The Humans I Know: Brennan Neal

My story of meeting Brennan Neal is one of the least likely of my life. Brennan is from Pennsylvania, and I’m from Arkansas. Right off the bat, from the very moment of conception, our chances of meeting were incredibly low. Add to this the fact that my parents are missionaries and decided to move out of the United States when I was 8 months old, and the likelihood decreases a hundred-fold. ADD TO THAT the profound differences of personality, and interests, and what do you get? A fantastic recipe for never making someone’s acquaintance, that’s what.

Lucky for me, statistics are not the all-powerful governing force of the universe. My God is, and He decided I needed to meet this guy.

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Brennan and I are unlikely compatriots. He is organized. I am anything but. He is disciplined. I have only recently discovered the true virtue of a schedule. Brennan follows a plan. I am only capable of improvisation. Brennan loves animals. I tolerate their admittedly-necessary existence.

These painfully obvious differences were the foundation on which our relationship was formed. And what an awkward foundation to build something on, am I right? In my experience dealing with Americans (and mostly being one), I have found that they form friendships around shared interests. Examples of this include, but are not limited to….comradery found in Little League lasting for decades, the girl you took ballet with becoming your BFF, and your junior high reading partner becoming the person you bounce ideas off of for the rest of your life.

There are a lot of deeply-rooted cultural reasons that Americans act this way, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now. What I’m interested in is how it affected Brennan and I getting to know each other. How is it that, despite lacking any real shared interests, I have come to have a great respect for my frog-loving friend?

The answer is simple. For the first time in my life, the process of getting to know a new person was the very definition of iron sharpening iron. We butted heads about every topic under the sun. All discussions were approached from opposing perspectives. The things we talked about were not lightweight subjects, either. Our close-knit group of friends contemplated everything you can imagine; christianity, religion, science, sports, language, music, economics. We would argue, pontificate, get frustrated, elated, and upset all in the course of a single evening. There were many evenings where our discussions marched well into the wee hours of the morning.

In this environment of friendly conflict, I couldn’t help but develop a respect for Brennan’s intelligence. He had points to make, and he argued them well. It was this respect that began to turn my heart from kiiiiiind of not liking the guy, to enjoying our time spent together. His desire to find the truth kindled a desire in me to have better answers for hard questions. He backed me into intellectual corners that I didn’t know how to fight my way out of. He worked my brain out in areas that desperately needed a reawakening.

Those moments of discomfort where I was forced to think deeply about my answers to hard questions produced a space of reflection that I desperately needed. I had to take a look at my pride and do away with it. My desire to lead every conversation was replaced with a genuine hope for the best outcome for the group. Contempt was replaced with sympathy. (Still working on empathy.) Harsh words were replaced with a more gentle approach.

My tendency to make everything a competition was being made more obviously childish with every conversation. I began to see disagreements as opportunities to more-solidly understand the truth, instead of seeing them as opportunities to prove how much I knew about a given topic. Brennan went from being my intellectual opponent to someone that was aiding me in finding the middle ground of our often-dichotomous perspectives. He became my comrade in a journey to being a more well-rounded person. He showed me that friends don’t have to be people you agree with. Let me say that again, just in case you didn’t catch it…FRIENDS DON’T HAVE TO BE PEOPLE YOU AGREE WITH.

Brennan Neal played a pivotal role in my development as a conversationalist, and as a person. The strange thing is, I didn’t even realize it myself until I was no longer able to have these sorts of conversations with him. Brennan is still in Panama, and I am back in the States. He is shaping young minds, and having hard, but fun, conversations with a great group of new teachers. While we may not be the best of friends, I still count it an honor to say that I know this guy. I count it an honor to be able to say that he is my friend.

It will be interesting to see what he has to say about this post, considering he has no idea I’m writing it.

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Brennan, if you do read this, I just want to say thanks. Thanks for being patient with me when I was unnecessarily rude. Thank you for being a friend when I’m sure I didn’t deserve it. Thank you for being willing to have hard conversations time after time, even when you knew I would probably be harsh. Thank you for being unabashedly passionate about the things (mostly herping) God placed in your soul. And last but not least, thanks for being a key member of the group of people that changed me on a fundamental level. I owe you a lifetime of gratitude.

You da man,


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