St. Louis, Baby Ramsilicious, and Making Memories

Just got back from a nice little trip to St. Louis to see an old fraternity brother and his wife. The weekend was packed with museums, great food-and-drink, and nostalgic conversation. It’s funny, really. When you see someone you haven’t seen in a while, and it’s like everything just falls back into place as though a year or two was just a few days. That’s a bit cliché, I realize, but I think it’s humorous how I might walk down a St. Louis street with my friend Patrick and imagine we’re back at Wabash, or I might walk through Cambridge with Avery, and at any given moment, I’m worried about falling through an uncovered manhole, just because that was a danger we had to watch out for in Morocco.

When those memories come flooding back, they’re usually ephemeral for me. It’s more like they drip instead of flood. Like, for half a second, my mind flashes back to a very vivid image, but the image doesn’t stick; it’s not something I can turn over and chew on. More than that, the past is less something I can imagine, as in picture, and more oft than not, it’s something I only feel: a happy moment or a sad one all thrown together into a few milliseconds of colorful images somewhere in the fleeting recesses of my mind. I sometimes wish it would play like a movie, but it never does, and I wonder if I’m unique in this or if this is how everyone experiences remembering the past. Because when I say that I “remember” something, I really mean I have words that recognize that I was there, but to hold onto the memory is incredibly difficult, especially to hold onto it exactly as it was.

I guess that’s why we take pictures and videos, really, but I don’t think photographs can capture the raw emotion of a memory, or it’s rare that they do. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that watching an old family video or looking at a picture doesn’t feel as real to me as how I imagine it to have happened, even if I know my memory has distorted it and made it different from how it really was.

RamsA few days before heading off to St. Louis, I had lunch with my friend Sarah along with her toddler, Ramsey, who I lovingly call “Ramsilicious.” I’ve been pretty skittish around babies for awhile, probably in part because Moroccan children were so mean to me but also because I find it so difficult to imagine having one of my own. I haven’t figured out if Ramsey has grown on me because she’s constantly smiling and laughing or if it’s just because she’s still so darn cute even when she’s not, but I’d murder anyone who tried to hurt her, and I told Sarah today that I have every intention of making sure she doesn’t listen to crappy music! So, when lunch ended the other day, and Sarah asked me to carry Ramsey to the car, she sneakily snapped a photo of the two of us just about the time Ramsey started crying over having to get in the car seat. It was my first time to hold a baby, ever. And in that sense, it’s something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

And yet, when she was finally settled in, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I’m not able to remember anything before, like, the year I was in the first grade. Ramsey will not remember being held or loved on as a toddler. She won’t remember having her diaper changed or doing whatever else it is that babies do. By the time she’s five, in fact, she’ll probably have forgotten what all that was like. I mean, maybe there are some weird folks out there who do remember what it was like being a few months old, but I’ve yet to meet any of them. The catch is this: just because we forget those early years doesn’t make them any less important. In a way, they’re the most important of all. In fact, I remember an episode of This American Life where they talked about how the first year of life could essentially determine how the rest of your life was going to go. In that sense, Ramsey may not be able to recall the memories she’s making, but they’ll be with her always regardless.

That got me to thinking that maybe the stuff we either forget or can’t recall can be more important than the stuff we think we’ve got down pat — that our emotional memory is just as crucial as the physical one with its deceptive, vivid images. And for me, there’s some comfort in the fact that whatever might be buried in my brain isn’t ever really “forgotten,” that every moment I encounter and experience is so, truly precious that I’m bound to carry it with me one way or another – whether it’s being held and having had my diaper changed as a baby or walking the cold streets of St. Louis with a dear friend.

Saying Goodbye to Aaron

I didn’t have many friends growing up. For about nine years or so (from third grade to senior year of high school), I only had one, real friend. I had myself convinced that there are two kinds of people in the world: social people who have lots and lots of acquaintances but few meaningful friendships and then the folks who have very few friends but the ones they have are very deep, meaningful friendships. I remember telling myself that if I had to choose between lots of “friends” versus one, close friend, I’d choose the meaningful friendship every time.

Today, I don’t think our choices for relationships are quite that dichotomous; I think that’s just something I told myself at the time to feel better about the fact that I didn’t have very many friends. But I’m not sure I would’ve done it differently if I could go back in time and redo it.

