Updated: Sep 30, 2021
I read this, and it has stayed with me. Sure, the story is about mothers, but more, it is about that loving, unquestioning, steady support of someone who loves us best. I hope you, too, have that someone.
“I want to see them,” Sisi said to her mother. “Now.”
She was seven, a young Venezuelan long before the time of Bolivar, and, as children often are, she was unafraid to dream.
“Well, Sisi,” said her mother as she ushered the young lass outside, “The stars are right here for you to see. See?”
Mother was right. The stars bespectacled the night sky, flickering and shining bright as a young girl’s eye.
“No, mother,” Sisi insisted, “I don’t just want to see the stars — I want to see them up there. I want to go to the stars. I want to touch them.”
“Well,” said Sisi’s mother, curious, confused, and not about to dash her daughter’s dream, “you’ll need a way up. The only way to climb that high is with a ladder.”
“Well, mother,” Sisi asked, “Where may I find a ladder?”
“Sisi,” her mother said, “Ladders are everywhere, yet none will not reach such heights.”
“Well,” Sisi said, “Where may I find one that does?”
Her mother sighed a great sigh, and gave a sorrowful look. “Sisi, there isn’t a ladder in this great big world high enough for you to touch the stars.”
Sisi was only momentarily deterred, and, as children often do, she didn’t believe in no. “Well, mother,” she pronounced, as matter-of-factly as she could, “Then I shall build a ladder, and it shall take me there.”
Her mother dared not speak ill of her daughter’s will, so she made her a promise, “If this is what you wish, then I will bring you wood.”
Sisi smiled, stared up at the stars, and drifted off to dreamland.
The next day, Sisi got to work, and — as promised — her mother brought her wood. Sisi was young and inexperienced with tools, but the local craftsmen saw her with her mallet as they wandered by. They stopped to teach her how to hammer nails and brought her more to keep her busy.
With wood and a mallet and unending enthusiasm, Sisi completed her first step on her way to the stars.
Each day that passed, with every log her mother found, Sisi continued to build. Every morning she would climb to the step where she left off, with a mallet in hand and nails in tow, and she continued onward and upward.
Days progressed and seasons passed, and her ladder grew ever longer. She could now see over her house and felt great pride.
“I’m getting closer, Mother!” Sisi shouted from the skies above.
“I know,” her mother said, as she smiled as wide as the crescent moon.
Years passed. Sisi grew. Tall and beautiful, she was. The young carpenter with the cacao eyes attracted much attention from the town’s common folk.
“There’s the girl with her ladder,” marked the men who would stumble by. “I wonder where she’s going,” they’d think. “I wonder if she thinks she can fly.”
Each morning, Sisi would wake with the crows, and continue her quest. And when the tree outside gave all her wood, her mother would journey far into the wild to find her more.
As Sisi climbed, higher each day, her body grew strong, her feet grew nimble. Faster and faster, she’d rise.
Each evening, at the last of the day’s light, Sisi would stare off into the horizon, chasing the sun with her eyes.
“Someday,” Sisi said, “I will stay up here at night. And I will watch the stars until the early morning light.”
She knew they’d be as dazzling as she dreamed.
Sisi was the talk of the town. A man named Santiago adored her impossible dream, and sometimes at night, he would wait for Sisi on the ground.
Sisi would come home tired, worn out from a day of climbing and building, and Santiago would give her fresh water from his well, and some wool to keep her warm.
“I’m in awe of you,” Santiago said, “You’re as bold as you are brave. I‘m not sure why you’re going, but I know you’ll see the stars.”
Her mother would watch from the window as the two would talk amongst the owls. Her mother’s smile lit the parts of her soul that the moon’s light could never reach. “Santiago,” Sisi said one night, tired but with great joy, “My heart can’t thank you enough for what you do and who you are. You are welcome to stay if you like.”
Santiago’s smile lit the night and his heart ran with the horses. He leaned in to let her head rest on his shoulder — and Santiago stayed.
Still, Sisi woke with the crows, racing the sun out of bed each morning. She kissed Santiago goodbye and kissed her mother hello. She climbed above the tallest trees, to stare out across the mountains and see what she could see.
It went like this a while. One more step, one more meter, one more day closer to the stars.
Then one day, Sisi rested. She needed rest, she did. For the time had come for Sisi to have a girl of her very own.
“I think I’ll call her Stella,” Sisi said to Santiago, beaming with pride and excitement. “It means ‘star,’ you know.”
