Yesterday, Khalil sat down next to me on the couch and handed me a small multi-colored bouncy ball, insisting that we should play soccer with our fingers. After we set up a makeshift field using a remote control, phone, and a few pens, we “kicked” the ball around for about twenty minutes laughing and wrestling over the bouncy ball the entire time.
The truth is, I can’t carry on a full or lengthy conversation with the kid, though I hope to one day, enshallah. More importantly, I would say I’m discovering that language is wordless. What we say with our eyes and hands, with the way we laugh or smile stretches far beyond our words. That very simple language is the truth to who we are; the moment we speak, something is lost in the duplicitous complexity of what spews forth from our mouths. It’s interesting to think, perhaps, that I know Khalil and he knows me better than we might ever could have had we started our relationship with the same words.
It’s made me think a lot about friendship, about what a person needs to have in common with another person and what truly connects us to one another. Most of my life, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are, at least on the surface, somewhat like me – they talk like me, act like me, listen to the same music or have the same basic life goals. But when I started to realize that we’re all really the same at heart (per my recent post), it changed how I view family and friendship, too.
It’s something I seem to be working through slowly though – you know, what friendship really is in this silly little life.
Case in point, one of my friends here was telling me about a Moroccan proverb that goes, “A shared face is never clean.” Really, the idea there is more related to finishing a task and sharing responsibility, but it’s also deeply connected to relationships. That is, in our friendships and relationships with one another, the success or failure of the relationship is never the responsibility of only one person, but it only takes one person for the relationship to fail.
When the closest American to you could theoretically be an hour away or when the only friends you’ve made in an entire country could be up to fifteen hours away, it really tests how much you value friendship and what you’re willing to do to keep a friendship alive. I haven’t had to deal with this just yet, exactly, but anticipating this coming change can be the cause of some considerable anxiety. In three days or so, I will know where I will be living for the next two years and with that, how far away I will be from my friends. As someone who isn’t all that great at keeping in touch (hello blogger world!), I have to ask, “Can I afford, for my sanity, to be that way here?” I’m not sure. What if I fail at “cleaning” my side of a shared face? What if my friends fail at cleaning their side of our face? How much forgiveness or effort is available before you have to wipe your face clean of any shared responsibility in a relationship?
I don’t know the answer to that, but new people always enter our lives (and I expect to meet many new people, Americans and Moroccans, over the next few weeks, let alone the next few years), and the old ones don’t always exit. Case in point, one of my pledge brothers and I could easily go months without talking and then pick right back up where we left off. But I feel like those kinds of friendships are special and hard to come by. A lot changes in two years. When I’m stateside in 2012, there’ll be babies born, couples married, maybe couples divorced (hopefully not, but it happens), and in terms of friendship, it’s hard to negotiate how you exit someone’s life so drastically and then re-enter it again like you never left. That’s not so much a worry for me as it is simply something I want to understand; I want to be a good friend, but I’m not sure I know how. I’m not sure any of us really know how to do that. In any country.
Sometimes, I think there are people who enter our lives, and we will always cherish the short time we had together, but those friendships were temporary. There are some fraternity brothers or some friends back in Scotland who had a huge impact on my life, but those days have fluttered away, and I don’t long or dwell on that past. I’m thankful for it, brief though it was and thankful for their friendship and how it molded and shaped me. I hope I had a positive impact on them too, but at the end of the day, it’s okay to move on and live in the present. If I get an opportunity to rekindle an old friendship, great, but in the meantime, carpe diem.
For a completely different picture, I think there are also people who enter our lives and belong in our lives, a more permanent picture of friendship. Or a friendship born out of fate.
There’s a story from the Qur’an about a man who came to the Prophet without tying up his camel but wasn’t worried about his camel’s safety because its fate was “in the hands of God.” The Prophet told the man to go back, tie up his camel, and then and only then would its fate be “in the hands of God.” Even the friendships or relationships that are “born out of fate” require that we work at them and share the responsibility to keep the friendship alive. That’s just life, and if we aren’t willing to work at it, everything falls apart. It doesn’t matter how much fate or destiny or the hand of God help out if we aren’t also willing to love and forgive and work at our relationships with one another. So maybe that’s the moral of the story; that’s friendship.
For these next two years, many of us are separated by time or distance or money or the past, but while I can’t predict our future (and have no desire to), I will trust that I’m willing to try to wash my side of our face, and I only pray for the forgiveness you’re willing to give me should I fail at that. God-willing, I will extend the same kindness to you.