Friendship Beyond Words

October 26, 2012 • Uganda

By Addison D. Ream (with Todd C. Ream)

I always thought friendship was forged by words—words that allow us to share what we have in common, what makes us joyous, and what makes us sad.

However, God recently taught me words are not necessary in the forging of a friendship that for me will last a lifetime. Other ways of communicating can prove to be far more important.

I met Shakira Namagembe in mid-August when she, her aunt, and her translator came all the way from Uganda to Indiana for surgery through Children’s Heart Project. The group stayed with Rex and Terri Dunn, members of my church family who had opened their home a couple of times before to families coming to Indianapolis. I always looked forward to meeting these families, hearing their stories, and learning about how God had blessed surgeons with the ability to heal.

Something about Shakira, at least for me, was different. Her smile spoke to me in ways words could not. We first met one Wednesday night during the children’s church service. When I thought about how far she was away from home, how she knew no one here in Indiana, and how scared she must be to be facing heart surgery, I started to cry. But through it all, I never saw Shakira cry. Instead, she just smiled.

I later learned Shakira’s mom had died of AIDS, she no longer knew her father, and one of her younger sisters is HIV positive. That night, however, we blew bubbles, made crafts, laughed, and sang songs to Jesus. While she only speaks Lugandan and I only speak English, that potential barrier propelled us to depend upon forms of communication that are perhaps more trustworthy and thus more real.

While we always hope words are genuine, even kids like me quickly learn you cannot always trust what you hear. Some people say one thing and do another. Others make promises they later break. Actions, by comparison, are more transparent. They invite a more immediate sense of trust we always hope we can invest in words.

After church that next Sunday, I invited Shakira over to my house. I wanted her to see where I lived, to meet my family, and to have at least one more opportunity to spend time with my friend before she went home to Uganda. We played dolls, swung on the play set, and laughed. We drew pictures in chalk the rain has since washed away but are nonetheless etched in my mind.

Before she left, I gave Shakira a Notre Dame T-shirt. I have gone to women’s basketball games and tennis matches in South Bend with my Dad since I was small. I often think about studying at Notre Dame and playing tennis for the Irish in the future. When Shakira puts on her shirt, I want her to think of a friend who is also thinking of her even though 8,000 miles now separate us.

To this day I still cry from time to time. I cry because I am sad and I miss my friend. I cry because I am happy surgeons here in Indiana were able to use the talents God gave them to heal her. I pray for her, her heart, and her sister every night.

I hope one day Shakira and I will see one another again. If so, I know all we will need to see in order to recognize one another is our smiles. By that time, perhaps I will speak Lugandan or she will speak English. If neither of us can, that will be fine because we share a friendship that goes beyond words.

Addison D. Ream is a fourth grader at Eastern Elementary School in Greentown, Indiana, where she serves on student council. Addison’s father, Todd C. Ream, teaches in the honors college at Indiana Wesleyan University. With the rest of the members of their family, they live in Greentown, Indiana, where they are members of Jerome Christian Church.