An Ode to Good Friends
The moment you walk into Erin and Paul’s flat, you quickly learn about the kind of people they are, whether they are present or not.
If they’re home, they will most likely greet you with a warm “Isten Hozott,” a traditional Hungarian welcome blessing, and Paul will not hesitate to give you the Puszi, that kiss on both cheeks you’ve seen in movies or in person if you’ve ever been to Hungary. They will show you their seemingly effortless hospitality in a heartbeat: Erin will freely ask questions and eagerly listen and chat until the sun goes down. Paul will joke with you, cook you deliciously authentic Hungarian cuisine, and feed you generous helpings of wine and pálinka. You will quickly feel at home as you watch how they care for their daughter while still making you feel wanted, important, welcome.
If, however, (for whatever conspicuous reason) you find yourself in Erin and Paul’s flat when they aren’t home, you would still feel like you were getting to know them intimately. A quick left turn puts you in the kitchen, where the refrigerator contains upwards of 40 magnets, arranged geographically as if representing a world map, each one containing memories. (If they were home, they’d tell you which magnets Erin picked out, a surprising minority, but remember, they aren’t home in this scenario, so you just gaze at the magnets in awe and jealousy.) A litany of child-crafted art adorns the kitchen door, art from babysitting and Sunday School sessions. On a small post-it note next to a light switch the words “choose joy” are written. On the refrigerator, above all of the magnets, a question is posed—not to you, I don’t think, but a question they continually ask themselves: Is your end goal in life to give your life away?
A further stroll around their flat—out of the kitchen, into the living room—reveals Paul and Erin’s deep faith. Hand-written Bible verses are everywhere. The Hungarian Házi Áldás, "house blessing," is hung up next to the dining room table. A large array of books line a full wall of the family room, books intended to stretch faith and grow marriages and assist those who are looking to, well, give their lives away.
Paul and Erin have the distinct talent of making you feel like the most important, valued person on the planet. They listen, laugh, and challenge you with ease and grace. They are never, ever in a hurry. They seek to make each other better. When you’re with them, time seems to speed up: 7 PM turns to 10 PM faster than you can say “Who wants more wine?” and then, like a tornado, 11 PM is staring you in the face and you’ve got to rush to find your shoes and catch the 50 tram to get back to Újpest before the M3 stops running for the night (you know how it is).
On Tuesday of this past week, we went to Élesztő, the best craft beer bar in Budapest, a place where we’ve shared many laughs, tears, and meaningful conversations with Paul and Erin. As I finished editing a Boomerang Instagram story of us clinking beer glasses, Paul abruptly asked, “So what do you guys advocate for?” There was no pause, no lead-in, no anything. It led to a real conversation about how it’s important to choose a few causes you believe in, how you have to be critical about what charities to support, about the possibility of adopting kids or taking care of orphans.
I didn’t expect to have a conversation like that, one that is vulnerable and messy and difficult, even though 2 years of doing life with the Genua’s showed me that any time is appropriate to bring up such things. In that moment, I couldn’t help but be grateful for their friendship, one that has now spanned 2 years, one child and a continent. Their friendship has brought us more deeply into the understanding of how to be a good friend. Good friends are people who show hospitality, who listen, who make you feel important and valued, who ask big questions and who challenge you to be bigger, to be better, to give your life away. In my estimation, that’s the only way to find your life anyway.