The Opposite of Learning to Let Go


I spent the last few days of 2014 in New Orleans with Kathy and Valerie – two of my old college roommates who've seen the worst of me but still kept me around. We ate oysters and listened to jazz music and tried to go easy on the beignets by eating only half and taking the rest to-go. We ended up splitting one more beignet and then splitting just one more and then we emptied the to-go bag and ate the rest of the beignets.
It’s Kathy’s birthday today, which marks nearly five and a half years of friendship [edit: this was originally posted on 9/20/15]. It’s hard to say when friendships begin. I wonder if it’s possible to pinpoint a specific moment in time – when conversations over lunch shift from being the core of a friendship to being just an element of a larger experience.
But maybe there aren’t specific moments. Maybe it takes nothing more than increasing proximity or gradual realization of affinity or just an accumulation of shared cups of coffee. I guess for me and Kathy it had a lot do with the fact that we shared a dorm and shared a need to try and figure out what it means to be human.
When Kathy and I first met she was a five foot eight giant, astonishingly beautiful, and questionably vegan. She’s still tall and beautiful, but not a vegan anymore.
Kathy and I are similar in a lot of ways – hugs make us uncomfortable and we don’t hear our alarms in the morning. We also have a tendency to fall asleep before we can turn off the lights.
But in a lot of ways we are really different.  She’s really strong, Kathy is. I’ve seen the world try to tear her down, but she still stands tall as ever. I’m not strong, I never have been. And whenever I was not being strong, she would sit beside me on those cold winter nights on the vent outside our dorm and just let me be sad.
The morning my grandpa had passed away after a couple weeks of being in the hospital with a coma, I lay in bed, unable to tell anyone that he had finally let go. I remember Kathy asking me to join her on her knees to pray for my grandpa. We both knelt on the floor and I began to sob hysterically, barely able to explain that it was too late. She sat with me and listened and prayed – staying strong when I could not.
At the elementary school we both used to teach at, the kids were always so fascinated that Miss Ju was my roommate. They would always ask me, “Who would win in a fight, you or Miss Ju?” And I would answer, “Me, of course.”
There’s one girl who loved to hug people around the waist and pick them up. She said to me, “I did this to Miss Ju once but I was scared I would break her because she’s so frail.” I laughed so hard when she said that.
But I never got to tell her the truth about Miss Ju. I didn’t tell her that what she didn’t know was that behind Miss Ju’s dainty exterior is a girl strong enough to know she stands on the foundation of unmerited grace, and nothing can shake her.
Kathy’s the one who taught me to pay attention.
She taught me to pay attention to the people that go unnoticed, to see the image of God in those that others look past. Anyone can see the people around them if they try hard enough, but it takes a special person to notice the man who walks quietly into the rain to watch the drops fall to the earth, while everyone else is busy trying to stay dry.

I don’t know if there’s a word that means the opposite of learning to let go, but if there was, that’s how I would describe friendship. An elusively indefinable, yet surprisingly tenacious word that conjures up images ofhuddling together in the cold, eating frozen hot Cheetos, driving down an Austin road in the rain, and trying to find the harmony and melody of a tune that only we know.