oldest sister, I would imagine that, upon Laura’s return, there would definitely be an "older sister lecture" coming, somewhat like, “Now, Bad Baby, what in the HELL were YOU thinking? Don’t you ever worry me and our parents like that again!

I hope Lisa Ling gets the chance to give her "older sister lecture." Keep Laura Ling and Euna Lee in your prayers, y’all.


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