October 21 – Having Honest Friends – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“If you tell me you already understand, I feel a little pessimistic. If you say you do not understand, I feel more optimistic.” Thich Nhat Hanh

This Vietnamese monk, so renowned for his insight, helps us remember that no one can live up to their image of themselves. We can only live out our questions.

I have learned from both sides—from being the one with all the answers and from being the one with all the questions—that there is no real bond with others until we share the evidence of who we are and not just our conclusions. It’s taken a long time, but I finally get it. I cannot have both truth and love in my life until I speak from the “I” and stop putting all my pain into “you,” until I own all my stumbling and stop projecting my misfortunes on to everyone nearby.

I have a friend. His name is Alan. We have known each other for twenty-nine  years, across eighteen states, and through storms we swore would never let up. We held each other when marriages failed, through accidents and cancers.We held each other up when our grandmothers died.

I have seen him in the rain where words can’t reach him. I have even seen the rain that is his alone. And here, now, because we’ve dared to open our small windows to each other, because we’ve broken down in front of each other with fragments of what we thought was truth, we have the privilege of asking again, as if for the first time,“Who are you?”

I look at him, after all these years, without protection, and I say, “I want to know you. Whatever you have with held, whatever I have not been able to hear, let us sit in the clearing and understand each other like old birds whose wings are used now more to huddle than to fly.”

Having an honest friend—one before whom you can dump all your heart’s pockets and still feel that you are worth something—is a form of wealth that will buy you nothing but will give you everything. And mysteriously and rightly, to find such a friend, we must be such a friend.

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