Monday, August 06, 2007

Faith, Courage and Joy

We have all met someone who seems to suck the joy out of everything they go near, someone who always sees the negative instead of the positive. They find no joy in life. They tire themselves as well as those they interact with. I am sure they don’t want to be like that; they just don’t know any other way to react to life. Parents who never play with their children, never teach them to see the wonders of nature, the order in our universe, the blessings in their own lives, often have such a negative effect on their children.

If we were lucky, we had "big friends" who did this for us if our parents did not. My parent did not!! But I had my grandparents, my public school teacher and a wonderful neighbor lady who taught me so much about faith and courage. She lived those beliefs and taught by example.

She was an artist and in her middle years when she came into my life. She had cancer and her time here was limited. She ostensibly needed someone to do some small chores for her and to fetch and carry for an hour or two after school each day. I was 14 or 15 at the time and lost in a world I did not really understand. Looking back, I know that she saw this and gave me the wonderful gifts that I so badly needed, courage, faith, joy, and the ability to see the wonder that is our world. I was very interested in art, but in a rural area where the whole first eight grades fit into a one-room schoolhouse, opportunities were rare. I did not even know what it meant to really SEE. I was blind to the wonders that she taught me to see, the beauty in all of nature, the wonder in a nest of new-hatched spiders, the joy in a bird song.

I found myself being taught how to create with paint and brushes and to not be deterred by not being able to afford the materials I had always thought were necessary. That particular lesson resulted in a mural on the outside of the hen house, done in house paints. I still smile when I think of it. I also still look for a way around, over or under any obstacles that come into my path. She taught me to have faith, both in my ability to circumvent obstacles, and in the Creator’s willingness to provide guidance when I asked for it.

She lived her life as if each day may be the last. She praised publicly and criticized (very gently) in private. Her courage was an inspiration, getting up every morning and taking all that the day had to offer. She never complained. She never lost her faith that the events in life happen for a reason, and that we must accept the bad with the good and learn from both. She saw wonder in each day, and shared it with me.

She was not in my life for very long, but she had an effect on me that has lasted a lifetime.

It saddens me that I never thanked those people who gave me so much when I needed it most, but I believe that what we share with children lasts them a lifetime.

With her permission, I am sharing here a letter that a little friend of mine wrote for me a couple of years ago. She came into my life at the age of five, and she is now over thirty with a husband and child of her own.

Big Friend / Little Friend

When I was five, my mother took me to visit a big lady who lived in a big house with her big husband and a big dog.

The lady had neat toys and lots of fun kids movies and her big dog was friendly, not scary.

The big lady talked to me like I was a real person, not just a kid. She had kind eyes and a warm laugh and from that day on she became my Big Friend.

Over the years, as I was growing up, my Big Friend taught me lots of thing. The first thing I learned was not to knock something until I’ve tried it. The second lesson was to never be afraid of trying new things. To this day, I like olives on my pizza and fried green tomatoes.

When I entered my terrible teens, and I hated everyone, even myself, my Big Friend understood when I stopped coming to visit. She never pressured me or made me feel guilty. She just said “I’d love to see you when you have more time.” and I knew she’d be there when I was ready.

The time came when I realized that life didn’t have to be as hard as I made it out to be and I went to visit my Big Friend once again. She welcomed me with a big hug and her wonderful warm smile and it was like no time had passed.

In fact, my visits with my Big Friend became like time spent in a Time Warp. Her little corner of the world seemed outside of Time. Things going on in the rest of the world had little effect in the Time Warp. This was a place to rest and rejuvenate. Even just hours spent in the Time Warp was enough to recharge my batteries.

Slowly, subtly, at a pace I unknowingly set myself, my Big Friend began to teach me once more. By now the lessons were more complex, yet at the same time, so simple.

“Always reach out to someone in need” was such an easy concept. My Big Friend expanded on that by adding “Always walk your path with one hand stretched out ahead of you to receive help when you need it, and the other hand reaching backwards to help those struggling behind you.” Simple, basic, profound.

When I was struggling with religious issues, I came to my Big Friend for advice. “We are all following our own path, and all paths lead up the same mountain, converging to meet at the same place, the top” My Big Friend has a way of drawing pictures in my mind to help me understand the answers to my questions.

As most of us eventually do, I met the person who I plan to spend at least the rest of my life with, and I began to bring him along on my visits. My Big Friend extended the same kindness and understanding to him as she always did to me.

The day came when my Big Friend decided it was time to teach me about the birds and the bees. I was in my twenties and had been with my Significant Other for several years. I knew all abut the birds and the bees, but this was to be, as usual, a different kind of talk.

The birds in question were my pets. By caring for them together, my partner and I would learn more about each other and ourselves, in a way similar to parents raising a child. The bees were not the winged variety, but those people whom we meet every day, some of whom will sting us, usually out of fear. By learning to see the fear, and choosing words and actions that would not feed it, I could soon learn to avoid many stings altogether.

My Big Friend surprised me one day by telling me she generally didn’t like kids. “But I was a kid and you liked me… didn’t you?” I asked. She informed me with a smile, that I was the exception that proved the rule. I was her Little Friend, which was something much more special than just a kid.

I could hardly believe it when my Big Friend told me that she got as much out of having a Little Friend as I did from having a Big Friend. I’m still working on understanding that one, but she assures me that one day, I will understand, so I know I will.

Recently it dawned on me that my Big Friend had stopped being my Big Friend long ago. Somewhere along the way, I had mentally dropped the “Big” and kept the most important part, “Friend”.

Jennifer Mertel

When she sent this to me, the accompanying letter stated that the enclosed is a “work in progress. I have a feeling that it will never be finished, because the more time we spend together, the more I will want to add.”

As I read it, with the tears streaming down my face and a big warm glow in my heart, I wished with all my heart that everyone could experience the joy that having a Little Friend has brought to my life.


jim said...

Profound, beyond words, and yet your words, and those of your friend, move far past the profound, to the very foundation of LIFE, love, in the most human of ways.

Yes, oh yes, I cried too, with pleasure and gratefulness.

Zareba said...

Thank you for your comment, Jim. I am so glad you understood what it all means to me.