I learned some troubling news last night. An old friend from grade school passed away yesterday. We weren’t best friends or anything, but we got along very well. She had a smart alec attitude that I enjoyed and learned from (being we were only friends from 7 til 14 years old). We didn’t hang out every day. We didn’t call each other outside of school. We didn’t pair off during recess to go play or any of those other things that you might expect. We didn’t do those things because we didn’t need to. We were friends with most everyone in our school. We didn’t have the rivalries that I think is usual with girls (I know there were some, but I personally only had one imagined rivalry with one girl, and for me it was more of the spirit of competition that a true rivalry…but that’s another story entirely).
There are a few details about this friend and the rest of my friends that make it a big deal now in my mind because I see how important our relationships were in my life. My life during my first ten years was not an easy one. It was a constant emotional roller coaster at home and very unstable. My family tried to live a normal life, but my mother felt like she needed to have a man in the home for security. (My father had left when I was a year old) She struggled with working and paying the bills while me and my brothers were at home with our own version of “Alice” (reference The Brady Bunch).Mrs. Willard was her name, and while she didn’t live with us, she did help tidy the house and babysit me and my brothers (me mostly).
I didn’t realize it then the way I do now, but my elementary friends helped me be stable and actually have a decent childhood outside of my home. Half of those friends were “black”. I’m not a fan of the terms black, white, nigger, honky, cracker, spic, etc. They are used to describe a person’s appearance but there’s an underlying connotation to each one of them whether we admit it or not. My and all my friends knew we were different colors, but it really didn’t matter. At least not to me. I knew I loved the color of their skin and wished I was darker too. In the summers, I would go play at the pool and eventually get about as dark as some of my friends.
There were certain rules I had to abide by but didn’t acknowledge them consciously. I never invited one of my darker friends over to spend the night I don’t think. It’s not that I didn’t want any of them to, I just don’t think my mother would have allowed it (after all, what would the neighbors say? Our life at home was tumultuous enough to have a racial controversy surrounding us too). It was different at school because I could talk to whomever I chose and after school, if I was participating in sports, I could hang out with everybody and not feel any pressure.
All of my friends in grade school made me feel important. They talked to me, picked on me, had fun with me, confided in me and just showed me that they all enjoyed my company. We didn’t look at our colors, our race, our home lives, our finances, or any of those things that seem to define us as we get older. They supported me in my mental and emotional development and I hope I did the same for them. We didn’t realize it then, not like I am realizing it now, but in those days, all of those friends were the most important in my life. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for everyone in my childhood who played with me, spent time with me and made me feel like I was of value.
When I found out my friend died I felt heartbroken. We were friends on Facebook, but I had never really taken the time to reach out and say a personal and heartfelt “hello”. I have turned into one of the millions of self-centered narcissists who only look to promote themselves simply by avoiding that kind of interaction that is so important. Now, I will never get to acknowledge to her how much her friendship affected me, even though it seemed to be an insignificant friendship at the time. She was “black” (actually a dark tan with some freckles), taller than me, thin and full of attitude. She threatened to thump me more than once and I probably deserved it! She had a beautiful smile (big teeth if I remember correctly).
I know that if I had reached out to her in the last year, I would have found out that she had been having some serious health problems including cancer and a stroke. I would have been able to listen to her talk about how her life had been leading up that point. I would have learned about her son who she was trying to raise into a successful young man. I would have gotten to hear her “attitude” in her voice and probably gotten thumped just for old times’ sake. I might have been able to encourage her heart just by being there. I will never know. Not with her. But I now see that every person crosses my path for a reason and if I don’t take the initiative to interact and see how I can encourage them, I will be defying what my God has instructed me to do.
James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Let’s get to work.