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My sister Jordis and I had a tradition: we talked to each other most Mondays.
After her brain cancer diagnosis, we rarely missed our Monday call, unless some doctor’s appointment got in the way. We would talk for an hour or so, basking in our regard for one another, making each other laugh, no topic of conversation out of bounds. Like all siblings we talked about our family and their crazy antics and our realizations about how our upbringing had affected us both positively and negatively. But our regular Monday talks didn’t end there — we concentrated on the life of the spirit.
Jordis had a particularly acute awareness of her own inner life. She had ready access to her own emotions—in fact, I would say she had one of the highest EQs I’ve ever encountered—but she also could easily tap into the mysterious world of the soul. She saw beyond the surface. I envied her this facility, and tried to learn from her example.
This all started, after what she jokingly called her misspent youth, when she made the decision to embark on a spiritual path of search and discovery. In her twenties Jordis had lived the jet-set lifestyle of a single flight attendant, traveling the world and rarely skipping a party. But as the fleeting attractions of that glamour and gaiety wore out, she became intensely curious and profoundly interested in the Baha’i Faith, which I had practiced for ten years at that point.
The rest of our siblings had all decided to become Baha’is by then, but Jordis still had a sense of pride about feeling independent and unaffiliated. Gradually, though, her experiences led her to believe that she needed a spiritual compass, a set of principles that could guide her toward happiness and meaning in her life. Jordis relied primarily on our sweet sister Cass in her spiritual search, and through that process she and Cass and I truly got to know each other again as adults. Jordis’ probing intelligence and her deep spiritual curiosity impressed both of us. She called and wrote and visited, and we usually wound up talking long into the night about the timeless spiritual verities of love, morality, faith, conscience and inner growth.
So Cass and I were our sister’s spiritual teachers, but as so often occurs, the pupil’s accomplishments soon far exceeded the instructors’. Our baby sister Jordis became a devoted Baha’i, and dedicated her life to the betterment of the world and the refinement and polishing of her own character. Most of all, she exerted all her efforts to become the essence of what a truly spiritual and deeply conscious person can be – what Maslow called ‘other-directed,’ heedless of self and filled with love for others.
Jordis always had enormous enthusiasm, and a bright, hard working outlook. She developed her career as a writer, working for a series of Children’s Hospitals in Colorado, Washington and Ohio, and ending up as the executive director of the Antioch Writer’s Workshop. But her great passions in life did not center on her career. Instead, she focused on life itself, laughing about the fates or enjoying a well-turned phrase in a novel or doing a favor for a friend or showing her little boy how to do a handstand or trying some new recipe to please her family or encouraging her husband Jerry on his book tour. She told me she tried hard to pattern her life after Abdu’l-Baha, who lived to serve others:
God has given man a heart and the heart must have some attachment. We have proved that nothing is completely worthy of our heart’s devotion save reality, for all else is destined to perish. Therefore the heart is never at rest and never finds real joy and happiness until it attaches itself to the eternal. How foolish the bird that builds its nest in a tree that may perish when it could build its nest in an ever-verdant garden of paradise.
Man must attach himself to an infinite reality, so that his glory, his joy, and his progress may be infinite. Only the spirit is real; everything else is as shadow. All bodies are disintegrated in the end; only reality subsists. All physical perfections come to an end; but the divine virtues are infinite. How many kings have flourished in luxury and in a brief moment all has disappeared! Their glory and their honor are forgotten. Where are all these sovereigns now? But those who have been servants of the divine beauty are never forgotten. The result of their works is everywhere visible… Their banner is raised higher every day. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 136-137.
With her devotion to an other-directed life, Jordis became a powerful magnet for love, a true and kind human being, a deeply profound and funny and aware and loving woman who drew people to her like a gorgeous garden of fragrant flowers will draw butterflies, helpless to resist the heady, heavenly perfume of life. She had literally hundreds and perhaps thousands of close friends. I don’t even know how that’s possible, but she did it and did it well.
I told Jordis many times that I stood in awe of her ability to love, to draw people to her and hold them there in her thrall with a smile and a compassionate touch and a deep understanding of their lowest moments and their highest aspirations. In our family, she was always the one who held the unity in her heart, the bringer-together of souls. She was able to do that most rare of all things – make lasting, lifelong friends – with almost everyone she encountered. Even people who only met her once remembered her radiant smile and warm spirit long afterward. A rare and exquisite gem in this world, her pure light reflected back into every face that she encountered.