Soft spring light falls unhindered through the window—on the sixth floor there are no trees to block the sun. Abraham sits low on a sofa against the wall, papers spread out on the coffee table in front of him. He is wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt and jeans and has black slide sandals on over his socks. He leans forward to read the piece of paper in his weathered hand, an index finger helping him keep his place as he sounds out each word.
Across from Abraham, Everett crosses his legs in a wooden kitchen chair. He is wearing a blue button-down shirt tucked into slacks. It matches the sky outside the window. He listens patiently as Abraham reads and only leans in toward the coffee table to help if he asks. Abraham and Everett have been meeting like this—over papers spread out on a coffee table—for more than ten years. “I have learned many good things from Everett,” Abraham says with a smile.
The two men met in 2004 in one of World Relief DuPage/Aurora’s English classes for refugees. Abraham, who is from Liberia, had just been resettled in Wheaton after fleeing his home with his wife and four of their children 15 years before. He was learning English for the first time. Everett had recently retired and returned to Illinois with his wife after teaching in international schools for many years. He wanted to find a way to use his gifts in retirement, so he began volunteering as an ESL classroom aide.
Some might call this timing a coincidence. To Abraham and Everett it seems like providence.
For four years, they got to know each other during weekly English classes, and in 2008 Abraham wanted to begin studying for his U.S. citizenship exam and interview. Everett volunteered to meet him outside of class once a week to practice. For 18 months they studied together, and in October 2009, Abraham passed both his interview and exam and became a U.S. citizen.
“It was such an exciting day, and afterward I asked Abraham if he wanted to keep meeting,” Everett recalls. “He said, of course!” Now, it has been ten years and they’ve never stopped.
On this particular day, Abraham is reading part of his life story. For the past few weeks he has been recounting it for Everett, beginning when he was born in Liberia in 1924 all the way through to becoming a U.S. citizen. Everett recorded and typed the story so that Abraham could practice reading it and share it with his grandchildren. After finishing several pages, Abraham retreats to the kitchen to boil water for tea and to make hard-boiled eggs and toast. While he waits, Everett pulls out his tablet to play some Liberian music—Abraham’s favorite. “Abraham has helped me gain an appreciation for Liberian culture,” Everett says. “It’s so important to meet people from different places, so you’re not basing your opinions about that group on stereotypes.”
Abraham returns with the tea and the two men sit in silence as they drink it. The clock on the wall next to the window ticks faithfully. In the space of only two hours, Abraham and Everett have laughed together, shared in hospitality and served one another, and sat in this comfortable silence, just enjoying one another’s presence. If these aren’t the markers of true friendship, what is? Before they end their weekly meeting, Abraham confirms this. “He’s my very best friend,” he says of Everett. And Everett smiles from across the coffee table.
Are you interested in building a friendship like Everett & Abraham’s? Right now, over a dozen refugees and immigrants are waiting to be matched with an in-home English tutor. Apply on our website today.