For many, the importance of positive, nurturing relationships only becomes apparent during a crisis. I have been blessed throughout my life with the most amazing relationships, and I’ve not only been alert to that during crises.
Those relationships include my wife and children; my birth family, parents and siblings; my huge extended family some of whom I might see every day or only once a decade; tjommies (buddies) I grew up with playing street soccer and sitting on the kerb talking long after it was too dark to see a ball; the hapless fellow to whom I turned for solace – when the girl I was interested in at a party spurned my interest – and who became my best friend, best man, best brother; school & ‘varsity mates around the world who shared academic hardships, challenging discourse and hectic socialising; colleagues and professional associates; strangers met on a bus or train and for whom it didn’t seem odd that the conversation would go beyond the last stop; and so many others forged from a common (or not so common) interest.
Friendship – and the love that flows from it – is not only borne of commonality, or because you’re part of a mutual admiration society with someone. Relationships can be forged despite – and, perhaps, because of – difference, of any and every kind. I learnt the positive value of difference in my youth at a time in our country when white nationalists and capitalists – and others who shared the spoils of apartheid – could only use racial difference as a legal weapon to oppress black people. Even then, despite legal impediments, experiencing diversity in the country and the world in all its challenging glory was one of the best gifts life gave me. It’s been a wonderful journey that has included being married to my beloved, friend and life partner; enjoying and loving the exquisite differences – and yet similarities – between two children cut of exactly the same cloth; bringing together my various friends who might never otherwise have been exposed to one another.
I am a Christian and have many friends who identify as Christian – perhaps even one too many church ministers! But there are also as many who identify with another faith or do not espouse any belief in any idea of god, capital letter or not, mono- or polytheistic. Over the years we’ve been able to have the most amazing connections, even on issues of religion or the anti-religion. That’s been the absolute beauty of many relationships.
Six years ago, I decided to return to ‘varsity to study and about the same time, started working in the Daily Dispatch newsroom. Both encounters brought me directly into everyday contact with people more than half my age. Those relationships have been among the most rewarding I have ever had, teaching me, challenging me and including me, of course with much ribbing about my ‘old school, ole toppie’ ways around technology and other, more important issues if you work for a media company – like whether it’s okay to download, illegally, music and videos. (For the record, I only post versions of music previously acquired legally and paid for.) It gave me a fresh appreciation of how we build trust between each other and showed me again – long before #FeesMustFall – that younger people are very capable of leading the rest of us (of course, I knew that in my own youth but seemed to have forgotten it somewhere along the journey of life).
Don’t get me wrong, there are many in my daily encounters (including family members and colleagues) whom I have rubbed up the wrong way – and a bunch of people I happily do not interact with simply because of their offensive personality traits, or a hurtful past encounter (not necessarily simply with me, although there are associates I have written off; but it includes paedophiles, rapists and others, even politicians, who do immensely harmful things for which they are not willing to account). I don’t want them as among those I call loved ones – they know it, so there’s little unfinished business there on my side.
But, there are infinitely more with whom I have shared the joys and weathered the storms of life, to build meaningful and significant relationships, and to grow me over all these years.
The song I’m posting (it’s an oldie but still hugely relevant) in conjunction with this written post is by Michael W. and Debbie Smith, who wrote it when a couple, close friends, were moving to another city. The song has some strong Christian elements but it also has universal non-religious resonance.
It’s for all whom I count as my FRIENDS. I absolutely appreciate each one, whether in a good season of life or a life-threatening crisis as I have come through.