My best friend was Aaron, a Korean-American adoptee whose family moved into the house across the street the summer after the third grade. One day, when I went to get the mail, Aaron dispatched his brother, Chris, who was the same age as the two of us, to find out who I was while Aaron stood at a comfortable distance in his yard. I remember Chris kind of rudely saying something like, “Who are you? What’s your name? What do you like?” as though I were being screened for some kind of friendship test. For Aaron.

Aaron liked comic books and art and Lego’s and, like Phineas from A Separate Peace, everything Aaron did carried with it a kind of originality I always envied. In intellect, we treated each other as equals, but the truth was, Aaron was much smarter than me. He never presented himself as such, and I’m not even sure he ever thought he was, which is really what made the friendship work. I think if Aaron realized how much smarter he was, our friendship would’ve been too competitive. I remember a class assignment in the seventh grade where we were supposed to write a fiction story, and Aaron’s short story blew the teacher and the whole class away, and I think that was when I realized how gifted he was. We were a bit like the Krelboyne’s from Malcolm in the Middle, except Aaron didn’t know he was Malcolm (the leader and the smartest of the group), while I acted like that’s who I was.

I made a ton of memories with Aaron. One year, he went with my family to Ft. Walton Beach. The next summer, I went on a Greyhound Bus with Aaron all the way to Las Vegas to stay two weeks with his grandparents. Almost every semester, we took art together. In fact, our senior year, on 9/11, we were the only two students by fourth period still interested in following the news of the towers falling, and our art teacher let us drag the television into another room to watch while the rest of the students kept doing class work.

But of all the memories I have of Aaron, and I’m sure I’ll write about quite a few in the future, the one that resonates with me the most and the one I wanted to write about now was the day I said goodbye to him:

First, though, a little set up is in order. A few years earlier, Aaron’s family had moved a few miles down the road to a plantation-style home with a pond and a large barn with a rainbow painted across the top of it that said “JESUS” in large block print. Inside the large white house, there was always a radio playing country music quietly, day and night, and his mom had decorated the kitchen with jars of jam and apple wallpaper lining the walls. The water that poured from the black refrigerator came from the family well and had a sweet, frigid taste I have spent much of my life trying to match (and only topped once when drinking glacier water pouring into a cow trough in Switzerland).  The dining room was dark with pinewood paneling for the floors, and even though I hated and still sort of hate country music, I loved that it played constantly at Aaron’s house. It wouldn’t have been his house if there wasn’t a radio blasting some guy whining about his lost love and his dying dog.

I don’t know why that house stands out so vividly to me or why it’s necessarily to even mention it. I also don’t know why your best friend’s house is always so much cooler than your own. I mean, we always seem to love the things that aren’t ours more because they aren’t ours – because we grow bored of our own stuff. Even today, if I were to buy a house, I think I’d style it a little like Aaron’s. The inside would be dark with pinewood paneling everywhere. There’d be an earthy atmosphere to it, a kind of home-style, country comfort everywhere with ceiling fans hanging everywhere that slowly turned like a helicopter just starting up.

The day I said goodbye to Aaron, I drove over to that house that had become a home to me and stayed until pretty late. He was spending all night packing his bags before, early in the morning, leaving for college in Arizona. I still had three months of summer left before I’d leave, and that night was when I learned it’s much harder to be left behind than it is to be the one leaving.

I remember feeling this need to say something profound, something that could sum up a nine-year friendship or some way to say goodbye that would do justice to what he meant to me. I don’t remember what I did actually say, but I do remember that Aaron just sort of acted like it was any other day. I remember thinking that he seemed callous to it, though in hindsight, I think neither of us knew how to express our gratitude for something like friendship. I was trying to sum it all up and searching for some climactic moment, and Aaron was trying to avoid that.

He walked me outside when it was time for me to leave. He was wearing an orange t-shirt shirt and blue parachute pants. I’ll never forget it. When I got ready to walk to my candy-apple, Pontiac Grand-Am, Aaron put his hand out for a handshake, as though we were ending a good business transaction, and I ignored him and went in to hug him. When I turned around and started walking to my car, I started tearing up, and as I pulled out, I started crying uncontrollably while Aaron stood there with a sad look on his face, his hands in his pockets.

