A word that flies high over these past four years of my sojourn here in Central Asia is the word loneliness. It’s a monster I was not at all prepared to face. The monster came anyway. Turns out he’s a hard one to chase away.
Every last human being senses a deep-seated need that is as intrinsic to existence as eating and breathing. That need is the need for friendship. We’d near trade our souls to not be alone, to not sit by ourselves at lunch in middle school, to not spend our evenings in an empty apartment with nothing but cold takeout and reruns on TV. In that sense all rational people easily conclude that meaningful relationships are more precious than gold. The monetarily rich man who walks this life alone is a beggar next to the monetarily poor man who’s surrounded by people who love him with a love as strong as death. And though we might not admit it, we all know it.
Here, I’m the monetarily rich man. I did the math, and proportionally speaking, if I made compared to you the amount that I make compared to many of my friends here, it’d be like me telling you I make $40,000 a month. Don’t fly over that too quickly. What would you say to someone who told you he made 40 grand each and every month? I do exactly that but on a local scale.
And then you see their smiles. You see the strength of their friendships and relationships. You see people who have walked through thick and thin together and never once faltered their commitment to one another. And that’s when you realize how short your cute little expensive Western ways fall when it comes to matters of the heart. Sure, you just spent the equivalent of three day’s wages on a single pizza, but you’re four years in and lonelier than that last unsold hotdog at the Quickie-Mart. You suddenly realize the poor guy is you.
Then, wonder of wonders, there are those moments. The guy who would rather walk a mile in the dark in the rain than spend 10 cents on a bus ride looks across the table from you and smiles. He opens up, holds out a hand, and offers you a taste of something much more fulfilling than any meal—even pizza. He offers you the thing you’ve been dying to taste for years, a taste of something you’d almost forgotten the flavor of. There across the table sits an open invitation to true friendship. And you’d swear he was offering you the combination to the safe at Fort Knox.
And that’s how the poor in purse make the wealthy in wallet richer than they ever could have imagined.
There are more riches to lay hold of. I’m praying for more humility to accept even more of the free gift of the thing my Western salary can’t buy, the thing I need as much as I need the air in my lungs.
Thank you, dear friend across the table.