As we give of ourselves to develop relationships and make others feel loved, we create friends on earth that enrich our days.
A few months ago, Emily-Jane was traveling in Italy, riding the bus back to her lodging with her friend, when a man in front of them overheard them talking and turned around and said, surprised, “You speak French?”
They answered that they did: both had served missions in France, but were just visiting Italy for a few days after having spent several months in Senegal and Morocco on a study abroad.
The man said that he was actually from Senegal, and then asked, “Do you remember me from earlier today?”
Emily-Jane thought back through her day.
“I was the security guard in that clothing store,” he said.
For the next few minutes, Emily-Jane shared with him some of her experiences from her trip in Senegal, and the man was touched that she had cared enough to learn about his culture.
As they stepped off the bus, the man, Moussa, made sure that they would be able to find their way back home. Then he said, “Tomorrow, come back to the store. I want to show you something.”
The next day, their new friend Moussa showed them his favorite place to get gelato, and then he introduced them to his Italian pizza shop owner friend who treated them to lunch.
As the unlikely group of an Italian, a Senegalese, a Briton, and an American sat together, Moussa expressed his appreciation that Emily-Jane had taken the time to talk to a stranger like him, and told her,
“People like you need to exist in this world. You need to continue to do what you’re doing.”
As Emily-Jane related this experience to me recently, she said, “Before, I would have been the person to say, ‘Don’t trust that stranger’, but if I hadn’t cared enough to talk to him, I would have never made that amazing memory… Opening yourself up to other people changes you.”
As she told me this, my memory was brought to a hymn we sing each Thanksgiving:
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild
Indeed, the greatest joy we have in this life is the opportunity to express and receive human love. As we give of ourselves to develop relationships and make others feel loved, we create “friends on earth” that “enrich our days” (see Hymns, #293).
On another trip, Emily-Jane and her brother were walking through the streets of the Caribbean island St. Kitts when they came across a group of men who were sitting on the walkway in front of their home. They struck up a friendly conversation and the group shared a little about their lives. Before she and her brother left, they took a beautiful photo as a token of a friendship that, even if not ever rekindled in this earthly life, will certainly be rekindled in the next.
Yes, these men will forever be her “friends on earth” and her “friends above”.
Emily-Jane recounted these stories to me with a certain glimmer in her eye. I was shivering on that cold afternoon as we sat outside and talked, but she sat up straight and didn’t seem to mind the weather. At the end of our interview, after pausing a second to collect her thoughts, she said,
“Taking the time to actually care about someone can change everything.”
I thought back to my recent trip to Boise when I went to visit my friend Daniel. Although I enjoyed seeing my old friend after months of being apart, the highlight of that weekend was talking with an older lady at the table next to us in a restaurant. I can still remember our conversation with her: she was working at the Walmart in Meridian, and she had recently moved to Boise from California to be with her sister.
Although I’ll probably never see that woman again in this mortal life, the “joy of human love” that I felt for her as we talked still makes my heart swell.
We have been placed on this earth to reach out and help each other. There are so many figurative “fainting, struggling seaman” who wallow in loneliness and languish in search for an outstretched hand. As brothers and sisters in a great eternal family, it is our duty to reach out to our siblings, setting aside all fear and apprehension, and lift each other up.
Emily-Jane said, “If we could learn everything by ourselves, we wouldn’t be here with other people. There’s a reason we were all put here together.”
For us to be able to serve each other, we have to be aware of the needs around us. Frequently we are distracted by the electronics that surround us that we fail to be truly present in the present moment.
I sat in a meeting at work a few weeks ago where our coordinator was reminding the new employees in our department to check their email daily, even if they didn’t work that day, just in case someone had tried to contact them about a project.
As the coordinator said this, a voice spoke up from the corner of the conference room and said,
“Just be careful about how often you’re on your email. When you’re not at work, you shouldn’t be at work.”
That voice was my coworker, Emily-Jane, who truly understands the importance of being present to those around her.
As we cross paths with the hundreds of God’s children that we meet every day, let us be prayerful about our interactions so that we can be ready to help those whom the Lord prompts us to help. Many times, we’ll never realize the effect that we’ve had in others’ lives when we share a smile or a kind word. Instead, the recompense for those “gentle thoughts and mild” will be realized when we finally meet our friends above.
C.S. Lewis said:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which… you would be strongly tempted to worship…
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities… that we should conduct all our dealings with one another…
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
That the “joy of human love” may engulf us—for without charity we are nothing—is my deepest prayer for each of you, my friends.