There is something amazing about friendship.
It energizes. It revitalizes. It expands who I am & makes me more.
It is Christmas-time & I’m telling you about some of our friends.
People who’ve become significant in our lives. People who’ve shared life with us, who’ve contributed to who we are and how we go about our days, the joy we feel, the happiness, the contentment, the completeness.
It was autumn in Bloemfontein. Oranges & yellows decorating tree lined streets. I had recently moved to this new city in a new province. I had the privilege of studying full-time for the fifth consecutive year. This new University felt I needed some brushing up on some aspects of my undergraduate studies, allowing me to enroll, subject to me taking this extra course & passing it.
Hesitantly I knocked on the heavy office door in the ancient academic building. We greeted. I explained the purpose of my visit.
He inquired about me.
Who I was?
Where I came from?
How I came to be a student at the University of the Freestate?
I explained, then attempted to get the information on this course.
What work will we be covering?
How regular will our contact sessions be?
How often will assessment be done.
He smiled. Went to a bookshelf & took a thick Dutch history text book off the shelf, gave it to me and said this would be a good start.
I frowned and while I was frowning he leaned forward and asked about why I want to study this?
What I hoped to gain?
Before I could answer he spoke about himself. Started telling me who he was, how he came to be at this University and that I should not be so concerned about assessments. The course is not about passing or failing, it is about discovering, about learning, about new knowledge integrated with old knowledge & opinion & digestion & synergy. It is about a broadened world. A greater understanding. A deeper insight.
I could feel his passion for history as he was talking.
I read, at first slow and carefully. And as I read I saw a world. A new world. A world of learning.
I finished the book. It was time for an oral exam. I was prepared & ready for sixty grueling minutes of regurgitating information.
He suggested we meet at his home. His wife offered coffee. We sat down in his study. And we spoke. We discussed. We conversed. We compared opinion. He challenged & I responded. He showed me connections I did not notice. I argued & he let me. He asked what I thought. He was interested in my take on this bit of history & how it affects who I am & who we are.
Four hours later I went home, another thick Dutch Book on the same history in my hand. “Look for perspective, see how every author interprets & presents history in an individual way from a different place, trying to communicate a message,” he encouraged.
And I read & we had more discussions & he became the one man from whom I learned the most. The course ran its course & I passed and I kept on coming back to his house. His wife kept on brewing coffee. We kept on talking late into the night. Zuko joined us, as did his wife & sometimes even his children.
We spoke. Many days & many nights.
Three years of post-graduate study became history too & we moved away. And we came back to visit. And so did they. And we had our first child in their home. And our second.
It has been fifteen years now.
Fifteen years of friendship.
We’ve gone camping at Mabua Sehube amongst the Lions & Hyenas of Botswana. We’ve shared weddings. We’ve shared fires. We’ve spent time at the river and on our hill and at their home in Bloemfontein.
I learned from him that brokenness is inevitable in this life & it cannot be legislated away & it cannot be beaten out of us. I’ve learned grace, to be graceful and to be able to receive grace. I learned from him to have empathy. To put myself in another’s shoes and see through their eyes and forgive and accept & give people space to become.
I learned it as he and they gave me and us space and allowed us to become and showed us grace & love & hospitality.
I received new eyes from Dolf and alongside him from Binty.
New eyes to look at myself with.
New eyes to look at the world.
Eyes that see beauty.
Through our friendship I have become and I hope in some way it has been reciprocal.
Dolf is one of the gifts I celebrate this Christmas.
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