I’ve struggled for days to know what to write. Three thousand words later I give up. Nothing I write will be right today.
So I think about what I want to remember today.
I want to remember my friend in Abbottabad today.
I am exceedingly fortunate to have a wide community of international friends. Americans living abroad. Immigrants from abroad. People I’ve met through an international anonymous fellowship. (wink) Friends of friends who have become friends.
But today I want to never forget my friend in Abbottabad. Pakistan is truly the other side of the world from me. When the clocks change back to standard time we will be exactly 12 hours apart. And I have a friend I want to always remember.
He was only nine years old on this day fifteen years ago. I was seventeen. Perhaps we are the unlikeliest of friends.
But I don’t think so. Because we share the same set of core values and the same dream of making some small difference in building a kinder, more humane world.
And what I really want to say, on this day of division and grief, of jingoist nationalism, of collective mourning, of flag-worship and slogans. On this day when my own heart is so divided and chaotic, is how thankful I am to have this friend.
A friend who doesn’t hate me, despite the endless drones my country drops on his. A friend who teaches me despite my arrogance and ignorance. A friend who reads my words and who I trust to tell me if I’m full of BS and need to rewrite it. A friend who teaches me a better, higher meaning of friendship.
A friend who is eight year younger than me, who follows a different religion, comes from a different culture, speaks other languages, and is still a friend. A friend who teaches me, gently and kindly and patiently.
(He says he learns from me, too. But I think he might be too nice here.)
Some while ago he said he had a complaint about me. That he was always the one to say “Hi” and start a conversation. That’s not quite true. A few times I had said “hi” first. When I wanted help with something, when I had a translation problem on a school project. Yeah. That’s the kind of friend I was; only saying hello when I wanted something from him. It’s not a comfortable thing to see in myself.
The next day I took this complaint to heart and made it a point to start reaching out better, to be more of a friend who starts conversations.
I’m shy by nature, despite being outgoing and sociable and comfortable with true diversity in my life. I’m shy and I like my privacy and my quite life. I tend to think of myself as being introverted and having just a few really close friends. But I got gently pushed out of my comfort zone. And thank God, thank God for providing me friends who are also teachers; good friends who are also good teachers.
Over and over in my life I’ve had shitty relationships with arrogant, selfish people who have taught me to be guarded and careful, to not take the risk of starting conversations. I’d scrape up the courage to break out and try again only to have the pattern reinforced. Over and over and over. And here I am. Thirty-two years old and having my brain re-wired by someone on the other side of the planet. Never once has he turned this into a power-struggle, an ego-trip, a game. It’s just pure friendship.
And so, Lord, let me never forget, that I have a friend in Abbottabad.
A friend who teaches me new words I pronounce poorly. A friend who teaches me to be a better friend. A friend who prays for me. A friend who reads my weak writing. A friend who tells me when I’m wrong. A friend who is still my friend. A friend who doesn’t hold it against me that his country has been torn apart by my country. A friend who messages me on September 11th and listens while I struggle for words and whine about my inadequacy as a writer today.
There are many things I will never forget. But the bonds of friendship are a blessing beyond compare. Especially when those bonds are formed between people who are “supposed” to hate and mistrust each other. This is a precious thing. May I never forget.