I originally wrote this essay in 2004. A lot has happened in our lives over the past seven years, but the most important thing has not: Hank and Myrna remain two of my closest, dearest and most trusted friends. Consider this a tribute to long-lasting friendship, the truest of good gifts.
I just spent Memorial Day weekend with two old and dear friends, Hank and Myrna. I’ve known both of them now for close to half my life. Hank was a junior in college when I was a freshman, and Myrna was one of my roommates during my senior year.
I feel compelled to pause here and point out that, with names like “Hank” and “Myrna,” one might assume that they’re older friends than they actually are. Case in point: we met a 32-year-old fellow graduate from our alma mater this weekend who, when she first heard their names — before actually meeting them — assumed that they had to be from the class of ’45, rather than the classes of ’86 and ’90, respectively. Of course, her name is Nancy, which isn’t such a hip, 21st century name itself, but that’s beside the point. Or maybe not.
But I digress.
Hank lives in northern New Jersey, an easy commute into Manhattan, and Myrna and I drove east to hang out with him for the weekend. We decided to go into the city for church on Sunday; we worshipped at Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Sunday evening East Side service at Hunter College. Rev. Timothy Keller’s sermon was based on Psalm 139.
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
We were walking through Greenwich Village and Tribeca an hour later, searching for an open restaurant on a holiday weekend Sunday evening. Pondering the recent sermon, one of us commented on the intrinsic paradox between our desire to hide from God and others the ugliness of our lives and the deep need we all have to be fully known. Fully known and fully loved, in spite of the ugliness of our lives.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
I started my college journey 20 years ago this September, which means I’ve known Hank almost that long — which would be more than half my life. We joined CCO staff together 16 years ago, making us not only friends but colleagues.
As the three of us sat on Hank’s front porch this weekend, we talked about everything from reality TV, environmentalism, and where we wanted to eat dinner that evening to our relationships with our own family members, the current state of the world, marriage, singleness, divorce and dating. It occurred to me that few people know me better than these two old, dear friends.
The evening before the church service in New York City, we stayed up late talking about our current life circumstances and reminiscing about the “old days.” At some point, we realized that 15 years ago this weekend, Hank and I were participating in our end-of-first-year-on-staff Spring Institute wilderness trip. That trip had something to do with “community, identity and spirituality,” and its purpose, as I understood it then, was to reflect on and debrief the first year of ministry, to get us to step out of our comfort zones, to experience group process, to bond…all in the context of hiking, backpacking, caving, rappelling, rock-climbing, and camping.
For reasons that have become clearer to me over the years, I spent a lot of that week in tears. One colleague belatedly nicknamed me the “weeping wilderness woman.” Hank remembers — he was there. Myrna remembers — I debriefed the experience with her ad nauseum.
“It’s so bizarre,” I wrote in my journal during that week in May 1989. “I have always considered myself to be uncomplicated, open, easy to get to know, willing to be vulnerable.”
“But I’m realizing how high on my face my mask is around these people. Except for the interns, perhaps, and especially Hank.
“I am prideful. I don’t like to admit my weaknesses and I hate to cry in front of large groups of people. …I guess my prayer for myself and for all of us is to find out exactly why we feel we need the masks and what exactly those masks are covering. I’m becoming increasingly aware that there is a lot going on inside of me that I don’t even know about, and I guess it kind of scares me to realize that others may recognize it before I do.”
My 22-year-old self was able to articulate what my 37-year-old self is still struggling to be and to do. As we were walking up Broadway, trying to find our car after our night hanging out in the Village, I made the connection between what we had talked about the night before and what we had heard in church a few hours earlier.
And as Myrna and I drove back to Pittsburgh on Memorial Day, we thanked God for the blessing of old and dear friends, and the comfort we can occasionally find when we are truly known — the good, the bad and the ugly — and still loved.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.