Comforting Words: My Rainy Day Friends

Sunday, June 19, 2005

My Rainy Day Friends

As I walked in my first ever Gay Pride Parade on Saturday, June 18, 2005, it was hard for me not to think about friendship.

Here I was, walking behind the banner of Southminster-Steinhauer United Church with mostly heterosexual men and women, many of who society consider senior citizens. It was pouring rain and very cold but these beautiful people had made a commitment that they would be among those Church representatives who could not in good conscience support continued discrimination of this segment of the population.

Stepping beside them, I felt good to have them in my corner, these people who were not simply talking about love, equality and justice – but willing to walk it, literally and figuratively, at the risk of their personal safety and security. They consider themselves friends of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer community.

Their ‘bravery’ caused me to think about that word – friend. Actually, it is a word that I have been questioning the real meaning of in the recent past. Yes, as we moved house recently, I missed my friends in Jamaica as I knew whether the mover had turned up or not they would have been with us from the outset, helping with the packing and the lifting.

That is how we were – friendship was more than a word that people used to describe people who they were not sleeping with. Friendship had deeper significance in those relationships – much the same as the senior men and women who ‘walked’ their friendship with the LGBTQ community of Edmonton for Pride 2005.

With these thoughts in mind, allow me to share a bit with you about “My Rainy Day Friends” both old and new and the lessons they have taught me about honesty, faithfulness and truth through the Words of Scripture, the Words of Comfort and the Words from the Heart.

WORDS FROM SCRIPTURE

From African Traditional Religions:

Nupe Proverb (Nigeria)
“The dog says, ‘If you fall down, and I fall down, the play will be enjoyable.”

Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
“Offend me and I will question you – this is the medicine for friendship.”

From Buddhism:

Digha Nikaya iii.187, Sigalovada Sutta
“The friend who always seeks his benefit,
The friend whose words are other than his deeds,
The friend who flatters just to make you pleased,
The friend who keeps you company in wrong,
These four the wise regard as enemies:
Shun them from afar as paths of danger.

The friend who is a helper all the time,
The friend in happiness and sorrow both,
The friend who gives advice that’s always good,
The friend who has full sympathy with you,
These four the wise see as good-hearted friends
And with devotion cherish such as these
As does a mother cherish her own child.”

(Quotes taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, 183 – 185)

WORDS OF COMFORT

One of my Ontario readers of Comforting Words and one of the many persons that I have been communicating with on line, through Yahoo Messenger, gave me an insight recently. We were talking about relationships and the screening methods that people use to give them ‘run room’.

Not having dated in almost fifteen years, it was a revelation to learn that when someone responds to the question “What are you looking for?” with “Just Friends,” what it really means is that he/she is covering their derriere.

Through that conversation, I learnt that what such a response does is to ensure that there is an “out” or an excuse in the event the person does not live up to the expectations. “Sorry baby, I told you I was just looking for friends, duh!” My Ontario dating advisor told me that this is normally the case in the blind-dating situations, particularly in chat rooms and other internet meeting places. It could however happen in any scenario.

While I thank my reader for bringing me up to speed, call me naïve but what I gathered from this is that to use the word “friend” in situations like this is really to be devious.

There is no real interest in forming a relationship but rather, it is an opportunity to check out whether someone is worth a second date or worse yet, if you want to sleep with this person. “Friend” does not mean someone who you have a relationship, a bond with but rather, is someone who is “not dateable”, nor “sleepable with.”

My Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, wonderful person and concerned as she is about her students’ development, has been trying very hard to get me to understand and fully embrace the principle of non-judgement. Most days I do. However, as C., my Ontario reader, gave me this bit of insight it was hard for me not to judge this attitude as despicable and dishonest.

Actually, it was not the first time this concept was presented to me as someone else had also told me that being friends meant not getting intimately involved in each other’s lives. Maybe I was not “on the ball” as I am now, after seven weeks of intense self-awareness exercises that my Supervisor has had me doing.

Or maybe it has something to do with being with a woman dying of cancer, sitting by her bed in the hospital and listening to her telling me that her strength and life-nurturing support comes from – guess who? Her circle of friends, the circle of women-friends that visits her, pray with her, takes care of her ‘business’ and her family while she is in the hospital.

