I recently stopped over in Nairobi, Kenya to visit a dear friend. I arrived in the middle of the night, travel-weary, and quickly dropped off to sleep before we could exchange much more than a long hug. The next morning, I woke up to her jumping into my bed. Before I had even sat up or put on my glasses, we had already dissected the public school system in the U.S. and discussed quality improvement initiatives that would benefit posterity.
This one doesn’t toe-in. She jumps all the way in with everyone, everywhere. She’s the one I wrote about in one of my most viewed blog posts The Painful Process of Authentic Compassion. She has suffered much and she loves much. Our friendship embodies one of my favorite quotes by Richard Rohr: “There is nothing to prove and nothing to protect. I am who I am and it’s enough.”
When you find people like this in your life, you have to grab them tightly and never let them go. They are the ones to whom there is no need to make disclaimers, excuses or pretenses. Consequently, conversing is efficient, productive, contemplative, and satisfying. Something that would take you 1 hour to explain to someone you’re not as comfortable with comes out in 10 minutes with the knowing and known soul.
In three short days, we had lived more life than we’d lived all year. We crashed a Kenyan wedding in a game park and twirled and thrilled and celebrated the couple’s love. We drove through the dark night on a old dirt road, ignoring roadside police as they tried to wave us over, desperate to get further out, further in. We laid outside for hours under the stars at our campsite on Lake Naivasha, bundled up in thick sweaters and blankets, listening to the nocturnal wildlife all around us. We woke at dawn to go on a bird-watching boat tour. We saw giraffes.
We hiked 9 miles down a treacherous gorge and came out near Pride Rock just in time to get stuck in a tremendous rain storm thundering through the savannah. We had to hike quickly up the side of the ridge to avoid the floods in the valley.
By the end, we were covered in blisters, scratches, and bruises. Our muscles ached. Our throats were dry. We were bone-soaked and freezing. Our bellies were growling. We were very much alive and had to keep taking off our shoes because of the holy ground all around.
That night, after we were clean and dry, we stretched out by the fire, shared a bottle of wine and filled the air with our laughter and weeping. We were exhausted, but energized. We were among strangers, but completely known. We had gone into the depths, figuratively and literally, and we had come out with a new song.
The heights and depths we had experienced since we last saw each other had carved out new chords, some major and some minor, still blending in perfect harmony. Our lyrics had changed, but our timbre remained the same. Our tempos vacillated – at times adagio, others allegro — yet we found the moments when our rhythms came together in a perfect meter.
The song of the saints.