At the top of my property rests a secret forest filled with scrub oak. It’s not very big, but if you take your imagination with you it is big enough. This secret wood hugs a 20 foot tall volcanic cliff that marks the end of my yard. A few years ago we carved a path through the woods to a secret place that overlooked the valley. Mitch loved it. We placed a bench there so, every once-in-a-while, we could sneak away from the world to talk and eat popsicles while the sun set. Every time I go there I feel like a little boy again and am strongly tempted to throw my wallet to the wind and make forts and get lost with my children the remainder of my days. If only life were that generous and simple.
One evening Mitch wanted to go to the top of our yard so I gave him a piggy back. He and his best friend, Luke, sat on our bench and started to talk. I was about to walk down the trail and give them some space when I turned my head only to see Luke put his arm around Mitch and say “I’m glad you’re my friend, Mitchell.” I sat there a minute and listened to them talk about video games and a new Nerf gun war strategies.
My heart was filled with gratitude. These two young boys were brothers to the end – and I love them both. When I captured this moment there was no way of knowing how symbolic this image would soon become; that in a few years Luke would come to Mitchell’s side once more and hold his hand, as if to put his arm around him the night before he died. Luke would tell him for the last time “I’m glad you’re my friend” and how much Mitchell meant to him. I wept like a child that night. And I weep again today; not only from sadness, but from a deep love and appreciation for who these young boys are and what they taught me.
When I think of all the tender mercies that were afforded my son and family by a loving Heavenly Father, Luke is chief among them. As fate would have it, or better said divine intervention, Luke was our next-door neighbor. A more fitting neighbor and friend there never was. It was as though they were cut from the same rare quarry. What’s more, what one friend lacked, the other more than compensated. They were each other’s yin and yang. This was a friendship that was forged in Heaven - of that I am sure.
Mitch had a few other dear friends that were also tender mercies - and I’ll write of them another time. But the relationship between these two was most unique and the tenderest of mercies. There was nothing quite like it.
When I look upon this image I can’t help but think about what it really means to be human. So many of the atrocities in the world happen because we forget who we really are. And when we forget, we turn humans into objects, or leverage, or worse. But if we remember who we are, sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father, at once our relationship with each other (and how we see ourselves) changes. We begin to see past deficits or disabilities, rudeness or insecurities … we learn to see in others and ourselves what we can become. And that’s a game changer.
Even though I weep for my son and long for his companionship (and oh, how I weep … and oh, how I long), I am also so grateful for him and all that he taught me.
And while I live in a world that tends to confuse rudeness with strength, my son and his faithful friend taught me that true strength isn't found in pushing people down, but lifting people up. And these two young boys did this – magnanimously.