The Blessing of Friends Who Weather the Storm With Us

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 4:00 pm

The Blessing of Friends Who Weather the Storm With Us

My friend Ilyse and I have been friends for a long time. Sixteen years and counting. In the course of that time, I have had the pleasure of seeing her graduate, go to graduate school, get married, and have two kids. She’s seen me raise four kids, hit rock bottom, get back up on my feet, and find love again. We’ve both been through a lot.

When my life was going through a ton of upheaval, there was a conversation that Ilyse and I shared. It was a sweet, simple conversation, one that has stayed with me over the years.

It was one of those times that I was in my lowest of the low moments: unsure, vulnerable, and shaky. It is in these moments when our hearts are breaking that they, sometimes, break open. In the middle of a tear-filled conversation, she leaned in, looked me assuringly in my eyes, and said, “I am in your boat.”

Sometimes your life feels like you are cruising on an ocean liner, everything is going smoothly. Other times, like that time, it felt like I was in a tiny boat, going up and down on turbulent waves that were crashing all around me, cresting over me.

“I am in your boat.”

How lovely to know that I was not alone in that boat. How lovely to have family and friends, people who assure you, “You don’t even need to turn around to check to see if I am here. I don’t care how small your boat is. I am in your boat.”

They are the ones who tell us:

“If your boat goes up, I am going up with you.
If your boat goes down, I am going down with you.
Up or down, I am with you.”

Over the years, I have thought more and more about Ilyse’s simple words of wisdom, this lifeboat that came straight from her heart. Yes, I needed help. Yes, I was drowning or in danger. But I was not looking for someone to send me a rescue boat. I had my own boat: my life, my kids. I didn’t need to be rescued from this boat. I needed to learn to survive, and even thrive, in this boat. The ocean may be now calm, now stormy. The best of friends are the ones who are with us come hell or high water — or the security of a shore.

There’s more. There is a grace about not having to turn around to check to see if our closest friends and loved ones are in our boat. Sometimes it takes all that we have to breathe, to row, to stay afloat. And we don’t have the mental energy to check to see who, if anyone, is in our boat. Blessed are those friends who reach forward, gently placing their hands on our shoulder, around our waist, to let us know that they are with us.

We learn a lot about the people who stay in our boat during the storm. Sometimes it’s exactly who you expect. Sometimes there are those whom we expect to be in our boat, and at the moment of deepest crisis, they go missing. Maybe they were trying to survive in their own boat. It’s been said before: Whenever possible, be kind; you never know what battles others are fighting.

Sometimes there are people whom you knew were close to you, but it is honestly a pleasant surprise to find them sticking right with you, right behind you, faithfully in your boat. When you get to the shore of safety, these are the friends to cherish. One lifetime is not enough to live this gratitude.

In life, learn who’s in your boat.
Cherish them.

Learn to be in others’ boats.
Cherish them.

Cherish your boat.
Cherish your ride.
Cherish your life.

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Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads educational tours every year to Turkey, Morocco, or other countries, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trips are open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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Reflections

  • Gabby

    Your article points not only to the blessing of friends who weather the storm with us but also to the urgency of helping isolated people find paths out of their loneliness. A Yale study will appear in the next issue of the Journal of Psychiatry that identifies loneliness as a huge factor in the suicide risk for older veterans, even those who never saw combat.
    But a sense that no one cares enough to join a person in her boat depresses quality of life across a much broader population and cuts across age and socioeconomic strata. There need to be people among us who are seriously committed to being there- not just witnessing but actually being there reliably- for people whose connection to others is thin.

  • Amor Fati

    What an inspiring article! I forwarded it to several of my “boat friends” who stood by me over the years, and I thanked them for their trusty friendship. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words.