In 1612, Mumtaz Muhal, a teenage girl, married the fifteen year old Shah Jahan who was the ruler of the Mughal Empire in India. They had a beautiful marriage that included fourteen children. Jahan’s wife died after seventeen years of marriage. The emperor, in his grief, decided to create a monument in his wife’s memory. It took nearly twenty years, 20,000 workers and 1000 elephants to construct the Taj Mahal. It was built of white marble and decorated lavishly in turquoise and colored marble. The exterior was created by using semi-precious stones. It was quite an extravagant avenue to prove loyalty.
Loyalty, however, to be proven does not need to be so grandiose. Actually, sometimes it is the simplest of gestures that can carry one a long, long way. Showing others that they are valued is the crux of human integrity. It is where our conscience overrides selfishness and hearts are touched because of it. Our friendships are the equity line that can be drawn upon to balance our lives and strengthen our spirits.
The author and spiritualist, Henri J.M. Nowen profoundly said, “Every human being has a great, yet often unknown gift– to care, to be compassionate, to become present to the other, to listen, to hear, and to receive. If that gift would be set free and made available, miracles could take place.”
I had an outdoor book signing in Blowing Rock. A couple came by my table to purchase a book. We visited for awhile and I learned that they had been married for many years and all their children were in college. The man went inside the shop to purchase the book and left me to visit awhile longer with his wife. When he came out, he poignantly said, “You need to thank me. I just left you alone with the nicest person I know.” I watched them as they walked contentedly away holding hands. His beautiful words were rooted in the core essence of true love. It far outweighed the Taj Mahal.
If we allow it, we all have opportunities in varying capacities to develop friendships throughout our lives as we interact as students, church members, neighbors and on and on… By fortunate fate, I happened to land on the hall my freshman year at Meredith College with a great group of new friends—a connection beyond words. Our incredible camaraderie and devotion to each other has spanned many years. And why not? We essentially watched each other grow up, as we camped out in each other’s rooms until late in the night—sharing, caring, laughing, crying, bonding and nurturing.
We serve as each other’s charity of choice. We are like a giant bowl of Brunswick stew where all the ingredients are different, but necessary for unique richness and flavor—a palatable combination with a mix of just the right personalities. We know each other so well that sometimes just a look will suffice as acknowledgment and understanding. We’re always on the precipice of bursting into laughter—the whoop-it-up, cheekbone hurting, unable to catch your breath, endorphin-releasing kind of laughter that extends our lives. After graduation, we have continued to linger on the same hall in our minds for the past several decades. We have been there for each other throughout life’s celebrations– wedding joy and the births of our kids. We have, also, been there during the sad upheavals of divorces and loss of loved ones.
The loyalty and devotion aspect of our friendship was ever-so-clear to me the night of my sister’s unexpected death. My Meredith College friends drove in from all over the state to spend the night with me. The presence of my cherished Statesville friends made it all the more beautiful. It became a “pajama party of love,” as they sat beside me while I began the first step towards healing. It was a night I will treasure for eternity that far surpassed the semi-precious stones of the Taj Mahal.
In his book Out of Solitude, Nouwen said, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness. That is a friend who cares.”
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