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She was and I guess, still is a great mystery. I couldn’t figure her out, I’d see her leave early mornings and return late nights. Her body oozing fatigue and gasping deeply for breath as she walks by. “Hello, good day!” her voice was gentle, yet direct. Her feet were hot with pace while she made her strides. As her silhouette disappeared into the distance, I’d often wonder – “How does she do it day in and out?” It was as if there was an inner fortitude that somehow kept her going. Her fine features so dear, her full brown eyes endearing. I’d often catch an echo of her resounding laugh gliding with the downwind into my house next door. A laugh so infectious it made everyone else laugh too.

I saw her often and the more I observed her, the more it seemed as if we were the same person, yet different in many ways. One day on her way in, I pursued her quick feet with intentionality. “Hey!” I said. She slowed down. I went on to tell her that I saw her on her daily grind and I wanted to better understand what kept her going. She engaged me. On one hand, during the conversation, I thought maybe we had met at some point, but with another question, she underscored the fact that we were indeed strangers. How was it this easy to have a conversation with a stranger? That one encounter blossomed into many others, as we spoke I realized that many of the struggles I battled, she did too, and we were able to pour strength into each other. All it took was the first step that one day.

Over the course of a few months, we graduated from veranda chats to lunch dates, from lunch dates to hour on hour conversations and so the story continues. I’ll call the girl next door Belle because her beauty shone from the inside out. Almost every day she would challenge my perspective and lift my gaze when life got gloomy. She poured into me and I had my chances to fill her up too. There was an equal exchange. Not only was her laugh medicine for my soul but so were her prayers when I wanted rough patches to end swiftly. I’d seen some dark days and her light came barging in, especially when I didn’t ask for it. She became that kind of friend.

I found that I started falling quickly for Belle, not in the way you’re thinking, but in a way that shook a foundational belief I had. A belief that was birthed from both personal experiences and horror stories from others. The notion was and I quote “…female relationships are hard to build and maintain. Females are too catty!” Belle’s presence counteracted those thoughts for me. I soon relearned that building healthy relationships with other females should come from a genuine place of wanting to befriend another, not solely for what you can gain, but what you both give because you’re also bringing value to the table. We have to rid ourselves of the “I want you to do well but not better than me” mentality.

Building healthy relationships should come from a mature place where differences in opinion are respected and growth is encouraged. If we are all the same then why do we need each other? If we all think the same then who provokes the perspective of the other for the better? Am I saying you’ll be the right fit for everyone? No. But what I am saying is relationships require intentional effort on both ends. They also require the right perspective.

I’ve encountered friendships where I’d been leeched, loved at first and then ostracized. A best friend today and then an enemy tomorrow. Some of these friendships endured the test and are still standing while others didn’t withstand the fire and it’s okay because life changes. It hurt but there is both healing and freedom in forgiveness.

Bitterness will manifest itself wherever an unforgiving heart is present because it is an enemy of friendship and reconciliation. Bitterness stifles and poisons community.

Shaquille Millar

Eventually, Belle and I started to feel the effects of distance due to changing life dynamics. My heart wept a bit but I knew I had found a lifelong friend. Even though our conversations went from 100 – 10 we remained intact because we understood each other and expectations were communicated. We made it habit to talk about our differences and work through any challenges, leaving nothing to chance or wonder.

Belle was originally just the girl next door to me who I saw on her daily grind doing her thing. I saw glimmers of “something” in her that I wanted to know better and I took a chance to discover it but our encounter made me think about how many other “girls next door” we walk by day after day. Figuratively speaking these women may be in cubicles at work, the clerk in the store you frequent at lunch, you two may even be volunteering on the same project. It may just be someone you see from time to time or once in a blue moon. Whenever you encounter that person though there is a genuine interest in their lives. Belle reiterated the importance of seeing the value in others. She taught me how to honour and cheer people on as they transitioned through seasons and how to respect the demands of each season as it changed. More important she showed me that an incorrect perspective can get in the way of a beautiful journey.

If you’re reading this and someone, or a few people, come to mind maybe you can consider a genuine connect date where you two can sit and get to know each other. That lady is going about her business on her everyday hustle doing what needs to get done but she carries the weight of her world on her two bruised shoulders. She may just need an ear or a hand. Don’t allow the wrong perspective to stop you from missing out on the value of good friendship. Some of us act strong to keep a polished face to the public but are truly in need of support. And for those who have tried to befriend someone and have been burnt before, give yourself some time to heal and forgive but don’t resort to isolation. There is beauty in the community.

To the “girl next door” reading this who feels nobody sees or acknowledges you, I’ve been there, felt that and I know. If you’ve gotten this far in the post, I pray you also encounter the richness of true friendship. It may mean you have to get out of the mold of what you perceive friendship to be base don bad experiences. It is highly possible you have to stop projecting unrealistic and uncommunicated expectations on other people. Or, it could be that you have to forgive and try someone again. Whichever process it is, I wish you every success in your step.

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