Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Personal Essay Wednesday: What I Learned From My Sister by Mark Jackman

By Mark Jackman

From Left to Right: Kara, Mark, and Meaghan, Mark's new wife.
Reader’s Note: Mark Jackman wrote this reflection about his sister, Kara, in 2002, as a college admissions essay. Kara completed her B.A. in English that same year, and, in 2004, earned a Master’s degree in Library and Information science. Mark was accepted to, and graduated from, Babson College in Wellesley, MA in 2006. He spent 9 years working for Bain Capital and is currently employed by Meketa Investments.

She does not cry to get attention, complain when in pain, or show any signs of discomfort until it is unbearable. I have seen her remain calm in a situation where I would have been unsettled, and tough it out when I would have fled. I am fortunate enough to live with the person who has inspired me the most and who has had the most influence on my life. This strong, yet shy and funny person is my sister, Kara.

Kara has been through several complex surgeries including the repairs of her cleft lip and palate, related ear and dental surgeries, and even braces, twice. The many years of doctors’ visits were never viewed by the family as a hassle; they were just part of our lives. We all never thought them bothersome, just a way of finishing the work that God had left undone. And, Kara, she never complained about the time or even the pain.

One example of her personality came when I was about the age of 12. My dad and I had traveled to Children’s Hospital to visit my sister before surgery. As I entered the room of whiteness, deep in the hospital, I was aware of the very clean smell of the hospital and the lack of color. The only break in color was my sister, wearing a blue johnny, sitting up straight in her bed. She was calm and collected as a nurse repeatedly stuck an intravenous needle into her arm and continued to miss the vein. My sister did not flinch or cry, but let the nurse keep failing and did not say anything until she finally was able to complete the task. When the nurse left, my sister responded by smirking, and saying “Hmm…Rookie.” She did not complain even though much blood was on her white sheets and the area on her arm that was probed was already turning black and blue.

I had to leave this room while she was being prepared for surgery. I sat in a large waiting area and watched one of two televisions. I was not really watching television, but staring at it to keep my mind off what could be happening to my sister. Soon, lost in my thoughts of what it was like to be put to sleep, my parents entered and assured me that Kara would be fine. My sister was sleepy with anesthesia, at rest, while a team of impressive surgeons finished God’s work. She would wake, I knew, quietly and gently. We would know she was back when her blue eyes twinkled, and she offered a quip that would make us all laugh.

The surgery lasted more than four hours, and I was able to see my sister after the fifth hour. She was groggy, tired, and uncomfortable, but still not complaining. She showed strength even when in this, the worst of all states. Then those groggy blue eyes twinkled and she asked, “Hey, where have you all been?”

Growing up with Kara was tough, tougher than was necessary. It was not only the procedures; it was all that went along with having a cleft lip and palate. Children, and even some adults, would stop, stare, point, and say, “What’s that?” The lip, the scar, the differences that made people ask many questions. Was she made to feel different, left alone, and sometimes isolated? Oh yes. But when you look at her now, you would be amazed to see that even those painful experiences have shaped the reflective and deep person she has become. You would see that the experiences that made her so resolute have left her with a rich sense of humor and wit.

Kara is not one to tell how much pain, both physical and emotional, she has endured. Kara makes the impossible seem easy, and she never says a word about it, not for recognition or sympathy. There is no self-pity, despair, or resentment. There is just a young woman who sees and feels things in a way that no one else possibly could.

Today, my sister is in her last year at the College of the Holy Cross and is doing very well. She has a major in English and writes incredibly well.
She brings to her writing a depth, a dimension of feelings and emotions that reflect who she has become as a result of facing extraordinary challenges. I know she will be successful in whatever she decides to do.

Not only my family and those who know Kara, but many others can gain something from my incredible sister. She has taught me not to worry about the small things, such as what to wear. She has also taught me to be strong and not give in to a problem, but keep fighting and eventually conquer the fear or problem. For all that she has taught me, my sister is the most incredible person I know. I feel that I am a more complete and stronger person because of her. I have learned through her example that tolerance, patience, strength, humor, and a sense of self are essential if one is to succeed and thrive. I hope to carry her ideals throughout my life.


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