Protecting Ali

Mine is a mind of nightmares. I have them nightly. A night without a nightmare is a welcome anomaly. Many have been about my sister Ali. The manifestations varied, but the theme was always the same: I would have to protect her. Protect the teenage version of Ali from bad choices in boyfriends. The 6 year old Ali from perils on the playground. Protection from natural disaster, a haywire roller coaster, orphaned poverty, the men in government black suits who are pursuing us for our secrets.

In the waking world, I feel protective of her, too. Not from the psychopaths who chase us in my dreams - but from the hardships of this life. When Ali and I were younger and still had very unfinished edges, we had a raucous relationship. Now, we are close in that way that only a turbulent relationship could have made us. Like the way the survivors of a catastrophe become inseparably connected.

Ali's son Malachi was blessed yesterday in a suit of caramel and ivory. I love that he wasn't blessed in the typical white, because nothing about their little family right now is typical.

After years of trying, Ali and Steve finally had that little red-haired marvel - oh, their joy! - only to have Steve face deployment. On St. Patrick's Day, with a son barely two months old, Steve will be forced to leave his little family for a whole year and travel to an unforgiving land to take part in the preservation of our freedoms.

My feelings on the matter are very convoluted. The whole thing is tragic and unfair. I'm grateful to Steve and all the soldiers who fight my battles. I am anxious for Ali, remembering all too well the challenges of the first year of the first born. I am angry about these wars - why can't we all just grow up and get along? I'm worried for Steve's safety. And I feel an incredible sorrow; for the amazing things that he will be forced to miss, and the amazing things that Ali will enjoy - but have to enjoy alone.

Not alone, because you better believe her families will rally around her and Malachi. But, alone. Because we all know it's not the same.

And...though I have the intense desire, I can't protect her from this.

When Ali married that Steven Dwayne Cope boy - was it five years ago? - I danced barefoot on the tennis court of their back-yard reception. Steve stopped the music, brought a mic to his voice, and - speaking directly to my father, said: "Russ, when Ali was a little girl, you called her your princess. I want you to know that I know that she is a daughter of a heavenly King, and so is a princess. And I want you to know that I will take good care of her, always honor and respect her. Because in the life we will build together, she will be my Queen." I was overcome by this promise - letting my tears mark the bodice of my deeply purple gown - and I felt...relieved. There would be someone else there to watch out for Ali. Another heart vigilantly bent on protecting her. I could trust this boy - who was always laughing - to care for my sister.

Steve and Ali are being so brave about their situation. They have no misconceptions - they know this is going to be really hard. Yet they display such a positive attitude about the whole thing - reminding us all that Steve's decision to join the guard years ago was based on lots of delibration and prayer. They know it was not a mistake, and therefore know that this must be a part of the plan.

They both bore their testimonies in the meeting following Malachi's blessing. Steve spoke of the strength of the family network - that he felt confident that he could leave his precious wife and newborn son for an entire year becuase he knew she would be left in good hands. Yes, I thought. We will all protect her. More vigilant hearts tightly wound together in a kind of safety net against the perils of the world. Isn't that what Family is?

Then Ali rose and spoke of a mother's sincerest desire for her newborn son: Protection.

But, she said, there is protection. We have the tools necessary to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the hardships, temptations, heartbreaks and burdens this world will attack us with. The power of the preisthood. She expressed her gratitude for my father, for being the worthy preisthood holder in her home growing up. For Steve - for being the worthy presthood holding leader of her kingdom, now. And for all of the brothers, uncles, cousins, friends who are ever at the ready.

I can't protect her, I realized. But she doesn't need me to. She already has the protection of Heaven.

And I realized - perhaps the right kind of protection isn't about prevention. Perhaps it's about preparation. I watch my little sister shoulder these burdens, and I am all shades of proud. She hasn't sought protection against this coming year of challenges. She has sought preparation. She is embracing these pending challenges with the confidence of one who has the strength to Cope.

I would not want to take that from her.

And - since we learned that Steve would be deployed and I've witnessed the inner strength of my kid sister - the dreams have stopped.


Ro Ro Riot said...

I love what you said about convoluted feelings. I haven't seen Ali and Steve for ages. We'll keep them in our prayers.

Nae said...

They've been in our prayers too. I didn't know about Malachi's blessing, but my heart was sure there! I've always looked up to Ali, and I remember when Steve said those words at the reception. At that moment, I knew that Steve needed to be a part of our family. Thank you for writing this--my heart had been feeling so much for them and you put it more beautifully than I ever could have.