Defining Friendship

On my EMT shift the day before my birthday, the dangerous topic of religion came up for some reason while we were reviewing the ambulance (something we do at the beginning of every shift) to make sure we had all the right supplies. Like most careful Americans, we ended the religion conversation before we needed to say much about our personal beliefs. It was amusing to contrast the politically correct nature of the conversation with my experience in Paraguay. In Paraguay, religion is not a topic that’s avoided and people have no problem asking you if you’re catholic (the dominate religion there). I went to Paraguay with almost no religious experiences (and most that I had had were very negative)…but Paraguay brought me up to speed on their version of being catholic. And they changed my view of religion forever (though they didn’t convert me).

As I wrote when I was in Paraguay, the Paraguay I know is Catholic. That means that to my Paraguay friends the entire world is seen through the lens of Mary, Jesus, and the saints. A lot of what Mary and Jesus and the saints talk about is how you’re supposed to treat other people. Paraguayans put people, especially family, first.

A little after 9pm on my birthday I got a video message from one of my families in Paraguay. When I say family, I mean I spent every weekend with them. I went to church, out shopping, and to soccer games with them (in Paraguay, soccer is the equivalent of all sports in the US combined). I went dancing all night with the daughters, studied English and history for hours with the son, ate many dinners and lunches with them a week. I showered at their house when my water was out. I was in both daughters’ weddings…

My whole family was there in the video message. First they sang “Happy Birthday” in Guarani…then it was “Happy birthday Jett. May you have a blessed birthday and many blessed years ahead. I hope you’re having a wonderful time. Send us a video, Jett, so we can see you…We miss you Jett. When are you coming back Jett?”

It’s so nice when you realize that the people you think about all the time also think about you. And as my family’s familiar voices and happy words sunk in I thought about friendship. Even friendship is defined using a religious metaphor in Paraguay. And, with the topics of religion and friendship on my mind, it seemed fitting to share (again) one of my favorite stories about both:

Overheard in Paraguay: Friendship
Repost from October 19, 2015

We sat in a half circle around the grill. The men were cooking large slabs of meat, ribs and some unidentifiable cut, for the mother of the family’s birthday dinner. The husband of one of the birthday mother’s daughters sat by the grill passing one can of beer among the men there. A nephew walked up to the daughter’s husband. The husband was around 30 and the nephew was about 11.

The husband hugged his nephew first with one arm and then the other, squeezing him. The nephew squirmed, and they both smiled. The husband held the nephew at arm’s length and put on an almost serious expression. “Will we always be friends?” the husband asked.

“Yes,” the nephew said.

“Even when I am old and you are my age?” the husband asked.

“Yes, even when you are old and I have kids,” the nephew said.

The husband smiled and pulled the nephew into another hug. The nephew pulled away again and they looked at each other, the husband still squeezed the nephew’s shoulder with one hand.

“Even when you are in Heaven and I am old we will still be friends,” the nephew said earnestly.

The husband laughed. “And I will look after you from Heaven.” They hugged again. “And, when you come to Heaven, we will be friends in Heaven. We will be friends forever.”

The boy nodded and ran off to find his playmates.

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Happy Holidays

Spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year in another country and without your family for a few years and you’ll return with a whole new perspective about the holidays. I promise. I know. I did it.

You end up seeing clearly all the things you love about your holiday traditions. You also realize that the stress that often comes with the holidays is not required. The tension is something you add to the mix for a host of reasons, but is not inherent to the holidays.

Leaving the stress at the door is great, and I was only able to do it because I took a sabbatical. During my break, I had plenty of time to ponder all the things I love about the holidays, but especially Christmas with my family.

Top of the list was seeing everyone. This Christmas was special because I met my baby niece for the first time. She’s little and cute and the first of her generation in our family—needlessly to say she was the star. I also saw my brothers after over two years. Two years is a long time. The last time I saw them, one was in high school and the other was in college. They both graduated those occupations in May 2014. I left January 2014. Wow. Crazy, right? They both are taller than I remembered, and the younger is a giant. GIANT.

A close second is the food. I do Christmas Eve at my mom’s and Christmas Day as my dad’s. Both of my parents are fantastic cooks. We dine like the three kings. This year, my mom pulled out all the stops with the desserts—two types of pie, German chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse. On Christmas morning, we ate fruit cake and Christmas stollen. My dad served king crab, but this year I’m trying the vegetarian thing so I stuck to my favorite on the rainbow, orange. Specifically, squash orange. Some people get excited over steak and potatoes. I’ve always been a fan of squash and potatoes.

Next are the decorations. My family is full of artists—basically if you aren’t an artist you’re in the minority. What this means is that we have awesome Christmas trees and house décor. We aren’t one of those families that drapes their house in lights. But we have some great Christmas tree ornaments and we know how to place them just right on the tree. On Christmas Eve, my job is to decorate the table. I went for elegant this year—a garland and candles.

Christmas Eve we do fireworks and a bonfire. You should be jealous. It’s a perk of living in the middle of nowhere with snow all over—we can enjoy fires of all shapes and sizes with almost no risk of harm…this year one of the fireworks we set off did explode on the ground in many directions however.

Stockings. I love Christmas stockings, maybe more than presents. Why? Who knows, but it’s so fun to see all the little, silly things one can fit in a decorated sock. Tooth brushes, toothpaste, candy, tree ornaments, nail files…you never know what “Santa” will leave.

The morning. I’m a morning person. I usually get up early. On Christmas, I’m always the first up. I’ve overcome my childhood ways…meaning I don’t get up at 4 o’clock in the morning any more. This year I got up at 5ish. I love the quiet when everyone is sleeping and it’s just me, the Christmas tree, and the stockings. This year I finished embroidering a stocking that needed some love before anyone else got up. Victory.

My sister has changed and is now a morning person. Because she and I travel from our mom’s to our dad’s and split Christmas between them, the 26th is also part of Christmas at my dad’s house. This year, she and I finished making a pie before the parents got up. The crust had been in the fridge overnight and was rock-like. Luckily, my sister is buff—you should see her shoulder and arm muscles. She’s a professional fitness trainer—so she rolled out the crust like it was warm butter. I gave advice like, “If dirty dishes are in your way (when making pie) move them.”

It was nice to be home for Christmas. And, seeing as I was in Paraguay just before (and traveled 32 hours to get back in time for the 24th), it was even sweeter.

*Photo credit: Matisse, my brother.