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Excerpted from The Gift of a Year by Mira Kirshenbaum. Copyright © 2000 by Mira Kirshenbaum. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"I took for granted what Sarah was doing and saw how it made sense."

  Mira Kirshenbaum, The Gift of a Year, Part 8

Maggie's Story

"My sister Sarah saved my life. But I wasn't able to save her life. Not in any way. No matter how hard I tried.

"We grew up in one of those rust-belt towns of the Midwest that were slowly decaying back in the early eighties. On a quiet night you could stick your head out the window and hear the opportunities drying up. Most of the people we knew didn't have a lot to look forward to.

"Sarah was my older sister, and she just had a sense about things. She knew I was good in school and that if you had some education, you could do anything. I don't know what wise inner core she got this from, but she decided that I should be the one to go to college because that way at least one of us would have an easier life. She would talk to me about this. `Look, Maggie,' she said, `I'm just going to have some job anyway. But you've got a chance. You do well in school. You can be anything, a nurse, a teacher, anything. You let me help you, and when you're a success, that will be my reward.'

"I was too young then to argue with her. She'd always been my older sister who took care of me. I took for granted what Sarah was doing and saw how it made sense. But inside I told myself I'd repay her some day. Sarah would never let me talk about repaying her, but that's what I wanted to do. You always think there will be time.

"Now let's fast forward. Sarah was right. I did well in college, I went to law school, I moved to the East Coast. And none of it would've been possible without the money and encouragement my sister gave me.

"I never forgot about paying Sarah back. But how? Sarah wouldn't take any money from me. Even though she needed it. She led the life you lead when you're a waitress and your husband drives a delivery truck. And you have four kids. Your life just gets away from you. But she couldn't stop me from setting up a little fund—not that I had that much money myself—to help her kids eventually go to college.

"Sarah's life wasn't bad. But it had a hole in it where Sarah should've been. She ran around busy, doing for others, doing what had to be done, denying her dreams for herself.

"We talked on the phone all the time. Come on, Sarah, I'd say, there's got to be stuff you want to do for you. You always used to like to draw and you were so good at it. Maybe go back to school. Your kids are older now.

"But all she could see was the spiderweb of duties she'd woven around her. She would start listing her gottas. `Look, Maggie,' she'd say, `I've gotta this and I've gotta that and when that's done there's a bunch of other stuff I've gotta.' Then she came out with it. `Maggie, stop asking me to think about myself,' she said. `It just makes me feel bad, and there's nothing I can do about it.'

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