“I think she’s beautiful, just like you,” said Santiago, while Sisi’s mother wept in joy.
Years continued to pass, as Sisi’s ladder continued to grow. Winter to Spring to Summer to Fall, and back to Winter again. And Stella grew, too.
Each morning, Sisi rose and kissed Santiago goodbye, and kissed her little Stella, and kissed her mother hello. She climbed the ladder with wood from her mother and hammered tirelessly for as long as there was light.
One morning, Sisi rose and kissed Santiago goodbye, and kissed her little Stella … when her mother caused a stir.
“I’m sorry,” her mother said, “For, at last, there is no wood.”
In all her years, rain or shine, day or night, her mother always found Sisi wood. “Is the forest out of trees?” She asked.
“No,” her mother replied. “As I have gathered wood for you, I made sure to save the seeds. I’ve planted them for you, so one day they’d become trees. Today I tried to walk, but my feet won’t move; I tried to saw wood, but my hands won’t grip; I tried to look, but my eyes can’t see.”
Sisi gave her mom another kiss and a warm embrace, and this time she did not let go. “I think I’ll stay here with you, Mom.”
Her mother, weak from years of chopping and scouring and the slow parade of age, laid in Sisi’s arms. Sisi brushed her mother’s hair and whispered:
“Without you, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. You taught me how to see the stars and reach them. As I made my way, you gave me everything I needed. You never doubted me — you never once told me to stop. But now that we are here, I wonder if I should’ve spent more time with you, if I should’ve never left each morning, or if I should’ve never built that ladder.”
“Nonsense,” her old Mother said, summoning all her strength, “Each morning as you left me, I always knew I was loved. You’d kiss me and say thank you and give me blessings from above. Your ladder is your greatest gift, of which I am most proud. You always came home. You never forgot who you are, or where you came from, no matter what great heights you’ve reached.”
“But Mother,” Sisi stammered, “Will I ever reach the stars?”
“Of course you will,” her mother sighed. “And the stars are where you’ll find me.” Sisi did not build her ladder that day.
News traveled swiftly about the town of Sisi’s mother’s passing, a great procession was held — a fanfare in her honor.
Sisi would lay awake worried, “Where will I find wood?” She could ask Santiago, but who would stay with Stella? Sisi wondered, wandered, and tried to find the wood herself, but she knew to chop and hammer would sap her time and strength. She went to bed, heartbroken, dejected, with a broken spirit. She did not dream that night.
When morning arrived, Sisi rose with the crows and kissed her little Stella and Santiago and wandered outside to ponder … and couldn’t believe what she saw. A mountain of wood as far as the eye could see appeared in front of her eyes. A mirage? A miracle? How? Why?
A local craftsman approached Sisi and put together words as best he could: “Sisi, we have watched you every day until you rose out of our sight. You climb this ladder, wood in tow and hammer, and as we’ve watched you reach your dreams.” The craftsman continued.
“Every day, your mother passed us by on her way through town, and we asked her from where she was coming. She said she’d saved some seeds from trees she’d cut down for you, and planted them to one day become trees. So we followed her one morning, and sure as day, your mother was right. There are tens of thousands of miles of trees that stretch across the light. She called your ladder “Amazing,” so she named the forest “Amazon.” When we heard about your mother, we all got together and decided the universe is not a place to let you fail at something you’ve worked all your life to build.” Renewed, rededicated, rejuvenated, Sisi called for Santiago. “It’s a miracle!” She cried.
“It’s more than a miracle,” said Santiago. “It’s your mother.”
Sisi grabbed her hammer and some wood and began her morning climb. Stella smiled. Waves of euphoria rippled through the townspeople.
AsSisi grew older, and her ladder grew taller, she could see over the Andes, and out across the horizon. “The Pacific was as blue as the mighty sky itself,” Sisi thought. “I adore this view. Perhaps I need to build no more.”
But Sisi promised to her mother she would meet her in the stars, and even as rain battered and soaked her ladder, and the winds weathered her wood and her face, Sisi stood tall and continued her climb.
One morning, Sisi arose with the sun and kissed her Santiago. She was stunned to find Stella awake.
“Mama,” said Stella, “You leave here every morning to build your ladder to the stars. Why?”
Sisi replied, “It’s what I was born to do.”
“Mama,” Stella said, “one day I want to go to the stars, too. Can I come with you?”
“Of course you may,” said Sisi, “but you’re going to need a hammer, and you’re going to learn to climb.”
