Sunday, February 15, 2009

To absent friends

Last Tuesday as we were eating dinner, Evangeline told me that she does not want to move away from Nova Bastille.

There are no plans to move, but she was not to be put lightly aside. She does not want to leave. She has a school here, she has friends here, and it is, after all, the only home she knows. It soon became evident that she's concerned that we'll have to move because neither I nor her mother is having much luck finding full-time work here in Iowa. The economy is in the tank, and while it doesn't seem to be falling faster, she's concerned we may have to relocate to find a job.

Moving's rough, especially when you're a kid. It's not just the disruption to your life, it's having to start all over. It's having no one, because you've lost all your friends.

Like her father, Evangeline is not a person to make friends at the drop of a hat. She judges people carefully before she commits, and when she decides someone is a friend, she locks onto them for good. Evangeline feels friendship deeply. Losing a friend means having a piece of your heart torn away, and feeling your life flow out that hole every day.

I was reminded recently of this when I came across my friend Erzsébet on Facebook. She and I met in 1993, when she came to Haiti on a short-term missions trip with STEM Ministries.  We bonded quickly. She and another team member joined me and another of the resident missionaries for card games in the evening on our grilled porch, we hung out and talked on the roof of the missions base while parts of the city electric grid turned on and off, and we talked around some of the troubled dynamics that sprang up between the team and the resident missionaries. (I also tormented her ruthlessly with a large plastic tarantula my brother had sent me, at every chance I got.)

In Haiti, we relied on a private service to bring us our mail.  Letters were a godsend, a reminder that people back home still thought about us from time to time and cared enough to let us know. Maybe two weeks after she had returned to the States, Erzsébet surprised me with a long, hand-written letter, beginning a relationship that was to last for five years. We continued writing back and forth, and when I returned to the United States, we switched to e-mail and to weekly phone conversations that could run for hours.

I'm fairly certain that Erzsébet's mom, who had been on the missions trip with her daughter, had high hopes for our relationship. Those hopes never came to fruition. Shortly after I got married in 1998, Erzsébet and I lost touch. I tried calling her about two years ago, but the phone number I had was no good, and I couldn't find a new one.

I have thought of her plenty the past 10 years, if not every day then certainly every week, at times with a soul-ache that is numbing in its intensity. We were close enough, I think, that if we were to connect again, especially in person, things would slide back into place and the years, like this too, too sullied flesh, would melt and resolve themselves into a dew.

I've told Evangeline that when we love someone, whether a friend or a family member, we remove a piece of our soul and give it to them to care for, to remember us, and to stay connected with us. I saw Erzsébet's profile recently on Facebook, and I stared at her picture in wonder, recalling some of the conversations we had shared and the letters we had written and read. I could feel my soul crying out for its missing piece, and I wondered if hers ever feels that same longing.

Sometimes that ache overwhelms me because of the number of friends I've lost track of. There is Brian VanWyhe, the English teacher I worked with at Cradle of Life Christian School, who became my closest friend in Haiti; and Dan Kramer, another close friend who joined STEM the same time I did and whose wedding I foolishly did not attend.

There are other people, including some who live right here in the Bastilles, whom we lost track of after our old church disintegrated. I wonder how we can bear to give our hearts to our friends, when we value friendship so lightly that we let it go over a paltry argument, a failed church, or even over nothing at all.

Evangeline is fearful of losing friends if we have to move, though neither her mother nor I have said we are actively considering such a course of action. That is the edge of a razor I would do anything to spare her, but I know that ultimately she will feel it one day, and it will cut her deeply.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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