Sisterhood is in Story



I met her for the first time when I was 17 years old. She didn’t know me. I was only one of hundreds sitting in the seats of a beautiful musical theater while she was dressed in costume on stage. It was the world-class legend, Les Miserables, performed as one of London’s longest continuously running musicals—a story about a small revolution in France, about crime, punishment, redemption, family, injustice, friendship, loyalty, and love. It was there I met her, a minor character in the show. In a story about outcasts, she was the marginalized of the marginalized, a small character even amongst a band of fringe members.

I was 17, and privileged to have not yet known deep loss. I was fortunate to not be living in abject poverty. I didn’t understand the depths of parental love, and I certainly struggled to relate to battles and barricades. But I was young, and starting to know a little bit about budding love, and what it was like to experience unrequited affection. So when she sang, my heart stirred.

“Without me, his world will go on turning ~~”

I was straining against the egotism of childhood and adolescence, learning in the angsty way only teenagers can, that the world doesn’t indeed revolve around me.

“All my life, I’ve only been pretending~~”

I was wrestling with how to mesh the vibrant imagination of my youth with the harsh realities of the world. How do the contrived truths in my head engage with alternative perspectives? How can my story intersect meaningfully with someone else’s story?

The work of growing up was laborious and my groans found a home in this beautiful sister named Eponine. Like every kid, all I wanted was to be known, understood, and to belong. And for a couple of hours, I found respite and ringing resonance in the stunning tenor of my sister’s song. She grieved deeply for the loss of her dream, and in her grief she carried mine.

Eponine died on stage, sacrificing herself courageously as only one with such pure love as she could. But of course, as soon as the stage lights went out, she was resurrected only to tell her story again and again, showing after showing, moving in the hearts of many as she moved in mine.

Eponine is not a real woman. Her character was created by a man, who could not have understood a 17-year-old teenager’s inner workings, because he never was one. But Victor Hugo created her, breathed life into her soul, released her into the world and she became my friend and my sister.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her newest book, Big Magic, tells the story of a reader who had inserted details into her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, that never existed—not in Gilbert’s life nor in her memoir. And yet, instead of correcting her misreading, Elizabeth Gilbert understood that once her book was released into the world, it stopped belonging to her. The reader was free to connect in whichever way she wanted.

Similarly, Eponine ceased to be Hugo’s character as soon as she found life outside of his imagination. Although fictional, she impacted my life in ways more profound than I probably realize. What kind of a 17-year-old life would mine have been had I not encountered Eponine? If I hadn’t found solace in her song and hadn’t engaged imaginatively with her story? She changed me, and I owe her my gratitude.

I have since watched Les Miserables two more times on stage and several more times in movie versions. When Eponine sings it is always like meeting an old friend. And when she grieves, I cry again once more. Recently on Facebook, I wrote, “If we could meet fictional characters in Heaven, I’d like to find Eponine from Les Mis and ask if she was ever able to mend her broken heart.” I am invested in her well-being, just as she had been invested in mine so many years ago.

Sisterhood is in our stories. This is why representation of sisterhood is so crucial in the stories we consume, one we must continually advocate for. Creating well-rounded, courageous, and kind female characters is to give young women sisters who share in their loss, spark their dreams, and change their lives.

In what stories have you found your sisterhood?