We waited nervously outside the school. My son carried a backpack that dwarfed his 4 year old body. Actually, I was the nervous one. As a stay-at-home dad, I struggled with letting my son enter a new world without me. As time ticked away, we realized that something was wrong. Instead of throngs of families saying goodbye to their pre-k children, only one other family shared our space. After comparing letters with the other family, we decided to enter the building and seek out information. Turns out we were somehow sent the wrong information and the first day of class was not until the following week. Dejected, our two families went outside to commiserate.
Outside the school, our two sons talked and played. They sat close together on the steps and chatted as if they had known each other their whole lives. All four years of them. In that moment, two families instantly came together and forged a friendship. Now, those boys are 13 years old and still the best of friends. When they found themselves in different classes one year, they learned to time their lunch lines perfectly so they could sit back-to-back in the lunch room and talk about their day and their lives. Though they now attend different schools, when they are together, time melts away and I see two four year olds sitting together.
Some might find it surprising that these two children, and our families, are so close. After all, my son’s best friend is Muslim and we are Christian. And they don’t hide or minimize that fact. The two boys share their faiths with each other without judgment or reservation. It is intrinsic to each of them, but it doesn’t serve as a barrier to loving each other. And through their friendship, our families have grown close as we’ve welcomed each other into our homes, shared meals and celebrations, and broken fasts together.
Their friendship gives me hope. My son will grow up knowing that all Muslims are not terrorists and my son’s friend will grow up knowing that not all Christians are bigots or close-minded.
As Syrian refugees pour into communities around the world, the friendship between my son and his friend can be an example of the possibilities. The possibility of not just tolerating differences, but actually celebrating them and learning from them. The possibility of being bigger and better than our fears, and having our lives enriched as a result.
These two boys that have grown up together, they recognize that they have different beliefs, but it so doesn’t matter. What matters to them is… each other.
Adults have been screwing this up for years, but maybe our children can get it right.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“And he said to him, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
“If I can change. And you can change. Then everybody can change.” Rocky