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“You have really weird friends,” my mother told me when I came home to visit as a young professional. I took a moment to consider. “I guess I do,” I admitted without apology.
When I was very young, I knew about friends. I was voted queen of my third grade classroom. How could I be chosen when I wasn’t the prettiest, most athletic, or even the best singer? I was the best at liking everybody. When I brought my friend Dana home to play one day, she committed the sin of taking a pickle off our dinner table under my mother’s nose. There were rumors about Dana’s mother, but all I understood was she wore bright red nail polish and a shiny bathrobe. After Dana had left our house, my mother pulled me aside. “Don’t bring her here again,” she directed.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because she’s bold.”
I didn’t know what “bold” meant, but I dutifully relayed the information to my friend when she asked why she couldn’t come over. She was stricken. “What does that mean?” she wanted to know. I shrugged. I had no idea, but it had something to do with taking a pickle.
As I grew, I deduced that friends were supposed to be mirrors. They should have opinions, attitudes, and personalities that matched mine and those of my family. We should never disagree. My circle of friends immediately shrank. I suspect that I shrank, too. I had learned to judge.
Attending three different universities broke my shell. I was exposed to lifestyles that my parents had done their best to hide from me. I wasn’t attracted to choices that contradicted my values, but I gradually came to understand them. I discovered that some of my parents’ viewpoints were based on assumptions I couldn’t defend. I started breaking my own path.
One day, I told my husband that when I become a successful author, I’m going to throw a big party and invite all our friends. Then I realized that all our friends wouldn’t necessarily enjoy being together. Why was I drawn to people who were so very different from one another? Each friend brought his or her own perspectives. I loved being surrounded by different cultures, ages, ethnicities, races, economic backgrounds, and religious philosophies. Each friendship opened my understanding wider. The only people who frightened me were those who lived in tight, windowless boxes—particularly if they wanted to drag me inside.
My heartfelt thanks to all who have opened their hearts and minds to me. We don’t have to remain tied to one another. Some friendships are meant to endure. Others belong in a specific moment. I have learned that I need to work to be open to everyone I meet—friends and non-friends, alike. Each person has a kind of wisdom, a story, to share. I keep changing as I learn. Now I’m one of the weird friends my mother warned me about.