Thursday, June 14, 2012


As I pulled the t-shirt out of the washing machine,
I noticed how frayed the collar was on one of them
and made a mental note to myself, 'this one goes
into the rag bin when it dries.'  Good thing, too.
There was fraying on the sleeves, as well as the
start of a rip in the back.  But then, as I turned it
right side out, I deleted that mental note.

After all, this isn't just any t-shirt, it's a train shirt -
a big engine printed on the front, with the logo at
the bottom 'California State Railroad Museum.'
But it's not because it's a train shirt that makes it
so special, it's the fact that it was given to me by
another train lover.

My friend, Robert, had brought it back to me from
on of the train trips he and his wife have made over
the years, and if t-shirts can be said to have a ranking,
this one was right up there at the top.  In summers, I
wore it at least once a week, and in winters, I often
would slip it on and then put on heavier clothes over
it before going outside.  No wonder it has become
just a bit frayed.

But more importantly, every time I washed it, every
time I folded it up and placed it in the drawer, every
time I pulled it on, I thought about Robert, and gave a
prayer of thanks for his friendship.  You see, for 15
years he and I had shared breakfast once a week,
sharing our lives, our ministry frustrations and
celebrations, our thoughts, our wonderings.  But
then, he got called to a church way out in Iowa,
and it was memories, a train shirt, a prayer book
from Iona which remained.

Oh, I was convinced I would maintain regular contact
with him.  After all, with phones, email, skyping, all
those instant ways of being in touch, why wouldn't
that happen?  Especially if someone is an introvert
like myself,  these are the perfect ways to communicate
with others.

But I have discovered that it is hard to maintain a
long-distance friendship, almost has hard as
maintaining a long-distance romance.  E-mail is
great, but I liked sitting across the table and
seeing the delight and laughter in Robert's
eyes and face when he talked about the joys
of the Renaissance Fair, or the wedding he
just performed.  Twitter may be a simple
way to share, but can one's soul be reduced
to 140 characters in a message?  Not really.

It's like my relationship with God.  It is easy
to think that I can have a good prayer life, as
I walk quickly into the hospital, hoping that
God is tagging along with me.  It's easy to
assume that God is willing to be satisfied
with no communication from my end, because
God must know how I really feel.  It's easy
to think it doesn't take time, commitment,
discipline (like writing down 'breakfast with
Bob' for every Thursday on the calendar,
and then showing up for that sacred moment)
to maintain a relationship simply because
one's intentions are good.

No, with an attitude like that, a relationship
with a friend, or God, can become as frayed
as that t-shirt I found in the washer.

© 2012 Thom M. Shuman