Friendship: Forged in the Fire


“I’ll always remember you like a child, girl,” is one of my favorite lines from Cat Stevens’s surreal song “Wild World.” This sentimental expression drips rich with immortality, strumming the deepest chord in our lyrical soul. But why?

Before I answer this question, I’d like to briefly bring attention to what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “I’ll remember you like a friend” or “I’ll remember you like a lover” because that would be somewhat redundant; we typically don’t use the phrase “remember you” when we’re talking to someone who isn’t close to us. The quote links the verb (“remember”) to the object of the preposition (“child”). But what does Stevens mean by “child”? The child the girl once was or a child, universally speaking?

Given the context, I favor the former interpretation, comparing the girl to the memory he has of her when she was young like a naked and pure essential element or force of nature, such as a sublime sunset or an exotic waterfall, or like a majestic image burned in his mind, such as the world bowing to her feet as she walks through it or the world as her playground as she plays in a state of ecstasy forever. (This is a drastic dichotomy to the world she inhabits now, a “wild world” Stevens warns her about when he says, “You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do and it’s breakin’ my heart in two because I never wanna see you sad girl.”)

I admit that I’m almost convinced that this is the way life ought to be. But I purposefully left out a word in the italicized phrase, the word “friend,” in order to set up a comparison. I believe love forged in friendship makes everything better, even in paradise. Thus, we should say rather “she plays with friends in a state of ecstasy forever.”

Friends feed the inherent desire in every single one of us to be seen and heard and remembered. And that makes us feel immovable and immortal as if the universe itself came alive to witness a miracle. And nothing we say or do will ever be forgotten. (This hints at the foreshadowing of a personal relationship with the ultimate Being—immovable and immortal—who is closer to us than a brother and who created us to know Him and to be known by Him.) But what if this convivial concept of friendship escapes us?

I was at church last Sunday, while the pastor was speaking on the benefits of an idyllic friendship, and instead of being encouraged and feeling understood, and thus known, I felt the most alone I’ve ever felt in my life. I deeply longed for the things he was saying, and it pained me to know there’s a version of love in the world—mortal to mortal—I’m missing out on. I’m not speaking of the envy caused by social media, although, that can be a “trigger.” It goes deeper than that. Anyone who’s had a friendship go pear-shaped by, say, betrayal knows what it means to be abandoned and thus to feel alone. In the hauntingly beautiful words of American filmmaker Tim Burton, he declares, “If you’ve ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you. You can be happy or successful or whatever, but that thing still stays within you.”

This indelible “feeling of loneliness” is precisely what a true friend starts scrubbing from our embittered soul when s/he learns to speak our “love language” with either an act of service, a word of encouragement, physical touch, quality time, or even a gift. But what if s/he gets tired of “scrubbing” and abandons us like the rest of our “trusted allies” in the battle against abandonment? What does this say about me? Or more disturbingly what does this say about the (dilapidated) social-moral structure of the universe, which points back to its Grand Architect? This makes me think about a brutally honest conversation (on the verge of heresy in danger of falling from a great precipice to the sin of nothingness) St. Teresa of Ávila once had with God, commenting upon personal suffering: “If this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!” Shamefully, this vitriolic attack at the Almighty resonated with me. Then I was reminded of the real and raw betrayal of God, Himself, qua human by humans.

He was no stranger to abandonment, suffering, and shame. He was no porcelain throne deity. No. “Just as we are, yet without sin, He was tempted in all things, sympathizing and empathizing with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15, my translation). His friendship with the world was forged in the fire, a purified bond of love made sacred via freewill and forgiveness. So maybe, just maybe, God remembers me like a child and I can trust I’m never alone.


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Category: Art, Beauty, Nature, Poetry, Suffering

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