Note: This is a true story, but I have changed the names to protect the privacy of those described.
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing... that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen
It is never a good idea to allow our first impression of someone to be the final one. My mother always told me not to judge a book by its cover in reference to people! But we still do. We observe people in social settings and form conclusions about their character that are simply erroneous.
Rachel and Mary’s children attended the same private school. It is a fairly small college preparatory school, so they often bumped into each other. Pleasantries were always exchanged. They would briefly chat about their children, and then go on with their day. Rachel somehow concluded that Mary was a little uppity.
She never considered the possibility of them becoming good friends. Little did she know that she would soon recant her assessment of Mary’s character?
I suppose it was Mary who initiated their first time to get together for lunch or a coffee. They became fast friends. I have an amusing image in my mind of Rachel driving home after her first opportunity to spend time in meaningful conversation with Mary. Her tail must have been tucked in shame. She had just learned that her new friend did not have an uppity bone in her body.
Their friendship flourished. They enjoyed lengthy conversations over lunch and time together at school functions. Both of them soon grew to value the joy of new found friendship. Rachel’s initial take on Mary’s character became a joke between them. And then life changed suddenly and drastically for both of them.
Rachel was diagnosed with cancer. How could a young woman with children still in school be diagnosed with a life threatening illness? I don’t know, but it happened. What I do know is that from that point on true friendship also “happened.” Mary served Rachel and her family in everyway possible.
As the disease took its toll on Rachel’s young body, the level of Mary’s care intensified. She took care of her every need. She did the tasks that are reasonably pleasant, and she fulfilled acts of service that are not so pleasant. She never left Rachel’s side.
The two women formed an indescribable bond. In fact these same two women who were only exchanging pleasantries with each other a few months earlier found themselves in a place of profound closeness with each other. Rachel discovered that her new friend possessed a capacity to care like no other friend she had ever known. To borrow the language of the late Henri Nouwen: she discovered a friend who could be silent with her in a moment of despair or confusion, who could stay with her in an hour of grief and bereavement, who could tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing... she discovered a friend who cared.
Rachel passed away May 27, 2011. One year ago today…I live over 900 miles from Mary, but I am grieving with her today. And I can’t help but think that today would be a good day to allow my mother’s words ring true in my head about judging the cover of books. I too want to be a friend that cares…who can be silent in a moment of despair, or confusion, who can stay with my friends in an hour of grief or bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not healing, and not curing…