Why I Envy Simon Tam’s Patience

Screenshot from Serenity.
When it comes to my younger sister, patience is not my strong point. She and I are the exact opposite in every possible way: I’m tall, she’s short; I’m blonde, she’s brunette; I love science fiction, she loves chick flicks; I’m introverted, she’s extroverted. I haven’t been close to her since we were little and we’ve gotten into big fights because of our differences. It’s been hard for us to find common ground.

I’ve always admired strong sibling relationships in fiction, the kind where the characters have a lot in common and will do anything for each other: Al and Ed from Fullmetal Alchemist, Ruby and Yang from RWBY, Fili and Kili from The Hobbit. But perhaps the relationship I admire most because of their closeness is River and Simon Tam’s from Firefly.

Simon comes to accept all the parts of River and learns to live with who she is now.

Even though River is a child prodigy and can probably school Simon at nearly everything, the flashbacks to their childhood suggest that Simon admires and loves his younger sister. He could easily have let jealousy get in the way of their closeness, but he doesn’t. Simon is, in fact, the one who notices something is wrong in the letters she writes home from the prestigious academy for gifted children she attends; he realizes she’s using phrases that don’t sound like her and talking in codes. When his parents don’t believe him, Simon risks everything to free his sister from her captors, but by the time he reaches her, she’d taken severe brain damage from the experiments she’d endured, leaving her unstable.

“That young man’s very brave,” says Shepherd Book. “Gave up everything to free his sister from that place. Go from being a doctor on the central planets to hiding on the fringes of the system… Not many who would do that.”

It would be so easy for Simon to resent River as the reason he’s on the run, to lose patience with her because of the brain damage she’s endured. Her uncontrollable, bizarre, and sporadic behaviour hasn’t helped their case for staying on board the Serenity, either; Mal has threatened Simon on many occasions to boot him off the ship. But despite the extra trouble River brings to Simon’s life, he has never yelled at her or even said an unkind word to her.

Where does he get this unending store of patience and how can I get some? When my sister does things that irritate me to no end, like not replacing the toilet paper, leaving a mess in the kitchen, or getting on my case for leaving napkins out, I get annoyed and I let her know it.

Sometimes, I wish I had a younger version of my sister back—the girl I bonded over video games and dolls with. Similarly, at times it’s evident that Simon still yearns for the sister he once had when he sees glimpses of River’s former self. He struggles with these two battling parts of her: who she was and who the scientists made her be.

River: Played with Kaylee. The sun came out, and… I walked on my feet, and… heard with my ears. I ate the bits. The bits did stay down. And I work. I… function like I’m a girl. I hate it because I know it’ll go away. The sun goes dark, and chaos is come again. It’s fluids! What am I?!
Simon: You are my beautiful sister.
River: I threw up on your bed.
Simon: Yep. Definitely my sister.

Where does Simon get this unending store of patience and how can I get some?

Even though he misses who she used to be, Simon still maintains his love and patience for River. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel frustrated, angry, or annoyed, but that he refuses to act on those emotions. Perhaps he finds strength for this patience because of his closeness with River; perhaps he remembers who she once was and holds onto that; or maybe he loves her so much it doesn’t matter if she changes or if they never have anything in common again. If he has to take care of her and run from the law with her his entire life, he will do it if it means she’s safe.

I can’t change my sister. But I can learn to accept her for who she is now instead of trying to impress on her who she used to be. Despite all of my irritation, she does kind things for me, like buying me tea, or fixing my make-up, or telling me an especially good joke. Simon comes to accept all the parts of River and learns to live with who she is now. I can learn to do the same with my sister, and try to mirror Simon’s patience in all my relationships, because that kind of caring is worth emulating.

Victoria Grace Howell

Victoria Grace Howell

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Victoria Grace Howell is an award-winning writer of speculative fiction and an editor for Geeks Under Grace. When not typing away at her novels, she enjoys drawing her characters, blogging, Kung Fu, cosplaying, and a really good hot cup of tea.
Victoria Grace Howell

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