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Oh, brother.

This friend I had — I don’t make friends easy. We met at the bus-stop I pass on the way to the gym. It took a year or so of amicable passing nods before we got to talking. And then … his thick Scottish accent … my tongue-tying social anxiety … it took a further while to piece together much of a rapport. But he was patient and, unlike so many, keen to see the best in me. Besides, we found ourselves on the firmest of common grounds. Soon our early morning chats were a routine feature of my rigid routine.

I’d walk up first thing from my nice warm bed to go workout-away all the mental and physical hindrances between me and the forthcoming day. And he’d have been there some time already — the first stop of the day after quietly easing away from whichever half-sheltered corner he’d managed to stake for himself in the night. The thing with bus-stops is that "waiting" and "hanging around" are fairly indistinguishable activities — at least until the full roster of routes has arrived and departed — and they can’t really tell you you can’t, really, can they?

In the early days I think I liked to think that I was sort of helping him, or something. I’d take some rudimentary breakfast items … perhaps some batteries when his radio ran low … a new mouth organ, once, when his went astray. But in the grand scheme that was laughably by-the-by. We’d meet, and then he’d wander with me from the bus-stop to the gym — regaling me with army stories, and the odd blast of Elvis, or an old hymn or two, on said mouth organ. He’d ask after my family, and how bad my bad foot was, and what I was researching (at which I’d flounder to describe my work in terms accessible to someone so comprehensively "air-gapped" that the requirement for information security must've seemed abstract to the extreme).

We’d pray together, usually; perhaps one of us would remind the other of some Bible bit we found encouraging. Then we’d part at the gym door, he heading back to his morning haunt with a cheerful exhortation not to over-do it for my foot's sake (had I only met him sooner!)

This went on for some time — a year at least, I think. Until we fell out of touch: both creatures of habit, our habits tweaked and we happened not to see each other for a few weeks. Which turned into months. Now a couple of years, and I don't even know if he is still in the city, or even alive. I regret not doing more to track him down when we first drifted apart. I regret feeling partially relieved, at the time, to have had the burden of social interaction eased in a reclusive season. (A reaction of mine by no means personal to him; few fledgling friendships have survived my 'seasons'). I regret not running after him the one time since I thought I spied him from afar — my foot was up to it, by then, but my head and heart did not work fast enough to find the words and will while I had the chance.

He was … well, he wasn't perfect. He got angry when confused (ha, yeah, he and me both, hey). He was probably being less than truthful when he asked for money and reassured me he wouldn't spend it on drink (as probably was I, when reassuring him I'd exercise responsibly). He sometimes made decisions that didn't exactly seem to help his less-than-ideal circumstances (hmm). But he was my brother. He spoke truth and encouragement into my life. He bore with me and forgave me when I frequently let him down (I hope he would forgive me now). He found stuff to like about me, and made the considerable effort required to try to understand me. I learned more from him about fellowship, following Jesus, trusting entirely in God, than in a century's quarter of church-going up to that point.

Jesus' "blessings and woes" refuse to parse so neatly metaphorical, these days —
And he [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets." 
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:20-26)

[Thumbnail image cc from Jay Phagan on Flickr]