I’m Catholic, born, raised and believer. I’m also a first generation immigrant born in the United States to refugees who lost their country, their home and a war on on the same god-awful day.
So I was never raised with the soft, easy “when times are good” definition of friendship. My parents and my faith taught me that life is a fight. An ugly, every second counts fight with no guarantee of victory or an even remotely happy ending. A world where you can try your best, work your hardest and still end up beaten and broken all because you didn’t get on the right boat at the right time. My faith and my family taught me that hope is the thing that keeps us going, but hope justifies nothing, explains nothing, and comforts very little.
Every day is about putting as much distance and safe space between you (including the people you love) and the big gaping hole that indiscriminately swallows up anyone it can. (I have personally chosen to do so through teaching ethics, political involvement and working towards the just application of law)
And it was from this viewpoint that my parents taught me how incredibly beautiful and valuable friendship is. Because friendship is the one thing that separates our humanity from the horribleness that is constantly trying to swallow everything up. The idea that there are people who would be willing to place your needs above their own (no matter how small) runs counter to everything harsh and horrible about the world. So growing up, I was taught that picking, keeping and nurturing your friendships is one of the most important things we have to do. And this doesn’t just mean “be nice” all the time. In fact, it means just the opposite. You have to know how this person works and they have to know how you work. You have to understand how they feel about you and more importantly how you feel about them. You have to know the limits of your friendship, when it’s ok to push those limits and what it is about your friends that has defined those limits.
Ultimately, you have to trust each-other.
And to do all that, to have a true friend, means that there will DEFINITELY be conflict! There will definitely be times when you hate each-other for reasons that are unfair, unkind and valid solely because they are the reasons one of you is felling and these feelings are not going away until they do.
That is the definition of friendship that I was raised with, and it is neither an entirely fun or easy.
And my faith reinforced in me this same definition of friendship. I remember when I was a boy learning about the life of saints, in particular the martyrs. I asked my teacher (Sister Mary, who had grown up in Ireland during the troubles) “If Jesus loved the saints so much, why did they all have such rough lives?”
I’ll never forget her response:
“It is never easy being someone’s true friend, let a lone a true friend of Jesus. True friends fight with each other, disagree with each other and support each other. And supporting Jesus is not supposed to be an easy thing. These people are saints, not because they were happy with Jesus all the time, because they tried their best to be friends of Jesus, which is a hard, angry thing to be.”
You story is beautiful because it reflects true friendship, not the “holding hands, stand together as one” greeting card stuff but the rough, ugly part where two people have to decide whether or not they are going to do the work to be true friends. Are they willing to offend and be offended by each other? Are they willing to accept that sometimes the hurdle aren’t of either friend’s making but comes from something separate and part from their intentions or personalities. And equally important, do they trust each-other enough to work though the hard stuff.
And even if the answer to these questions are “yes”, there still isn’t a guarantee that the friendship will survive. “Yes” only implies that you and she are willing to start the necessary work, not that the end product will be something either of you like.
Anyone who approaches a friendship with the rule that “I am only willing to work on things that I can agree are in some way my fault” is not your friend. And if you approach a friendship that way, then you are not their friend either.
Acquaintance can be allies, but friendship takes a whole lot more.