When I drove away, I knew high school had ended and that I wasn’t a kid anymore. And of all the life experiences I’ve ever had, I don’t think there’s any harder than saying goodbye. And that moment was the first time I knew what it was like to really love and care about someone. It was the first time I knew what it meant to be grateful for a relationship.

I don’t talk to Aaron anymore. There’s no bad blood between us. I’m sure if we crossed paths, we’d probably catch up and tell stories like it was yesterday. We’ve just gone our separate ways, grown apart, and probably endured a dozen goodbyes with a dozen more friends I’m sure we’ve both made over time, each goodbye likely harder than the one before it. But that doesn’t make me any less thankful for that friendship or the person it made me into over the years.

Waves of Change

They say that Peace Corps Volunteers need one skill more than any other:  the ability to adapt.  Something tells me there’s a resounding “duh” on the other side of the computer screen with regard to that sentence.  I mean, okay, we signed up for two years in a new culture with a new language, and I know a lot of people who think they couldn’t do Peace Corps for that very reason.  The idea of leaving America and the comforts of it and people in it behind for two years is just something that’s impossible for some of my friends to wrap their mind around.  And really, if you’re not an adaptable person, what are you doing showing up in the third world anyway?  But that aspect of Peace Corps (i.e. going so far away from home to such a different place) is the easy part, in my opinion.  Because what they don’t tell you is that it’s more complicated than simply adapting to the culture or being away from home.  It’s an evolution of adaptation you have to prepare yourself to confront, because no matter how “accustomed” you might get to the culture or the language, your life suddenly and nevertheless enters waves of change, with every six months or so bringing a completely new experience to the forefront.

Maybe that’s not that abnormal.  Maybe it’s not actually unique to Peace Corps Volunteers.  I mean, I look at the folks I know back home, and they’ve experienced all kinds of change between marriages and babies and new relationships and whatnot.  But something about my life here feels like it’s on warp speed change, and it gets to the point where just about the time you settle into one notion of your life, you have to pick up and be ready to start over again.  And there’s a part of me that loves that, that loves the unknown, so to speak.  I’ve definitely grown more comfortable with being uncomfortable, more prepared to be unprepared, to live a life out of a backpack of sorts, and though I’ve accumulated plenty of, well, crap, here in Morocco, there’s very little material “stuff” actually in my life, and that makes it easier to move to the next phase.  I meant that both metaphorically and literally.

But there’s a real flip-side to all of that.  Having to constantly adapt doesnt make adaptation easier.  I think when I first got here, I was riding on an adaptation train of sorts, so giddy and excited and happy to be making this huge, ridiculous change that I was able to look past the “difficulties” and hardships that come with change.  My life in Nashville had grown so incredibly stagnant and lonely that I was doing good just to make it from day-to-day there.  When I got to Morocco, I was suddenly placed into a shared, liminal state.  It was a recipe for instant friends, and it was the first time in nearly three or four years where I felt like I had a set of constant, reliable people in my life.  Or that I could be that to anyone else.  Moving to the desert solidified that, because I was placed into a situation where I was the sole volunteer in a market town with neighboring volunteers thirty minutes to an hour away who were relying on me for serious support.  I was the transit site between them and the rest of Morocco or the rest of Morocco and their villages.  And I thrive in that kind of scenario, where I’m the one shepherding friends on the move.  And even though they were older than me in terms of experience (with six months on me), and I certainly leaned on them heavily when I first arrived, I was simultaneously able to be a constant, available, and loyal person to them.  It’s the same reason I like leaving my computer online for hours or check my email regularly and respond immediately – because I pride myself on being able to be a constant and reliable person.

And now, that’s all on the verge of changing again.  And I fear that.  I fear having something so good taken away from me, especially when it’s something I do so well, and especially when I remember so well what life in Nashville was like, which won’t be forgotten very soon.  This week, Caity Connolly, Avery Schmidt, and Nicole Abrams, three of my market-mates (or souq mates) are in Rabat at “Close of Service Conference” to find out all kinds of exciting details about the final month or two of their service (they leave in early May).  They’ve, arguably, been like a brother and two sisters to me, and I couldn’t be more thankful for having them in my life.  We’ve spent a lot of nights sipping tea or soup, talking politics or religion or relationships.  We’ve made the best tacos you’ve ever had to the sounds of the Avett Brothers or a selection of West African music.  We’ve laughed together, been harassed together, sorted through our pasts and prepared for our futures.  I’m not ready for them to leave.  But I’m excited for them to adapt to a new phase of their lives, whatever that new phase may be.

