Halie and me, reunited

Published 8:17 am Monday, September 24, 2018

I picked up the phone yesterday and heard a voice I hadn’t heard in almost 38 years.

Though something about the voice was familiar, I didn’t know who it was until he told me his name: Halie Abebe, a friend so close to me during my college years that we considered ourselves siblings.

We come from totally different worlds, Halie is originally from Ethiopia and I am from Appalachia. Yet there was, and is, something within the core of our beings that draw us together. We were instant friends in our young college days, laughing at each other’s corny jokes, sharing our dreams of the future and encouraging each other during difficult days. For four years, we built a sweet bond as we passed each other on campus or met in the cafeteria.

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After graduation, life took over and we lost contact with each other.

The relationship I had with Halie was uncommon in that our life experiences for those first 18 years of life were unlike in nature.

Halie was from a foreign country half a world away from mine. His skin color was different from mine. He was the first person I had ever met who spoke the Queen’s English, which I thought was delightful.

And Halie enjoyed trying to mimic my Lawrence County accent. The differences in our customs, assumptions and upbringing were foreign to us too. But in the core of our humanness, we were very much the same.

Halie and I both had to struggle with baggage from painful memories. We had fears of failure and were intimidated by the challenges that we faced. We had huge dreams for our futures and neither knew exactly how those dreams would materialize, or even if they would. But we shared something so strong that it was an inspiration to us. We shared hope, a confident expectation that good things were ahead for us. And when one’s hope would waver under the clouds of life that sometimes surround us, the other would be the reminder that hope still prevailed.

Being reintroduced to Halie causes me to ponder other relationships I’ve had over my lifetime that have influenced my journey.

It seems God has put just the right people in my path at just the right time to encourage, lift, and motivate me to become the person I am today. Though these people were only in my life for a season, how valuable they have been. How sad life would be, how empty, without friendships that touch our souls.

Perhaps we look at people who grew up in neighborhoods, cultures and lands other than what we know, who have different shades of skin color, or speak with different words or accents and we determine that we know them, without ever really trying to truly see them or appreciate what they’ve had to endure. Too often, we are guilty of using stereotypes to judge people we don’t actually know.

I think humanity is like a beautiful bouquet of every flower on earth — all different colors and textures, shapes and fragrances. The most beautiful bouquet is that which includes everyone.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I out to be… this is the inter-related structure of reality.”

I know this sounds idealistic, but at least in my world I have found my gifts shine brightest and my life is richest when I strive to understand and build relationships with many, even if they come from a totally different world than I.

Halie and his family only live two hours from my family. He is retired and helps his wife manage a restaurant that specializes in food from Ethiopia. With the help of modern technology and close proximity of our homes, Halie and I will continue that sweet friendship and be richer for it.


Nora Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.