BUILDING BRIDGES: Shared faith bridges gap in long-lasting friendship

Celebrating similarities key to strong relationships, writes columnist Taslim Jaffer,

Over the Christmas holidays, my family and I took a three-night vacation south of the border – a break from the busyness of the first term of school and the deadlines at work.

After dinner on our last night there, my youngest and I returned to our hotel room to grab her forgotten doll before we carried on with the evening plans.

In the room, while my little girl joyously reunited with the doll she had been away from for a full hour, I checked my Facebook messages. There was one from a friend I went to graduate school with who I hadn’t actually spoken personally to in quite awhile.

During grad school we instantly connected over our introvertedness, love of game nights and food, and also over our faith. We belong to two different faith groups and she actually didn’t know a lot about mine.

But she asked open-ended questions in an effort to learn and we found each other on common ground. Grad school was nearly 3,000 miles away from home; after the two-year program, we said our goodbyes and moved on with our lives in separate countries.

We stayed connected over email, phone and social media until our lives got busier, children were born and our communication centred more on watching each other’s highlight reels on Facebook.

Over the past nearly 17 years of our friendship, however, we have each dealt with some fairly big issues: deaths in our families, emergency situations with our children and medical diagnoses.

And it’s during those times that we especially think of each other.

“Pray for me,” we have asked of each other countless times, knowing that there is something in those three words that overrules any of our perceived differences.

The Facebook message I received from my friend while in that hotel room last month was an instance of her reaching out during a medical situation. She gave me news of a diagnosis that made me wish the 3,000 miles between us could disappear, even for a moment.

Immediately after giving me the news, she shared with me a hymn she wrote as a way to give voice to something she was struggling to articulate. She knew that even though our religions have different names, different rites and rituals and different prominent figures, we share faith. We share a belief in a higher power and we hold strong to that in adversity and gratitude.

I’m sharing this story with you because it is one of a beautiful friendship that began in a classroom and then grew to include all the deepest, most sacred parts of our lives.

But it only grew because we have constantly met each other on common ground rather than building a wall between us. I hate to think what kinds of memories, conversations, connection and camaraderie we would have missed out on if we got hung up over the things that made us different.

My friendships with women of all faiths, including those with agnostic or atheist beliefs, also teaches my children the values of acceptance and humanity. Not all of our friends are within our faith community; in fact, most of them are not. I feel like I am better for it and so are my children.

We have entered a new year with new goals, hopes and ambitions. Perhaps new friendships will add to the experiences we have over these months.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural issues.

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