Will you be my friend
April 15th, 2013
On the playground at school when I was little, other children would come up to me and ask, "Will you be my friend?" Even then, my heart melted and there was no way I could say no. I never had the courage to ask anyone that question, so afraid was I of rejection.
So there I was, the sissy, nerdy brainiac kid with this diverse group of friends. When my sixth grade class in Kentucky public school was integrated, I was the first boy with three black girls for friends; another of my friends was the class bully, about three grades behind, bigger and tougher than the rest of us, with a huge chip on his shoulder ("Will you be my friend?"). I met my friend Larry when the "special education" classes merged into "mainstream". He had a developmental disability and I was the class weirdo genius. We were inseparable in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. When I couldn't make the high jump (even the first level), he pretended to stumble and joined me on the sidelines. It didn't fool the gym teacher for a minute, but it showed me the stuff from which my friend was made.
There is a Bible passage that says something like, "The one who wants a friend must show him or herself friendly." This is good advice for religious and unreligious people.
Oysters may grow pearls, but they don't have lots of friends...probably. They are too tightly shut. Protecting ourselves, keeping up all the defenses, making sure no one hurts us are all ways of insuring isolation and misunderstanding. If we want friends, we need to invite friendship. That means sharing ourselves with others even at the risk that we might be hurt or used or discarded for someone deemed better. Let someone peek into your secret places. The jock who admits he loves (or worse yet, writes) poetry or enjoys the gracefulness of ballet; the classical musician who enjoys country music now and again may sound like anomalies, but these eccentrics are just the ones who tell somebody how they feel. Open up, give it a try. Take someone's hand on the playground and ask "Will you be my friend?"
Of course we can't tell everybody everything we think and feel, but if we can tell someone, we are in danger of gaining a real friend. Friends can see us and love us no matter how we feel about our disfigurations.
Everybody needs a friend or two--everybody--a BFF, where the hugs are real, not "air kisses" and cocktail party banter: "and what do you do?" Most of us are willing to be a friend, but we are often hard-pressed to let someone else be our friend...especially somebody who looks or acts differently from us. The sissy and the bully walking around the playground with arms around each other's shoulders telling secrets is not the "norm". Not everybody fits into the tidy cubbyhole of category that is so comfortable to our brain-wiring.
Differences make our friendships richer. Similarities make us comfortable until we begin to see in our friends what we dislike in ourselves. Then we look for similar differences--cultures, backgrounds, abilities, complementarity. A diverse spectrum of friends challenges our assumptions, rearranges our world-view, confronts our theories and makes us think them through. "Will you be my friend?"
These past three weeks of thoughts were brought on by my relationship with my dog, Sherry. The best thing she does for me is to let me be her friend. How can you expand your deep friendships? What changes must you make in how you perceive or present yourself to be able to receive friendship that is yours for the asking?