The Crucible of Tragedy

The phone call that healed a frayed friendship.

Will Ryan / 3.30.22

In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:19)

Andrew and I met in 5th grade. My family moved over the summer and I started at a new school in that final year of Elementary school. I had to try and make new friends. Andrew and I, though, didn’t start out as friends. We were too alike. We liked the same sports. We played the same instrument (trumpet). We made the honor choir (Castle Singers?). We were pretty smart, and we both knew it. We were even born in the same month (May).

Initially, these similarities bred contempt. Instead of bringing us together, they split us apart; we became rivals. Well … as much as 10-year-old boys can be rivals.

But, as happens from time to time, we got over the rivalry and let our commonalities prevail. I can’t remember a particular reason; we just sort of realized it was silly. So we became friends. Best friends.

I would get up early, and he would sleep in. So I would often walk to the store, buy a couple of donuts and chocolate milk, hoof it to his house, go in (after his parents let me in), and wake him up with my offering. We still joke about it to this day.

However, at some point, the relationship ruptured. After staying best friends through middle school, high school, college (even though we went to different institutions), and even after that (we were each other’s best men) something broke. I can’t say if he felt the same way, but I certainly did.

I honestly can’t remember what it was. There was never a fight. There was never a flashpoint. There was never anything definitive. I just remember at one point realizing something wasn’t right. Perhaps it was the distance of living away from each other, but it seemed to be more than that. Occasional conversations were tense and truncated, as if a chill had settled. The close bond that had held together for over two decades was frayed at best.

I lamented this but didn’t do anything about it. A fit of pride seeped its way in and an attitude of “Well, I’ll just wait for him to make the first move” became my go-to. I didn’t do anything wrong, so why should I reach out and try and repair what felt broken? My self-righteousness got in the way.

Then came the announcement, that he and his wife were expecting. I was overjoyed for them, but even that phone call didn’t change much. If anything, it sort of separated us even further — he was getting ready to be a dad, and I had nothing like that on the horizon.

But then I got another phone call. During a routine check-in with their doctor, Andrew and his wife received the news that their expected daughter had been diagnosed with a terminal birth defect. She wouldn’t survive outside the womb. All the hopes and expectations they’d had for her were gone, and they were left only with pain and heartbreak.

Whatever unspoken quarrel I had been holding onto was also gone. Andrew needed his friend, and I needed to be with him. How could I hold onto pride and self-righteousness when my best friend was hurting worse than I could possibly imagine?

The time came for Everly’s funeral; that’s the name they gave to their daughter. There was no question I would be there in that Church sitting by his side. As we heard about God’s unfailing goodness, about how God brought life from death on the cross, I wept and held him, as he too wept.

Reconciliation took place between us as the slights, frustrations, and grievances fell away. Our shared sins weren’t counted anymore. Just as God reconciled the world through Christ’s death and resurrection, repairing the chasm caused by sin and death, the crucible of tragedy repaired what was broken between Andrew and me. In both cases, it shouldn’t have taken it. But in both cases, it did.

These years later, he is my daughter’s “Uncle Andrew,” and I’m his kids’ “Uncle Will.” And I don’t know about him, but nothing is going to separate us again.

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