Across Oceans: A Life Full of Love

I love flying into this city and watching the hills grow closer, then staring out the window on the ride from the airport as they loom. The day I arrive to work on this project, J, the cabby who picks me up, is a woman. I’m used to asking strangers questions and listening, but our conversation swings from J’s daughters to my work, and then to our childhoods through the ride. Over the next seven weeks, I call her for rides occasionally, even after my car has been brought in.

The first time I spent an extended time in this city, I lived with B. I have somehow tied this place to her, though she has long left and the last time we were together was in Paris.

“You sound burdened, ki lo n sele?” B asks me over the phone one evening, and I tell her I’ve been unable to say why for weeks. The year, so far, has been great in most ways, but really rough on me in one. My words meander, mirroring the thoughts that have been jumping through my head for a while.

“It becomes easier to trust God when your body is rested,” she says at some point.

B has an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of whatever is worrying me, even when I haven't articulated it to myself. She knows the questions to ask, and how to pull the threads apart so I can see what I need to do to fix it. I think of her as one of the greatest gifts God has given me in the past couple of years. The biggest things are the heart things I can't explain, but in her, I see just how much God loves me and longs for my growth.

Hills, Nigeria

“I needed three cups of coffee to wake me yesterday,” I wrote to her one day in July 2017. “And I felt like if I didn't wake in my head yesterday I might as well die. I felt like I'd been dead.”

A few days ago, I was reading through our chats because I wanted to write about her. About our friendship. I have been trying to do this for a while. Trying to articulate what it is that makes my friendship with her different from my other friendships. Every friendship that has a hook in my heart is peculiar in tone, mood, vulnerability. And often these days, my heart feels so full of love for each of them that I thought I’d write about a few over the course of this year. Try to see clearer the angles, dips, forms that make up each. And B, the one with whom many words feel like healing, is my first. 

Perhaps what makes her love special is that it is voiced, often and unveiled. There is a vulnerability to the way we talk, a way she sees me, my mind, anxieties, that no one else really does.

“I was thinking about you this morning. About how much I love you, and how grateful I am for you in my life, how thankful I am that God sent you to me... Thank you. For being the entire person that you are. You are outstanding.”

Each time, an unexpected message like this one still leaves a lump in my throat and makes me feel like the purity of God’s love for me somehow finds its way into and out of this woman. And maybe it is that way because we, quite often, find our minds in the same places. Our lives, very different, yet running on similar tracks, so that we can know each other in a way that is open. Over the past few years, our friendship has changed form, grown, as we have. Last summer in Paris, seeing her in another city, at a different point of growth, was seeing new sides to her.

I can’t see them, but I can hear the wind rustling leaves and birds chirping outside the office window. They sound like a perfectly-timed orchestra. I have been assigned an office here. It is huge, and I like it, but it takes a while for me to adjust to commuting daily for work. I haven’t done so in almost three years. Besides work and church, I barely go anywhere else. In that way, my life is no different from how it usually is in Lagos.

One Sunday afternoon, I take a photo of a mural and send to B. Guess where I am. The last time I was there, we sat at dinner talking and laughing while waiting for food that took too long. God knows I miss her. I miss everyone. I am hit with a wave of that another Sunday during my fifth week here. It rises unnoticed but crashes on me during a church service, and when someone sings, “You say I am loved, when I can’t feel a thing”, tears roll down my face and they don’t stop.

Afterwards, I drive to brunch at a fancy hotel and sit at a table for two. No one sets tables for one.

“Are you expecting someone?” The waiter asks.

“No, I am not.”

When I had brunch with B here two years ago, she told me how she often came there on Sundays with a book. I haven’t brought a book along because I wanted to sit with God and my thoughts, and that’s what I do. I never eat much in one sitting, but even when I’m done eating, I sit and talk to Him. Listen to Him. Clamping down the urge to pick up my phone.

In many ways, I am only just learning what it really is to love, to allow myself give and sit with tenderness—from God and people like B. To not hurry to protect myself from the potential of pain, awkwardness, or the longing that stretches across distance. For the longest time, I was unable to separate what was fear from what may have been love. Fear has an insatiable appetite, if no one has told you. It will take away even what you do have. I remind myself of that now, and I let myself enjoy the love that fills my life. At the time, in the form, and across whatever distance it chooses to do so.