Under the Sun


The loss of a nation,
the loss of a sister

MY sister died last month, her death seemingly unremarkable in the glaring luminosity of today's date. It is Sept. 11, a day made indelible on the American calendar by national pandemonium and terror. Susan faded away on Aug. 20, early in the morning, in the hush of her home on Long Island.

We Remember

People who perished in the skyscrapers of New York City, that field in Pennsylvania or the hulking complex of the Pentagon had little time to conceive of their fate as death hurtled toward them in broken concrete or the flash of jet-fuel fire. For two years, Susan bravely contemplated the end of life as cancer cells skulked through her body.

There is no judgment here about one situation being more bearable than the other. They are vastly different, incomparable. Yet each passage stirs the same despair as we count our losses individually.

Susan wasn't someone whose death would make headlines. But let me tell you about her.

My sister was a child of the baby boom, born at an Army hospital where St. Louis School now sits. She grew up wearing pedal pushers and ponytails, bopping to the new music called rock and roll.

In the security that was America, she was told she could be anything she wanted to be and took that as solemn truth. As she encountered the racial and gender stereotypes that tried to hold her back, she refused to acknowledge that they had the strength to corner her. She became an airline executive at a time when glass ceilings had yet to be erected. She ran an exclusive hotel with a blend of charm and steely efficiency.

She did not suffer fools. She thought that anything worth doing was worth doing well. She expected the best of people, but when they failed she wasn't critical or mean. Instead, she helped them, showing them the paths to do better, to excel.

I didn't know Susan as a businesswoman. We were sisters. In our teenage years, she would sometimes become annoyed at being saddled with a younger sibling. She'd not want me around when her friends came by the house or were hanging out in back of the school cafeteria. Still, she took the time to try to tame my kinky hair with rollers and bobbie pins and select sewing patterns for dresses that would flatter my dumpy figure.

There were lessons, too, one ostensibly about how to eat a Popsicle neatly. I was about 4 or 5, struggling to keep my half of the melting strawberry-flavored ice from dripping down to my elbow.

"Let me show you," she said, as she took the Popsicle from my fingers. She demonstrated how to alternate bites from the top with sucking at the bottom to prevent dribbles, continuing until she'd eaten the whole thing. I was mad and about to cry when she pulled her arm from behind her back and presented me with her half. "Here," she said, "and don't be so easy to trick."

Susan spent her last winter at her house on the Big Island, a spread luxuriant in citrus trees, hibiscus, lychee, avocados and coconut palms. It was where her heart dwelled even though she and her husband lived on Long Island for more than 20 years.

She was about to drive into New York City for chemotherapy last Sept. 11. That remote connection is the only one that places my sister in the context of this terrible day.

In the years to come, television and newspapers will brim annually with recollections, recountings, observations and commentary about Sept. 11. Families, friends and a country will remember those who were lost to that calamity. That is as it should be.

Twenty-three days before the national commemoration, on Aug. 20, her friends and my family will remember Susan and celebrate her life. And that is as it should be.

We Remember

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin for 25 years.
She can be reached at:

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --