A Reflection on Friendship

Li Deng · Tuesday, 13 September 2011

This article was originally published in the Winter ’05 issue of Revisions, Is there a Place for Christ in the Classroom?

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! –Ecclesiastes 4:9–10

I was brushing my teeth today when out of the blue, I thought of an old best friend I used to have in third grade. Her name was Cassie, short for Cassandra, but I can’t remember her last name anymore. She had wavy blonde hair and freckles, and our teacher’s name was Mrs. Ng. I remember we hated each other and used to fight all the time until one day, Mrs. Ng made us apologize and make peace. I don’t know how it happened, but from that day on, we were best friends. Perhaps in our mutual humiliation, we decided it wasn’t worth it anymore to quarrel, and so, we stopped, and discovered that we rather liked each other. Anyway, we were inseparable, the best of best friends.

But then I moved, as I did every year, for every year of elementary school. I saw her once afterwards with her family at Vons. She had a bigger sister and a younger sister, and they all had blonde wavy hair and freckles just like their mom who was very tall. I don’t know where her father was. After that, I never saw her anymore.

That girl meant a lot to me. She was my best friend, which meant that she belonged to me in a way that she didn’t belong to any of the other girls. We always paired up to play kickball, and when it was just the two of us we played handball or tetherball together. We were always on the same team if we could help it. We told each other all our secrets.

Actually, the reason I thought of her was that I remembered Seth asking Linda once in Sunday school who her best friend was. Linda’s face took on that expression she has when she’s slightly offended by something unreasonable, and she said with an uncomfortable smile, “I don’t really have one.” Except Seth was grinning mischievously when he asked, “Are you sure?” And after an awkward pause when we all wondered what Linda was going to say, we realized what Seth was getting at, and we all laughed, including Linda who looked relieved.

Best friendships are very special. And they’re usually better when it’s just two people, I think, because there’s a sense of being especially special to just one other person. That’s how it was with Cassie and me. We always stuck with each other against the other kids who were mean to us. We defended each other, we saved each other seats at lunch, we accompanied each other to the bathroom, we trusted each other. We were inseparable, practically one and the same, and everyone knew that messing with one of us meant messing with the other one too. There’s a reason why children get jealous over other people’s best friends.

But then, we grow older. We move away, we stop seeing each other, and soon, best friends fade into the place where people only have first names or first initials, a certain color of hair, perhaps a hint of red sweater fuzz. We move on. We look for new ways to be special to someone, to have someone special. I guess that’s why teenagers are so infatuated with relationships, and older people as well.

The answer to Seth’s question should have been obvious from the start. He was, after all, not the inconsiderate type who would put you on the spot about something so touchy as best friends, even though we were all in high school and mature about such things. No, the answer to Seth’s question should have been obvious. But for some reason, we all held our breaths, and glanced around at people’s faces. People.

We always see people first. We see people first who are visible. And Jesus is not visible, at least not yet, not here in this world. It’s strange to think how you can have a best friend who went from heaven to hell and back just to be your best friend. And it’s even stranger to think that you share this best friend with millions of people you’ve never met, and your best friend is just as good to them as he is to you, but you’re still especially special to him. That would never have made sense to me ten years ago. And yet, when the question arises, “Who’s your best friend?” we forget the only possible answer. We look around at all the best friends of our best friend, and we forget the invisible One in our center.

I’ve been thinking lately of how much people have come to mean to me. Little things like badly aimed high-​​fives and awkward three person hugs and a trip down Nassau Street are pockets of pleasure in the midst of chaotic days. And yet, dear as they are to me, these friends of mine, they too are visible people. One day, they’ll grow up all over again and move away; return perhaps, perhaps not. We move on, as we always do, nomads on this alien earth. But this best Friend we all share, this Jesus we cannot see, He stays for longer than the winds of time do blow. He goes where I must venture and defends me against my enemies. He carries the burden of my secrets, shares my highest joys. He saves my seat at an everlasting table.

Sometimes I wonder where Cassie is right now, what she looks like, if she remembers me. I hope I’ll find her one day and introduce her to my best Friend, my invisible One, the Best of best friends who will never leave her like I did.

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