That morning, Sisi showed Stella how to carry wood up above the mountains, and how to hammer nails good and sturdy, and how to climb with quick, nimble feet so as not to fall or lose time.
It went on like this a while, Sisi and Stella, rising with the crows, climbing into the sky, hammering nails into wood, and coming home at night. They laughed and smiled and Stella learned to protect herself from the cold wind’s blow and the relentless attack of the rain.
Seasons never wait, and always arrive on time. Winter turned to Spring turned to Summer turned to Fall. Sisi and Stella continued to build into the sky, until one day … “Mama! Look! A cloud!” Stella said. “We made it!”
“Go on, Stella, touch it!” Sisi said to her daughter. “You have worked so hard to make it here. You should be the first.”
And Stella reached out and touched the cloud. It was soft like silk and plush like a pillow. Sisi nailed the last crossbar into the final step and used a metal hook to affix her ladder to the cloud where it would rest.
“Mama!” Stella shouted, exhilarated with delight. “Can we climb it?”
“Of course we may!” Sisi said, overcome with joy. And Sisi and Stella held hands as they climbed the final step on their way to the clouds. They raced around the cloud, they rolled around and basked in the glorious glow of the sun. They covered themselves in cloud dust. They peered down over the edge.
And Sisi looked down over all of creation, down at the world and the Andes and the Amazon and the Venezuelan countryside and her Mother’s old home, Sisi thought of Santiago.
“Come on,” Sisi said to Stella, “It’s time for us to go.”
“But Mama!” Stella said to Sisi, “Don’t you want to see the stars?”
“My place is down below,” said Sisi to Stella. “I’m not ready to see them yet.”
So Sisi and Stella climbed back down Sisi’s ladder to the stars and ran into their home to rejoin Santiago. “It’s done,” said Sisi. “My life’s work is complete.” And she kissed Santiago and they embraced. Sisi never needed to let her Santiago go again.
Santiago, brushing the long brown locks of Sisi’s hair away from her wind-whipped face, whispered to her Sisi, “You can stay forever.”
And Sisi replied, “That sounds very nice. I think I’ll do just that.”
One day, after Stella had grown into a beautiful woman, and Santiago had become a distinguished town elder, Sisi cracked a great smile.
“It is time,” she said, and she asked Santiago a great favor. “Please gather the townspeople, the craftsman, and the gypsies, and bring them here tonight, for I have a great favor to ask.”
So the common folk, the dignitaries and diplomats, all descended upon Sisi’s home at dusk in the crisp air of the cool winter, and a weathered Sisi rose to speak.
“As you know,” Sisi began, “This started as a dream long ago I had when I told my mother I wanted to see the stars. Since there was no way for me to climb that high, I needed to find a way. This ladder to the stars has been finished and tonight it’s finally time …”
The townspeople gasped in anticipation.
“… for me to open this ladder for all of you, to find your own way to the clouds …”
The commonfolk were overjoyed. The diplomats were stunned.
“… it is you who helped me build this, with your wood that you would find. Though it was my hands, it was yours that guided me. Though it was my faith, it was yours that believed in me. Though it was my will, it was yours that tested me. Though it was my ladder, it was yours that carried me.”
The townspeople began to climb. The ladder held true. It was built with wood that came from love, and nails forged from her will, and a blueprint made from faith. People came from far and wide to climb Sisi’s ladder and steal an everlasting gaze upon the stars. Sisi smiled from down below and stayed with Stella and Santiago. With a smile as wide as a crescent moon, one that lit the night sky and guided the climbers home.
It stayed like this a while until Sisi was too frail to smile. One night, Stella came home to find her mother lying in bed, each breath a laborious gasp.
“Mama,” said Stella. “You can’t go yet. You never made it to the stars.”
“I told you,” Sisi said, brushing locks of Stella’s long brown hair away from her misty face, “I wasn’t yet ready — my place was here.”
Sisi continued softly: “I started building that ladder because I wanted to see the stars. But then I had you and named you “Stella,” because you were my star. When your grandma died, she told me the stars was where I’d find her. And that’s true, for when I look at you, I see a little bit of her. When you and I built that ladder, I was building it for you. We finished building it together, so alone you wouldn’t have to. We finished building it together, so the ladder would be ours. And so you could always find me, when it was your turn to see the stars.”
Stella wept as Sisi closed her eyes. And at that moment, she sighed … and Sisi finally saw the stars.