Thankfully, my friend Jonathan will still be here for the remainder of my service, and as for the old volunteers, Peace Corps may send their “replacements” in May (or actually, it’s unlikely that this will happen, since none of them have youth centers in their sites, and Peace Corps is only putting volunteers where youth centers are these days).  It is exciting to think about new folks being around (if not also a bit intimidating), and there’s a small chance we’ll get someone here in my village or at least a couple of people an hour south, but no one will “replace” these three or how important they are to me.  It’ll just be another adaptation I’ll face.  It’s funny, I guess change is really the only thing that doesn’t change, as cliché as it is to say that.  I think I’m coming to a place where I believe that the reason why we value traditions and rituals so much is because they help us to briefly escape the inevitability of change.  And in that escape, our traditions and rituals helps us value and celebrate change in the way they allow us to take pause, anchor our lives momentarily and take a real look around at ourselves and our surroundings before we dive back into the real world with the waves of change slapping against us once again.  We need both, and we just can’t live healthy lives without finding ways to stop and go and stop and go again.

In brief other news, I’m hoping to move to the olive orchard in a matter of weeks.  It looks like that might come through, and if it falls through, I can always stay in my current home thanks to a deal with the new landlord.  Meanwhile, the glasses project is in full swing with distribution tentatively set for the first week of April.  Will all that happen as is planned, though?  Especially with Israel and Iran at each other’s throats?  Who knows what the next month or two will bring?  Lots of change, for sure.

Thoughts for a Spring Day, or Identity Not-so-Crisis

So, it’s a breezy day, and I’m sitting in a chair chewing gum with my mudir (boss) in what might be the only grassy place (the Dar Chebab, or “House of Youth and Sports” where I work) east of the Middle Atlas Mountains, where everything else is desert.  So, we’re sitting there having a short conversation about what’s ahead later this month with all my travels and the different projects we both want to try to make happen.  In September, again thanks to the collaboration with Caity Connolly (and this time, Avery Schmidt), we’ll be bringing forty youth on a two-day education workshop concerning the risks and effects of HIV/AIDs and other STIs, as well as some basic gender education.  Exciting stuff, really.  I’m sitting there getting it all planned out, the finer details, that is (like the cost of paint), and the breeze slaps me in the face just slightly enough to remind me that summer is coming but is not yet here.

And then something else hits me, like a breeze, something I’ve known for awhile but haven’t really had a chance to express or explore.  As much as I love Morocco and as much as I feel that this next year-and-a-half is a part of who I am and where I need to be, development work is not what I want to do with my life.  No surprises there.  I majored in religion and kinda already had different plans anyway, but it’s just nice to have those little confirmations along the way, to have a clearer picture in your head of where you need to be, and it wasn’t one of those negative moments where you’re suddenly like, “Oh crap, I hate my job.”  To the contrary, like I said before, I’m really happy and feel privileged to be here and know this is where I need to be right now, and yet at the same time, I could recognize how temporary this is, like it was a stepping stone to something else and far more about following in some special footsteps, those of my grandfather.

Which really goes back to my last post, about how there’s no such thing as true altruism, that everything we do – whether we want to admit it or not – is actually at least somewhat self-serving.  No kidding.  I’m not here because I decided one day that “I want to help people” (and I don’t even think that’s an appropriate way of phrasing what the Peace Corps does).  And I’m not here because I want to make an impact or a difference in Morocco (and statistically-speaking, I’m not convinced the Peace Corps actually does that either).  I mean, if along the way, I touch someone’s life in a positive way, then great, that’s wonderful, and I’d like to think – be it thru this HIV/AIDs seminar, the glasses project, or something else – someone will gain something.  We’ll have worked together so we can all have something to smile about.  After all, what I actually think the Peace Corps is here to do (or should be here to do) isn’t so much about the bureaucratic numbers we’re required to report about how many Moroccans we worked with or how many organizations we helped to create sustainable programs; I think it’s a little more about the more immeasurable aspects of life and the little stories that come with those.