Each day on my rounds throughout the hospital I hear the same story, from different perspectives and with varying elements. Nevertheless, it is the tearful story of how friends (or the lack of them) have had such a profound impact on people’s lives.

With tears in my own eyes, I listen as people recount the story of their lives and the friends who walked the journey with them and continue to hold them steady in this the weakest time of their lives. I also hear stories about the friends that are missed; the ones who the dying person wants to tell good-bye before they take their last breath.

Reflecting on this and on my own friendships, I found that the key ingredient in the ones that have withstood the test of time are those which has the four elements (and more) that the Buddhist Sutta mentioned:
The friend who is a helper all the time,
The friend in happiness and sorrow both,
The friend who gives advice that’s always good,
The friend who has full sympathy with you.

Of my old friendships I can think of D.Z. who has celebrated and held me throughout every up and down in my life. My life of earnest praying and meditation has never been more intense than at the time when she was diagnosed with a serious retina problem and we thought she would lose her sight.

This would have been a fatal blow for her – being the celebrated photographer that she is. Through my relationship with D.Z., I came to the full understanding of what is meant by “when two or more are gathered, God is among you,” as we have prayed together for healing of every nature.

Then there is D.S. Two people more alike than she and I you will never find. Her life story parallels mine in many ways. We have had our share of disagreements, fuss and even points when we had to walk away from each other.

However, no distance could keep us apart when I was at my worst emotionally and needed someone to lean on. D.S. was there to meet me and to go with me to the darkest of my valleys. She took the trip not because she had to but because she wanted to be there for me, and she was there to ensure I could find my way back. D.S. went one step further, she kept my journey a secret until I was ready to reveal it.

Scientific and practical as she is, with little time for more than an occasional Sunday morning visit to church, A.A. left her practice in New Jersey as a medical doctor for a weekend to travel with me to Alabama.

I was on my way to a workshop, “Dancing With Your Darkside” and, although she was uninterested in doing any such thing (and thought I was crazy to be) she met me in Atlanta, rented a car and drove us to Alabama.

When I asked her why, her response was, “I’m not letting you with your Jamaican black-a.. travel alone to Alabama, waving to people who might string you up!” A.A. would come to my ‘rescue’ and protection on many more occasions.

She arrived in Edmonton last year within a few days of learning that my daughter was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease. Medically, she could do nothing but emotionally she was there to support Juds and I.

A.A. has been there for me in many different ways, ways in which others might think only a lover should do – but if you should ask her why, she would tell you, “Claudy is my friend.”

It is not my intention to give the impression that my truest friends are all women, but my most intimate relationships and intense friendships have been with women. Now living in Canada, there are two new friends that are having such an impact on my life and I have mentioned them here before.

A., and yes, B. Both these women are older than I am and both have created the space and made the time to let me into their lives and to enter mine. They have required nothing from me but my heart and it has been my pleasure to give it to them.

A strange thing happens when you are so open to your friends, a few weeks after you are asked to go with her for her mammography you get to do a ‘dress rehearsal’. Yes, A. I have to do one next week – will you come with me?

The point here folks is, as I wrote about last time, until we are able to be vulnerable to love and in that vulnerability, as the Yoruba Proverb states, be willing to be offended, you will never experience true friendship. My relationships have in fact taught me that we have to fall down with our friends and rise with them for it to be a true friendship. Friends celebrate and march with you and they help you bear the pain of a medical condition.

So, next time you visit a chat room or are introduced to a potential date and they tell you that they are looking to be “Just Friends,” make sure you are on the same page.

It is not always necessary to learn the hard way, once you understand that there are friends, then there are Friends and there are FRIENDS. I have chosen the last, full caps – nothing less will do.

WORDS FROM THE HEART

The following proverb on “Friendship, False and True,” is from the Book of Sirach, Chapter 6, verse 5 – 16

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.
Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand.
When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily.
For there are friends who are such when it suits them, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
And there are friends who change into enemies, and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.
And there are friends who sit at your table, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
When you are prosperous, they become your second self, and lord it over your servants; but if you are brought low, they turn against you, and hide themselves from you.
Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends.
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine.


Call or write to your faithful friends today and if you need to talk, you can meet me on line at Yahoo Messenger, my id is thecomforter.

Blessings, until next week.

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