Today is your 40th birthday. Yesterday you asked, “Why would anyone celebrate 40?” Well, for starters, someone who remains so beautiful should celebrate like a crazy person.
Secondly, it’s not that we’re celebrating forty years, exactly — we’re using the occasion as a valid excuse to celebrate the incredible person that you are. We celebrate because you, of all people, deserve to be praised. I know you don’t think that you deserve to be praised — which is both ludicrous and predictable — but that makes us want to praise you even more.
People often overuse terms like “my guardian angel” when describing an older sibling. I suppose they think it’s poetic and mildly original, but they’ve used the term so often that now, in a situation where I should be allowed to use it, my hands are tied. It would seem like a cliche. So I had to think of a different word to describe you, and upon reflection, I think it makes a lot more sense.
Transcendent: (of God) Existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.
Let me explain.
Our family knows the story well, but when you were about nine years old (making me around 5 and Jeremy about 13), Jeremy and I got into an argument that escalated to the point where we invoked the wrath of Dad. We know that Mom’s discipline was often sufficient, but when Dad got involved, there was a cold terror that crept into the room. We knew what was coming.
You began protesting with as much ferocity as you could muster, screaming, “No, leave them alone! This is wrong! Stop it! Stop it!”
Since others are reading this open letter, I feel the need to clarify: our parents’ discipline was not cruel. It wasn’t even painful, really. We weren’t abused — we were spanked in a measured fashion, which makes it even more hilarious that you acted like we were marching to the hangman’s gallows.
Mom and Dad knew that Jeremy and I deserved what was coming. Shoot, Jeremy and I knew that we deserved what was coming. If we brought the matter before a judge, he would have thrown the book at us. Yet there you were, shouting and banging on the door Dad had to close and lock over your objections.
Perhaps you have an understandable blind spot where your family is concerned, but I’ve seen it apply everywhere. You are transcendent because you live on a level where guile, hatred, and contempt cannot seem to reach. You live in this world, but you don’t seem to be from here; you’re not like the rest of us. Evil exists, but I’ve never seen it manage to touch your heart.
There is a purity that exists in you that is striking to every person you meet. When you were single, every guy fell in love with you, and it wasn’t only because obvious beauty. You have always shrugged off compliments and our endless praise for you, insisting the praise be redirected to your brothers. Look, I mean no disrespect to Jeremy, but he and I are kind of, I don’t know…imbeciles.
You wonder why we place you on a pedestal, but you misunderstand: we didn’t place you on that pedestal. You placed yourself there — with every tear cried for someone else. With every compliment that you can’t seem to understand. With every innocent shrug as everyone surrounding you caves to cynicism. With the way you stretch out your hand and grab someone’s arm when you get lost in laughter. With the hands you raised in worship after walking through the toughest trial any mother could experience in this life.
Look, I know you can’t actually be perfect, nor should we expect you to be. I know you have tough days. You’re still genetically a Dean, so some self-doubt is expected. You’re a mom, so exhaustion is inevitable. And for goodness’ sake, you married Shannon Stanley (just kidding, brother-in-law — I love you too).
Maybe there’s no way for me to convince you that our perception of your goodness isn’t a delusion, but I do wish you could see yourself the way that we see you.
Do you remember when we were leaving that basketball/volleyball tournament at the old gym, and that guy with the crush on you screamed out at you with our entire family present? He hung his head out of the bus window and shouted, “I love you, Charidy!” His friends were laughing, and our family was slack-jawed.
I just remember shaking my head and wishing I could say to the guy, “Of course you do, you idiot. We all do. That doesn’t make you special.”
But you, Charidy — you are special. Not just to your husband, your sons, your parents, your brothers, your in-laws, your friends, your churchgoers. You’re set apart by God. You’re a glimpse of His heart.
I love you. Shari loves you. Raylan and River adore you.
We all do.