That is, you can’t really measure the friendship I’ve gained with Omar, when he comes over to my house and pretends to enjoy the tea or the spaghetti I make him.  You can’t really put statistics on sitting at a cafe with Driss discussing the Arab Spring, revolution after revolution.  But that’s more about what I’m here to do, to foster friendships.  Plain and simple like that.  And I’m not sure any report I could write or submit to Peace Corps could ever capture the importance of that (or the importance of that for American tax dollars), but I think and believe it has a lasting impact on these two societies, fostering these little friendships that ultimately reflects the friendship of not solely these individuals but of these two societies, as well.  And that’s something to write home about.

But in the long run, however you choose to “measure” our “efforts” in this country, I imagine I’ll gain more out of this than any “host country national” will, and I imagine I’ll have moments where I can picture my grandfather leaning against a Moroccan building, one leg kicked up against the wall with a half-smile across his face, and I might mimic that just a tad.  Because we live like the people we love.  We mimic their moves and try to be who they were, and God willing, the people we love and admire, the people we want to reflect, will be good people, people who lived the kind of lives worth reflecting.  There’s too many people in this world reflecting and admiring the wrong kind of people.  Which brings me to a whole other conversation altogether.

I was chatting with a few friends, different conversations but both of whom have really been struggling with gaining a sense of identity and purpose lately, and one of whom is in many respects reflecting anyone who will listen, it seems, anyone who will make him feel like he’s cared about.  [This, by the way, was another one of those confirming moments for me, where I realized that development work may not be my calling but listening to people and giving them some degree of guidance might be more my speed.]  So, in both conversations, one of the realizations I had was that when we’re faced with the trite question, “Who Am I?” we force ourselves to find answers to that.  We never just stop, sit back and let that question be a question.  We have to fill  that void with something and constantly be prepared to provide a very concise answer.  Who am I?  I am a hipster.  I am a goth kid.  I am a Republican.  I am a Democrat.  I am an American.  I am this music, not that music.  I am the North Face with Adidas sandals.  You get the point.

Okay, but this isn’t solely a critique of labels.  The point, rather, is that we never let ourselves just chew on that question – who am I  – and be comfortable without having an answer.  Why is that?  Why are we so afraid of uncertainty, even to the point that many of us would rather be something we don’t fully understand or like rather than simply… being.  Just be.  See, I already want to go buy Nike now.  What the heck?  But just being, simply being, was the best advice I had to offer my friends, and I think in time, we grow into who we want to be, and it’s often far more complex than any labels could give it justice, and that’s okay.  We’re human beings.  We don’t have to be easily understood or have simple answers to who we are, and if we did, we’d be much simpler creatures and not the top of the food chain.  Who am I?  Lately, I’ve been my grandfather’s grandson, but who I am is ever-forming and changing, and letting that shape and move and grow is extremely difficult but necessary.  Lest I be trapped in some label I can’t escape.

But all those complexities of our identity aside, and I think who we are as a human race is actually a bit of a paradox between what makes us complex and what makes us simple.  We are love.  That’s what I believe.  And yet, there’s so much more to it than that, now isn’t there?

Disconnected.

About a month before I left for Morocco, I deactivated my Facebook account “temporarily.”  At the time, I didn’t know that I would be able to check my email or get online from time-to-time, and the last thing I wanted was to log into Facebook and see on my wall that five people had just bought vegetables in “Farmville” or if I clicked a link, I might find out who my secret online crush is or whatever.  I mean, really, I don’t care that your imaginary internet crop got flooded, and I don’t really understand why you do either.  And if you have a crush on me, please tell me but not through some obscure website ad.  So, not being able to police all the spam that shows up, I figured it was best to just close it down and that I would reactivate it one day.

