A gift from two friends.
by the national gadfly, Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 10:13:26 PM EST
This is about my friends, how amazing they are to me.
My new friend:
I recently posted about a community whose rights are routinely ignored, stripped and abused. I took a risk in writing it because I know very little about the community. I spoke about what I do know; about my belief that the law works for everyone or it works for no one. I have no friends, no family, no coworkers in this group of people. Yet, as a human being, a father and a citizen I have reached a point where I can no longer sit by while others are bullied simply because they are different and fewer in numbers. So, I spoke out from my heart that how we the large groups treat the smaller, how the strong treat the weak yields a foul harvest for all of us.
(Cross posted at The National Gadfly)
Empathy is not my strong suit (you can ask my wife, if you require any proof) but I somehow managed to think about how I would feel if my relative were in a group of people being beaten, ridiculed and vilified. I thought about how I might feel. I looked at my life and chose not to shrug my shoulders or leave them to speak for themselves.
We have reached a dangerous time in our country. The majority has begun to vote on the rights of minorities, such as Prop 8 in CA. This is nothing less than the absolute reversal of the over-arching gift of our Constitution: the idea that all people are created equal. This really means that nobody is better than anyone else and that nobody living in a society given by a law "of the people and for the people". I believe so strongly in this and it gave me a place to stand for this group of people that is neither patronizing or reinforcing the patriarchal model of inequality. It took me a long time to get here.
I received a comment from someone in the community I spoke about. Apparently, my piece was liked enough by this individual to recommend it to others in their community. I began chatting back & forth via comments, twitter, email & IM with this person. We could hardly be more different with no shared background. However, we see eye-to-eye on virtually every issue we've discussed. Politics, human rights, society, family, economics or whatever. In the act of speaking out in defense of the good in all people, I met someone that I am fast, good friends with. I listened to how this individual has dealt with the people and challenges of life. As a result, I am in awe and I am honored by the friendship returned to me.
I did not expect such an amazing friend, but I am so happy to have one. None of this would have happened if I kept my mouth shut or settled for preconceived notions about a group of people. This year, I have chosen to act in support of my convictions. I got politically active, volunteering for Obama all year, starting a blog, contributing to others' blogs and speaking out in my neighborhood, work and family. I have begun to see what that decision makes available to me in my life. It is humbling. This new friendship is a flawless expression of the person that I am today.
I think that maybe I was not ready for this friendship until this point in my life. It's sort of like that old saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears". Which I take to mean that until I was capable of noticing the limits of my understanding, I was not able to bridge such a wide gap in culture. The hilarity is that I now realize how narrow the differences between us really are.
My old friend:
A couple of days ago I had a vastly different conversation with another friend of mine. This friend and I go back 27 years. We met in the US Army Special Forces. He and I went through all of that for years together. That bond endures to this day. He and his wife attended my wedding. We visit each other's families. We pick up the phone for each other and it is as if no time has passed. I am proud of our unflinching commitment to each other and I consider myself very fortunate to have this man's friendship. He is a good family man, raising a large family.
Politically, philosophically & spiritually however, we could not be more different. He's a devout Christian, GOP, Right-winger who I could not disagree with any more if someone paid me. We have had chuckles and arguments over the years. I think he's gotten worse and I'm sure he thinks the same of me. I listen to the wing-nut talking points he states with complete enthusiasm and I can't believe he's serious, but he really is. We don't just differ - we completely disagree. We are diametrically opposed. The gap between his philosophy and mine is stunning.
Normally, I just spend a couple of days shaking my head after he and I get into it on politics, economics, race, god or whatever. This time though, our conversation comes on the heels of meeting my new friend.
My new self:
This situation really captured my attention. On one hand, I have meet someone that I am instantly allied with in all issues of importance to me - to the person I have become. On the other hand, I have an unquestionable devotion to someone that disagrees with many of my core principles - a relationship built when I was 21. This really got my attention and I've been processing it for days. How can I be friends with both people? This was quite a dilemma for me.
Then, I asked myself "What if there is no dilemma? How narrow is my definition of my Self that it cannot hold two such different relationships?" That's when I began to realize the real gift that my new friendship had offered me. I had just stepped out across a gap of mis-understanding and found that there is no real gap between us. Had I forgotten that lesson so quickly?
And what of my philosophy that we are all in this together? This is exactly what "together" looks like. Different people being related and defined by how we listen for the greatness in each other. And how we listen to ourselves when we have the chance, allowing the strength of our convictions to overcome the limits of our misunderstanding.
So, I will cherish my new friend for all the time we have yet to share and I will just see if I can live long enough to see my other friend come to his senses. I could not have asked for any better gift this holiday season.