Genuine friendship is a shared space; or perhaps it is more accurate to call it a shared life. Each friendship has a life of its own—born from the union of friends—with a spirit forged by this union, and a body composed of the elements which each willingly gives to the other. Friendship germinates in the soil of commonality, with sacrifice as its sustenance, and love as the breath of life which animates it. Dedication, perseverance and forgiveness are true friendship’s nurture.
Amelia and Josh gave Richard acceptance. The world saw Richard as an uncomfortable problem; he was, to most people, something broken to be discarded. His value was hidden from view, too deep to be seen, and too quiet to be heard. But to Amelia and Josh, he would become an inspiration, and a revelation; because they gave him the attention he needed.
After several lunches together it became clear that Richard had very little to eat, so Amelia began to bring lunch for him. One lunchtime, quite near the end of the school year, the three friends were eating together in their usual place, on the benches near the back of the main building, under the shelter of a large sycamore tree. Richard was eating a peanut butter sandwich as he sat just beyond the reach of the tree’s branches. He was exposed to the sky above, and, unfortunately, to the open second-story windows of the nearby building. Suddenly, something fell from one of the windows and struck him on his back, exploding onto the ground behind him, while simultaneously someone up there yelled: “Look out!” and then laughter rang out. It was no accident.
Amelia was horrified and leapt up, screaming at the open windows, “Screw you! Assholes! Cowards! What is wrong with you?!” She then turned to help clean up the mess from Richard’s back. It was a disgusting concoction—milk, or milkshake? Probably, and mixed with soda pop? Smelled like it. Along with something else that smelled hideously. Better not to think too hard about what that might have been. Josh also helped to clean Richard up, and he was deeply saddened by the whole event, but what made it infinitely more pathetic were the sobs emanating from Richard’s contorted face. He was almost too difficult to watch in this moment, his pain and suffering reaching such a high pitch, over such a stupid and demeaning occurrence.
After they got Richard reasonably cleaned up and consoled, the three sat for a while in silence. Amelia was fuming and incredulous at what had occurred; and Josh was accepting of it, but saddened nonetheless, but he was also engrossed by the waves, and variety, of feelings passing within him. He observed rage, and then shame—and humiliation—vengeance and then despair within himself. And yet, none of these feelings were him, he was just an observer of them as they rose and fell, appeared and then vanished. Only if he chose to hold one long enough could they be claimed by him—and then possibly be called his own—but to what end, he wondered, “and if I choose to ignore these entirely and focus on something completely apart, who’s to stop me, and what compels me to anger, or sorrow, or any other feeling I might have, if I am free, and not a slave to these things? Or have I become a slave to these things?”
As Josh considered these things, something surprising and remarkable happened. In place of the utter anguish of moments before, Richard now carried an enormous smile upon his face. He was looking down at the cup, which had been thrown at him, as it lay on the ground between his feet. The toe of his twisted right foot was partially inside the cup and he kicked at it gently, and then giggled. Amelia and Josh looked at each other with surprise and expectant pleasure, anticipating something unusual and good was about to transpire. They watched Richard pick the cup up, and then stand and walk over to a nearby drinking fountain. He cleaned the cup and then filled it with water, returned and sat on the bench.
Amelia was worried he might start drinking from it, “Richard, that had something gross in it, don’t drink from it. It’s not good for you.”
He smiled, but continued what he was doing. He looked up into the sycamore tree, searching for something, and then pulled a little knife out of his pocket. He made three incisions in the paper cup, near the bottom, and then held the cup up towards the tree. He then hummed deeply. A moment later Josh felt something vibrate past him, and barely a second later something also hummed past Amelia. The cup was draining water from the three incisions; three little streams cascading to the ground. Richard had a joyful and serene look on his face as he watched two hummingbirds drink from the falling water.
“This is exactly it,” Josh thought to himself. “Exactly what I was getting at, choices and freedom in how we react. Richard isn’t a slave.” Amelia also considered what she was seeing. “He took something horrible and made it beautiful. He forgave those idiots so quickly and he forgot about them.”
The little birds flew away, and back again several times, refreshing themselves in the water that was streaming from the cup which Richard held. For Amelia, this moment was about forgiveness—Richard, the birds, the play of shadow, and the cast of light through the tree branches, her own thrill at seeing all of this, and the lightness she felt from the making of something joyful out of something sorrowful. For Josh, the moment was an embodiment of freedom—a living illustration of the spirit of true life, this life as it moved through Richard, unobstructed, and he, able to relate with all of creation immediately and without thought or inhibition. It was as if Richard had blown his mind; Josh was awestruck by the implications of this, and what it could mean for his own future. If he could learn to live so responsive to the moments of creation, purely aware of the needs and possibilities of each one, and if he could have the courage to meet each with his whole being—then he could live the life he felt was possible: a life of beauty and of relative perfection.
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