Saturday 24 August 2019

No explanation why people become friends

LAST Wednesday Betty, a friend of mine, was buried in Killiney Cemetery, Castlegregory, Co Kerry. She was 88. Five years ago she was struck down with meningitis from which she nearly died. She managed to make a great recovery. But her lungs had been damaged and she died of a respiratory illness on Monday of last week.

Death is horrible. There is a finality about it that no words are capable of conveying. And I am so sorry for the family that she has left behind and those that had yet to know her.

Betty and I lived in parallel worlds. She was a pillar of the community. She was respected by people. I think it's true to say that she was a woman of status, whatever that might mean. But certainly she was a competent business woman and a successful one too. I think I can also say that she was conservative in her view of the world and of the church. But I must spell conservaitve with a small 'c'.

For a number of years when living in Castlegreogry I regularly celebrated Sunday Mass in the village and on many occasions Betty would be present. Initially we had little or nothing to say to each other. Sometimes a polite hello, other times maybe a hint of disapproval. But that could well have been my 'latent paranoia'.

I'm not quite sure how it happened but for some reason or other I landed in her home one day. I started calling in to say hello. Gradually but surely we began to talk to one another about every subject under the sun. She made it quite clear to me when she did not approve of what I said in a sermon. But she was also well able to compliment me when she liked what I had said ot written.

On many occasions I would leave the house feeling miserable and wondering why in God's name I bothered calling. And yet all the time I always felt there was a great friendship between the two of us. There was too. When I left Castlegregory our means of communication was via the telephone or text messaging.

Scrolling through my telephone on the day of her funeral I discovered pages and pages of text messages from Betty. Whether the messages were critical or approving there was always a tone of friendship in them. There was something wonderful about connecting with someone who was older than I, and who had a different vision of the church and religion.

Having said that I felt so secure in her presence, so certain of her kindness and friendship towards me. I knew for certain that Betty would never sneer or laugh at me behind my back. I am confident that she always supported and defended me. And isn't that exactly one of the essential ingredients of genuine friendship.

Of course it's almost impossible to explain or analyse why people strike up friendships. No doubt when people have similar ideologies or beliefs they tend to gravitate towards one another. People interested in sport usually find their friends in the world of sport. And so it goes.

But friendship transcends all boundaries and frontiers. There's no explanation as to why people hit it off. But they do and it can become the most incredible source of comfort. And I'm wondering about all the words we use to describe God and our relationship with God. Are they close to being meaningless?

Human relationships are almost impossible to read. How can we talk about any individual's personal relationship with God? It's so easy to be glib about God and the words we use about God and our realtionship with the Divine Being. Betty and I had close to zilch in common and I know these days I have lost a great friend.

Betty, thank you for your friendship and I am going to miss you terribly. There will be no more walking in the back door through the kitchen, sitting down, saying hello, waiting to know if it's criticism or praise. It's over.

New Ross Standard