Finding our second self

    “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit,” Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said.

    The 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer never mentioned who that “another human being” but he must referring to a friend. After all, a friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.

    I have three friends whom I considered my best and closest. All of them, however, are now living abroad. I met my first friend when I was in elementary; he is now pastoring a church in Denmark. The second one, whom became a friend of mine when I was in high school, is now having his own business in Canada. I came to know my third friend when he came for training at the center where I work; he is now back in the United States.

    “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born,” wrote Anais Nin in her diary. “What is a friend?” philosopher Aristotle asked. “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

    Just recently, I met my fourth friend. I never thought he would be the friend I am looking for. He is much younger than me but he has all the qualities of what a real friend is. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Wisdom of the Sands (translated from French by Stuart Gilbert) puts it: “The friend within the man is that part of him which belongs to you and opens to you a door which never, perhaps, is opened to another. Such a friend is true, and all he says is true; and he loves you even if he hates you in other mansions of his heart.”

    Yes, each of us long for a friend. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” Thomas Jefferson reiterated, “But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.”

    A true friend, according to Arnold Glasow, “never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” Elizabeth Foley contends, “The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”

    There are many kinds of friends. But a kind of friend you really appreciate is someone who cares for you. The words of Henri Nouwen came flashing to my mind: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.

    The man who spent his life helping people respond to the universal “yearning for love, unity, and communion that doesn’t go away” further wrote: “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 curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

    At one time, a teacher asked his students to portray a friend through words. Here’s one that caught the attention of everyone: “I can’t give solutions to all of life’s problems, doubts, or fears. But I can listen to you, and together we can seek answers. I can’t change your past with all its heartache and pain, nor the future with its untold stories. But I can be there now when you need me to care.

    “I can’t keep your feet from stumbling. I can only offer my hand that you may grasp it and not fall. Your joys, triumphs, successes, and happiness are not mine; yet I can share in your laughter and joy. Your decisions in life are not mine to make, nor to judge; I can only support you, encourage you, and help you when you ask.

    “I can’t give you boundaries which I have determined for you, but I can give you the room to change, room to grow, room to be yourself. I can’t keep your heart from breaking and hurting, but I can cry with you and help you pick up the pieces and put them back in place. I can’t tell you who you are. I can only love you and be your friend.”

    If you find a friend, consider him or her a treasure. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds: “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”

    More than trust, a friend is someone who will also die for you. Horror gripped the heart of the World War I soldier, as he saw his life-long friend fall in battle. Caught in a trench with continuous gunfire whizzing over his head, the soldier asked his lieutenant if he might go out into the “No Man’s Land” between the trenches to bring his fallen comrade back.

    “You can go,” said the lieutenant, “but I don’t think it will be worth it. Your friend is probably dead and you may throw your own life away.” But the lieutenant’s words didn’t matter, and the soldier went anyway. Miraculously he managed to reach his friend, hoist him onto his shoulder, and bring him back to their company’s trench.

    As the two of them tumbled in together to the bottom of the trench, the officer checked the wounded soldier and then looked kindly at his friend. “I told you it wouldn’t be worth it,” he said. “Your friend is dead, and you are mortally wounded.”

    “It was worth it, though, sir,” the soldier said. “What do you mean by ‘worth it’?” responded the lieutenant. “Your friend is dead!”

    “Yes sir,” the soldier answered. “But it was worth it because when I got to him, he was still alive, and I had the satisfaction of hearing him say, ‘I knew you’d come.’”

    Many a times in life, whether a thing is worth doing or not really depends on how you look at it. Take up all your courage and do something your heart tells you to do so that you may not regret not doing it later in life.

    “In my friend,” Isabel Norton points out, “I find a second self.”


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