How Do You Spell?

I have called you friends. ~ John 15:15

While waiting in the Durango airport terminal for the plane to arrive carrying Wang and his wife Lily, I wondered what our reunion would be like. We had not seen each other in over twenty years. Would we shake hands, share an awkward hug? Would there be uncomfortable moments of silence while we searched for words to speak? Wang and I had talked on the phone very little over the years, but I remembered he called once to let me know his oldest son, Tzong-Tzong would be attending graduate school in Nashville. “Can my son call you if he needs anything? He will be a stranger in the United States.” “Yes,” I said. “Anything for an old friend.” For the most part though, we disappeared from each other’s lives except in our dusty memories.

While waiting for the plane, I remembered laying on my bed in Jarrett Hall one hot evening at the beginning of my sophomore year at West Texas State. My window fan was stirring the humid air and I had a Dallas Cowboys preseason game on my little TV which sat on top of my room fridge. My door was open, and I heard a light tap on it. “May come in?” I heard a soft voice say in broken English.

I looked up and saw a small, young Asian man in pajamas and sandals, holding a bath towel and a toiletry bag. I had no idea exactly where he was from. He walked into my room, bowed towards me, said thank you, and sat down cross-legged in front of the television. “Do you want a chair?” I asked. “This good,” he said.

He intently watched the football game, and I intently watched him. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Wang. Wang Chang. Your name?” “Craig.” “Nice meet you,” he said. “Are you from Texas, Wang?” I asked. Wang threw his head back and laughed and laughed. I could not help but laugh as well and I thought to myself, “I meant my question as a joke, but it wasn’t that funny.” Wang asked, “Do I sound Texan? Very funny! Good! Can you teach me English?”

“I reckon,” I said. “Reckon? What reckon? How do you spell?” Wang asked. So began my friendship with Wang Chang from Taipei, Taiwan.

Ronald Rolheiser writes in Domestic Monastery, that “dictionaries define friendship as a relationship of mutual affection, a bond richer than mere association.” Friendship is closely associated with kindness, love, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, loyalty, understanding, compassion, comfort, and trust. “Friends, the dictionaries assert, enjoy each other’s company, express their feelings to each other, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the other,” says Rolheiser.

My grandfather told me many times that when we die, if we can say we’ve had one true friend, consider yourself very fortunate. The wise person says, “a friend is medicine for life.” Jesus says, “I call you friends” (John 15:15).

Who has been an authentic friend to us? To whom have we been a friend? Have we discovered God as a faithful friend?

“For any of us, in any kind of domestic and everyday life, one of the richest experiences of grace that we can have this side of eternity is the experience of friendship,” reflects Rolheiser. “When it is genuine, friendship is nothing less than a participation in the flow of life and love that’s inside of God.”

Wang would see me around campus and yell, “Craig! Craig! My American friend!” And I’d respond, “Wang Chang! Wang Chang!” There was something I always enjoyed about saying Wang’s last and first name together.

Wang became a regular at our house over the Christmas holidays and my mom and dad loved him like their own son. They always poked me when Wang insisted on doing the dishes after our shared meals. “Come on Craig! Honor your mother and father. Show respect!” Wang would sing. I reluctantly got up from the table and helped Wang with the dishes.

After graduating from W.T., Wang went home to Taiwan and got married. Lily, his wife, came back with him and gave birth to their first child, Tzong-Tzong in Dallas. We drove to Wichita for Christmas after a snowstorm. Our car hit a patch of black ice and started to spin out of control on the interstate. I turned to Wang and Lily in the back seat and yelled, “Get Tzong-Tzong!” who was laying between them. The two of them covered up their child with their bodies and braced themselves for a collision.

When our car came to a stop in the center meridian, Wang said, “Craig, you are my friend. You thought of my son’s life first.” “Wang, you are my friend. Are you, Lily, and Tzong-Tzong O.K.?” “Yes,” he said.

I did not know what to expect when Wang and Lily walked through the arrival gate. We shared so much life together many years ago when we were young and full of hope. When we saw each other, we waved and walked towards one another for the first time in twenty years. Wang wrapped his arms around me and said, “Craig, you are my friend.” “Yes, I’m your friend, Wang” I said. For that, I am forever grateful.

Henri Nouwen says, “True friendships are lasting because true love is eternal. A friendship in which heart speaks to heart is a gift from God, and no gift that comes from God is temporary or occasional.”

May we dare to love and call each other friend.

Blessings and peace,