Now that I do have access to regular internet, I’m not really sure what I want to do.  On the one hand, reactivating Facebook is obviously advantageous, primarily because it allows me to keep up with Peace Corps Volunteers who are on the other side of the country.  There are other ways to get a hold of them, yes, but there’s just something convenient and easy about letting Facebook be the “communication hub” of sorts, especially when it’s just what everyone uses.  On top of that, because Facebook has become this monopolized hub for communicating, there are some people who I’d like to keep in touch with, and I’m not sure we could stay in touch any other way.  For a while, I thought the people who really cared about me would make the effort to stay in touch and many have, but I’m slowly realizing such an expectation might not be fair; maybe the power of technology has brought us to a place where we just expect this magical thing we call the internet to be available for everyone, and we take it so for granted because we’re completely enveloped in it.

But that’s messed up, right?  We can’t write letters, send emails, afford phone calls, use skype, visit the people we love etc., largely because our generation has been socialized into needing and relying on this monster of a website that somehow figured out how to hand us on a silver platter everything we wanted in communicating.  Or rather, everything we thought we wanted.  And when we thought we didn’t want it (like changes to Facebook), a little time smoothed things over, and suddenly, we were okay with completely losing our privacy, as well.  Come to think of it, that’s the real genius of Facebook: that we were convinced to like something we didn’t actually like because of the seeming necessity of it.  I mean, you have to hand it to Mark Zuckerberg whether you like him or not; he figured out how to feed our selfish nature and give us something that would suck us into believing we were “connected” to one another in some special way, when in reality, the exact opposite has taken place because of the advent of this technology.  Some of us have forgotten what real connection is supposed to be for us, and we feed more on information and gossip than on reality, than on human interaction.  In an instant, we can now find out who is dating who, who believes what religiously and politically, where our friends were last night or where they are right now for that matter, who does and doesn’t have “morals,” who might be cheating on who, etc.  We’re overwhelmed with information that means absolutely nothing.  And in the end, while we might have all the details down about the people we know (or don’t know), there is no replacement for real, human contact or for what we really discover about people when we walk and talk with them face-to-face, heart-to-heart rather than behind a magical little screen that serves more as a mirror than a window into the world.

Maybe I’m picking too much on Facebook.  It’s not the only fascinating and complex social plague eating at our souls, but technology is now and has always been since the dawn of human existence something that we want, need, and shouldn’t have all wrapped up in one little device.  We forever have a love/hate relationship with it, and quite frankly, all my complaints about Facebook aside, I couldn’t be more thankful for these forms of communicating, especially when I think of my grandfather in Casablanca who relied entirely on the Army Air Post Office to communicate with my grandmother (then just his girlfriend) during World War II.  I mean, let’s be honest; who would’ve thought that some guy in a Peace Corps developing country would have regular internet access, but that kind of technology has become more precious than water.  Literally.  There are places here in Morocco where there is no access to public waterworks but because of the power of 3G, checking an email can happen with ease.

Still, even with the cyber cafe to my occasional rescue and as wonderful as this technology is, nothing replaces sitting in an empty room on blankets or small couches with my brothers Hamza and Omar as they lean into me to read whatever Arabic note card I’ve made desperately trying to accomplish the difficult task of perfecting the simplest form of communication, speech.  Nothing beats the laughter that echoes off the cold, concrete walls of this empty room in the middle of a desert town in Africa when someone cracks a simple joke about the fact that the word for “soup” and the word for “poop” are incredibly similar (“I love to drink poop” just has a silly ring to it, doesn’t it?).  Nothing can compare with seventeen year-old Omar insisting that I have a blanket to stay warm, because he worries I will catch cold, or when he wants to hear my American music so he can get up and dance to it over a good laugh.  No technology can make up for the communal cup of water that sits in the middle of the table, for the warm, mint tea you can’t escape as Moroccans insist on sharing, or even for the way we eat food here, the four, five, or six of us dipping our bread into one plate as we each whisper, “Bismillah,” in the name of God.

It’s the simple stuff, a smile, a laugh, a touch that I might have thought was awkward back home, a quiet peace to just sitting around listening to the dozen or so children playing jump rope or soccer in the street.  I don’t know whether I will reactivate Facebook or not.  Maybe so in January.  But I will never again in my life sacrifice these simple things that I have come to cherish about Morocco, about humanity, for a computer screen that’s telling me I’m now “connected” to the world.  No, real connection is something else, is something beautiful, is something worth thanking God.

Hamdullah.

Friendship, Fate, and Responsibility

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 previous 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 (also mentioned in a previous post) 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.