June 16 was Aunt Madiana’s birthday and my birthday’s eve. I decided to worship at Star Baptist Church, after more than three years of not going. Growing up, I made the choice to join Mama’s church, a choice that was meant to keep me close to her every Sunday and help me carve some time for dad’s usual Sunday study class.
On that fateful Sunday, I planned to give Aunt Madiana a birthday hug, eat some food at her house and ride with the family to the Church. But arrived at the church an hour before regualr service. As confusing as this sounds, I had the opportunity to attend Sunday School after many years and decided to act on it. Sunday School was good, except that it brought a strong wave of nostalgic feelings. It had been quite a long time since I last attended, everyone has grown. Some friends have married, bore children and even graduated from college.
I hate nostalgia because it gets me emotional. It brings tears, shyness and internal condemnation. It puts me in an uncomfortable position of comparing myself with childhood friends. But worst of it all, I dislike people telling me “I have grown.” They say it as if oblivious to that fact that time that has passed. “Why you say you growing tall like this for?” one of my mom’s friends once told me and frankly, you wouldn’t want to know what I wanted to say in response.
So, it was the second Sunday of the month and the Associate Pastor would be the one saying “thus saith the Lord.” My uncle, Rev. Kiawu, is the Associate Pastor. I met Rev. Kiawu right after Sunday School and as we smiled in greeting, I reached out to him for a handshake. “What brought you here today?” he asked and I gave him my usual shy smile in response. “Well, welcome,” he said and we parted.
Rev. Kiawu has earned my admiration for his eloquence and thought-provoking sermons. “What would he preach on today?”, I wondered. Since today is his wife’s birthday, it would be a duet, I realized. She would sing and he would preach. But, it turns out my aunt was not in Church, yet I felt her presence through Mitchell, one of her youngest choristers. Mitchell led the way for what would be a sermon to remember. Leading the choir was not only a great feat, but the way she sang the song gave me teary eyes. Touching. Golden voice. Guilt.
Rev. Kiawu, dressed in a gray coat suit ascended the pulpit and delivered a sermon he themed “The Marks of a True Friend”. I may not remember his scriptural reference but I will never forget the three pillars he outlined:
1. A true friend will enter your experience;
2. A true friend is willing to endure;
3. A true friend will not be envious of your elevation.
I sat there in the congregation, feeling nostalgic, being moved by the breathtaking singing of the choir, listening to a thought-provoking, eloquent sermon, thinking about my life, and hoping I would have a peaceful birthday. You could tell I was very emotional.
Of the three pillars Rev. Kiawu preached about, the first struck a core, “a true friend will enter your experience”. This sounded like a line from one of my poems. Did my uncle read any of them? I am not sure, but he sounded like me, in my usual lonely journey of meditation. I had gone through a lot this year. I lost my relationship, some of my friends and at some point, I lost myself. Depression found his way into my life and stole my sense of belonging.
If there is something I struggle with in life, it is how I measure friendship. I am a human who is a big believer of the “entering my experience” concept.
The world is a difficult place to have true friends. Only few people care about how you feel and are willing to enter in your experience: to feel your pain, live your dreams and help you find the real you. Everyone expects you to be fine all the time. If you do not do the regular things you tend to do, they would rather judge you than help you. “You don’t call me,” “You don’t have my time,” “You are so annoying,” “You have changed”. Is it a difficult task to go beyond the surface?
My philosophy is simple, and I am sure many people share it with me: if you cannot accept my flaws, you do not accept me. You must first try to understand the whys of my actions and inactions, as I would try to do the same for you.
Something happened the other day, I was in office after 6:00 PM and our Executive Director walked in for a usual late evening conversation. Stressed with what had happened that morning, I was waiting for the rain to stop to go home. And when it did, I switched the light off in my office without giving my boss an excuse. That was rude, right? But he didn’t chastise me, he made a joke of it and we went out together. Later, we had a discussion about Trevor Noah’s comedy and he reminded me of how we need each other to overcome our battles. This is a clear example of what true friendship is. My boss had a lot of options on his table. He had the choice to scorn me, rebuke my attitude or engage me in a friendly manner. He decided to be friendly and entered into my experience that very moment. Unlike some friends, he placed himself in my shoes without judging my current state or the outcome of my decision.
We do not need to be super humans to have humanity.
Authored by Elvis Brown
Featured Picture by Medium