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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reverb10, Day 16: Another year of gentle nudges

Prompt: Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

The author of this prompt is Martha Mihalick:
Editor at Harper Collins


I have a friend back on Prince Edward Island named Alanna. It is interesting that she is the first person who comes to mind when I think of friends who have changed me or my perspective on the world this past year because I had been living five minutes away from her for the last six years in Canada, and for most of the last year, we have been living 3,636 miles apart.

Alanna has been a good friend for many years now. We have taught children's classes together; studied the Baha'i spiritual scriptures; worked with the youth in our community; taught English as a second language; organized community events; traveled; attended summer schools; gone to workshops, and even served on our local Baha'i administrative body together. We have gotten to know each other by serving our religious community side by side, which enabled us to learn how to collaborate, consult, butt heads on and off, and make peace again. When I was craving Taiwanese food at Interlude Cafe; when I was craving sushi at Monsoon, or felt like a good chat over a delicious mochaccino or hot apple juice at Leonhard's Cafe; when I felt like a long walk on the beach with a friend, it was often Alanna that I would call. As a result of working together so closely on so many different kinds of projects, we have come to know each other's weaknesses and strengths, we challenge each other to see things from new perspectives, and to remain lighthearted.

When I came up with the idea of driving across this continent this past year, it was Alanna, and only Alanna, who said that doing a solo road trip across the continent in February sounded like an awesome idea. When I asked: "what if I get to the west coast and the pieces are not coming together?" it was Alanna who said "so you come back to the Island -- it will be an amazing adventure no matter what happens at the other end." Interestingly, it was also Alanna who encouraged me to apply to go on pilgrimage six years ago when I could not see how I was going to afford to go on pilgrimage to Israel. She had assured me that even though I could not see how the pieces would come together back when I applied, that when it was time, everything would fall into place. She was right, of course, and my pilgrimage this past spring was an amazing experience to end my journey across the continent with.

Since arriving in California, I have struggled with a lot of things. Finding work. Living with my parents again until I get myself re-established, after so many years of living alone. Breaking into a new social circle. Missing the farm and farming. Trying to figure out who I am as a Baha'i in a completely different community. Adjusting to the west-coast culture. Selling my car, and learning how to get around a much larger city without a vehicle. The list goes on. Through all of this, one person who has remained a constant and dependable friend has been Alanna. She has called, or I have called her, every two weeks pretty much since I arrived. We share updates on our lives, and we talk about service -- how we are serving our communities. Challenges in our service activities that we need help with. Our dreams and goals in life. Family. We also pray together. Yes, you heard me right. We pray for things that the other person is struggling with. I prayed for her mother when she passed away this past spring. Or her son and his new wife this summer when they got married. She has been saying the same prayer for me for many, many months: that I find my path in life. That it be made blatantly, undeniably clear where I am supposed to go from here, how I am supposed to get there, and when I am supposed to leave! Sharing prayers over the phone enables us to continue strengthening the part of our friendship that is strongest -- our spiritual relationship. When we share prayers, the large geographic distance disappears. It is as though we are sitting next to each other in the same room.

Another thing that Alanna and I share a lot of is laughter. A lot of laughter. That is something about having a friendship with Alanna, that even when we are talking about the most mundane thing, we somehow manage to end up filling the phone lines with laughter. We laugh at ourselves, mostly -- at our ridiculous ways of handling situations. At situations where we made fools of ourselves. At our stubbornness. At our own blindness in situations where the solution was quite obvious, if we had been able to get out of our own way. The laughter is great. I always hang up the phone feeling deeply happy and grateful.

There have been no sudden bursts of personal change as a result of knowing Alanna. They have all been gradual and subtle, so that it is hard to pinpoint exactly how her friendship has had an impact on my life, but I am going to risk a few guesses. Alanna is a friend who recognizes how important my faith, and opportunities to serve humanity, are to me. By reflecting back at me the type of person I am when I am putting my faith and my service activities first and foremost in my life, and what I am like when I am overly consumed with my own personal needs and wants, she has enabled me to see that I like who I am best when I am serving humanity. This has reinforced in me a pattern of life that includes lots of time for service. It may well have happened without Alanna's friendship, but I think that knowing her has definitely encouraged me down a positive path of action.

Another thing that has changed as a result of knowing Alanna is my ability to nurture and encourage my friends and family. I am, by nature, an affectionate, nurturing person, so the inclination was already there, but spending time with someone who has such deep compassion for other people, and who is always loving to everyone equally, no matter who they are, or what they are struggling with, has definitely helped me to become more compassionate and loving myself.

A third thing that knowing Alanna had helped me to get better at is always seeing the good in other people. The Baha'i teachings say that if a person has nine bad qualities and one good quality, we should focus on the one good quality, and ignore the other nine. In theory this is a great teaching, but in reality it is very challenging to implement in every day life. Alanna has a great way of dealing with hearing people criticize other people. She looks the person in the eye and asks "but does he/she have white teeth?" Abdu'l-Baha tells a story about Christ coming across a dead dog that is rotting in the street, and smells terrible. Christ disregards the rotting flesh, and points out that its teeth are pure white. I notice the white teeth story comes to me quite often these days -- and I think it is from hearing it so much for the last six years. (Further details about this story can be found here: http://bahai-library.com/uhj/sin-covering.gaze.html)

Another thing that I have learned from Alanna is that decisions can be reversed, and risks can lead to amazing learning experiences that I would not have had if I had not been willing to overcome my own fears and extend myself out beyond my own comfort zone.
I am still changing, and seeing new perspectives, and Alanna is still walking by my side, learning and growing with me. We are very different people, leading very different lives, but our friendship continues to enrich my life, to challenge me to strive to become a better person every day, to laugh at myself when I slip up, and to dust myself off when I do fall, and try again.

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