series begins here
My first reflective awareness of friendship came about shortly after I was pulled shivering and ashamed from a very deep and fast flowing river in the Snowy Mountains. I grew up on the banks of the river, and another boy, my friend, lived on the other side about one kilometre upstream. His family had a little tinny (boat) with small outboard motor and we would spend lots of our spare time navigating up and down the river between our houses. In winter, when the water level dropped because the downstream irrigators didn’t need it, we’d be able to wade the river in particular places, known only to us. We were fording the river together one day when I slipped and lost my footing. The water was much deeper than we had expected and only a few degrees above freezing. Swimming was very difficult because the cold numbed you instantly, making your hands and feet dead weights. I went under and was swept toward the thick willow trees which grew out over the banks. Most people who died in that river (usually kayakers) died because they were trapped and held under the water by willow branches or roots. The memory of the feeling of utter helplessness is still vividly with me. I don’t really know how he did it, the fact that he was taller and stronger than me must have played its part, but my friend dived in after me, grabbed my shirt and somehow dragged me back to the land of the living.
It was while we were walking home, trying to get inside without being noticed by my parents, that I realised that he was my friend. While I was losing my life, I found my friend.
A few years later our family moved away, we didn’t see each other for years. When I finally caught him again too much had changed. I’d moved to the city, then gone to Uni. He’d stayed in the country town, had a kid with his girl-friend, earned his living farming fish in the river. We talked with all the good-will in the world, but we were mutually incomprehensible to each other. Somehow, in finding out our lives, we’d lost a friendship.
Jesus’ disciples are having a strange experience of finding and losing as they spend their final night with Jesus before his departure. The one who has been with them as Master and Lord, addresses them as ‘friends’. As a departing friend.