Estranged Friendships: Lessons from Kobe Bryant’s Death

Estranged Friendships: Lessons from Kobe Bryant’s Death January 29, 2020

Don’t Put Off What Needs to be Done Now; What is Right to Do

Tell your loved ones that you love and appreciate them, and be loving. Also, we all need to stop the petty quarreling and squabbles. Life is too short. This is what we learn from sudden tragic deaths like Kobe Bryant’s; also, of course, that we need to be ready at all times to meet God, for we don’t know when we ourselves will be doing that:
James 4:14-15, 17 (RSV) whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. [15] Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” . . . [17] Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Speaking of both basketball and death: it so happens that the last several nights, I have been watching (and immensely enjoying) basketball videos on You Tube, including many Hall of Fame speeches and delightful hyper-competitor Larry Bird tales. And I came across a beautiful reminiscing conversation between our own Detroit Pistons’ Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson (who came from Lansing, Michigan). It was quintessential male friendship stuff. And being a huge sports guy (as I sit here with an injured shoulder from a too-wild Frisbee throw!) and NBA fan myself, I loved every minute of it.
Long story short: they were very close friends in the 80s and early 90s until a few things happened to separate them (which sad falling-out between two very amiable people lasted some 25 years). This show was simply them getting together and talking about the old days. But it was much more than that. Magic mentioned that it’s very hard for people [especially men: I add] to say they are wrong.

Then shortly afterwards (at the very end of the video), he apologized to Isiah for hurting him. What was striking was Thomas’ immediate reaction: he broke down crying and sobbed like a baby on Magic’s shoulder for a long, profoundly moving time. It really struck me. When men finally show their real emotions, and stop hiding them, it can be very powerful and liberating / healing indeed. I often observe that “men are emotional imbeciles.”

I used to be one myself, till one year God gave me the grace to stop hiding my emotions and basically pretending that I had none (yeah, right!) — because I had been terribly hurt in many ways — and to again feel and express pain.  That was over 37 years ago now, and by God’s providence I met my wife that same year. What I learned about myself and emotions in that crucial period of my life would be of priceless value in setting up what has been a very happy and fulfilling relationship.

I was thinking, “man, imagine the pain he felt over that for all those years: so great that his reaction was immediate when an apology finally came.” As one who has been hurt and misunderstood many times in my life (and who has hurt others many times as well — many times as a result of my apologetics work, which can and does create many sensitive and complicated personal situations), I could sure relate to that.
In a very eerie coincidence, I was looking again at that video and I glanced over and saw that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a tragic accident.  And it comes back to my point: imagine if Isiah Thomas had been killed in that helicopter crash, and this beautiful reconciliation (which occurred in 2017) hadn’t yet happened: how Magic Johnson would have felt? He would have carried that burden with him and regretted it forever (and that is not easy at all, because nothing can be done about it, and it’s very tough to forgive ourselves). Better late than never with apologies and reconciliations, but it should never go 25 years.
Paul McCartney often talks about his repeated attempts to fully reconcile with John Lennon after they had squabbled miserably, due to the break-up of the Beatles. They managed to gradually be on pretty good terms, and their last visit before Lennon was gunned down, was positive. Paul talks about how that made Lennon’s tragic death far easier to take, compared to if they hadn’t done so (John Lennon was actually — in his last years — much more estranged from George Harrison: many people don’t realize).
Another sad “fighting band members” story is Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm from The Band. That feud lasted about 35 years or more. But I heard that Robertson went to see Helm on his death bed. We don’t know what happened (it’s none of our business), but I think it’s reasonable to assume that a lot of healing took place, with tears. And I bet regret over the lost years was also a factor. What’s sad — how sad! — is that it took impending death to bring them together. As in all these stories, they were once like brothers and shared so much.
Another story from sports that people may not be aware of was Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. They had a big falling-out over relatively minor misunderstandings and didn’t talk for over four years. Then Gehrig developed the debilitating terminal disease that now bears his name and Babe Ruth showed up at the famous farewell / tribute ceremony in Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1939 and embraced him. All those years wasted: but at least they eventually got it right.
These things shouldn’t go so many years, because (besides being wrong in and of themselves) we could die at any time, and those with whom we have had a falling-out could, too. It brings another Bible passage to mind:
Matthew 5:22-26 [part of the Sermon on the Mount] But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. [23] So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [25] Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; [26] truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
God also knows of instances where one party is perfectly willing to reconcile and to take the necessary steps to bring that about, but the other is totally unwilling. We’re commanded by our Lord Jesus and St. Paul:
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” [22] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Mark 9:50 . . . be at peace with one another.
1 Thessalonians 5:13 . . . Be at peace among yourselves.
Romans 12:19-21 [Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [20] No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” [21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
But we also have verses like the following (which I’m very glad are in the Bible too!). Jesus and Paul additionally stated or wrote:
Matthew 10:13-14 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
Romans 12:16-18 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. [17] Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. [18] If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.
So we should do what we can, what we ought to do, and are commanded to do as Christians: “as far as it depends on us”; and sometimes we have to let our “peace return to” us, because every person has free will and very well may not reciprocate.
Show and express your love. Don’t wait! Don’t put it off. Make the first move. Swallow your pride. Make things right with loved ones you have had fights with. It’s good theology and practical wisdom for day-to-day life. And we will feel much better if we do these things. But that’s not why we do them. We do them because it is the right thing to do, as disciples of Jesus.
Photo credit: Photo by Waite Hoyt Collection/Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images []
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