This post is part of a series of what I am thankful for, particularly since my Accident.
I am thankful for friends and family.
My definitions of these words are, in one sense, rather fuzzy: they definitely blur from one to the other. Tim was a friend, and we are now married, so I guess he is one of the few who has made the transition from one (legally) to the other. Thus he is easy. (Ahem. Only in once sense. He is not cheap.) But for the rest of the human race, it’s hard to be precise. For this post I figured I would try to define exactly what I mean by the “friends and family” for whom I’m so thankful.
First, understand that I’m an introvert. Really. I know, I don’t necessarily look like an introvert: as my friend Max said in high school, I “have lunch with everybody, every day.” I was, and am, an introvert who has learned that there is value in appearing as an extrovert. There is value in social relations. Of course I was not close friends with most of those every lunch contacts: I didn’t have time. Not for every day. But we knew each other well enough that we could call on each other if we needed to. And from very early on, I realized that what I call “friendship” does not necessarily have a lot to do with emotion or time spent with each other. It has to do with commitment and dedication. It has to do with “being there” when needed.
I’ve had several crises in my life. We all do. One of my biggest worries used to be: having to face such difficult times alone. When I moved to Arkansas in 1999, I knew that I was leaving everything behind me that I’d known. I was moving to a new job, a new state, and “coming out of the closet” to boot. During those first couple of years, I did not realize how many “friends” I had developed, using this “being there” definition, until after my accident. The gay community in Little Rock might be small, but it seemed that a large part of it rallied round me to help when I was recovering.
The interesting thing about this definition of “friendship” is that you’re really not sure about it until it’s needed. Or rather: you can only be sure about it in one direction. I know that I’m willing to be “a friend” to a number of people, because I’m willing to endure significant hardship if they were to need it. But they have to be willing to ask: and that is another side to this aspect of the “friendship” coin. Before my accident, I was almost always on the “giving” side of a relationship. I didn’t mind; I do it well (I think). But while recovering from a brain injury, I couldn’t “give”. I will admit that back then I was surprised at how many were willing to “give” to me. It was a blessing not only because I needed to be helped, but because I realized that many unexpected people were willing to be helpers.
I don’t think a person can “be there” for everyone. We have to limit the number of “friends” we have in our lives, at least in this sense. With the priorities and needs that compete for attention in our lives, we only have time for a limited number. And sometimes… often, but now always… we find that a person we’re willing to “be there” for is also willing to “be there” for us. That’s when we start to blur into family. Reciprocal “being there” tends to fade the line between the two. Many of us in the gay community have found that this inner circle of “chosen” family is often closer than our biological family.
I remember when I graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago; how all of us, as new graduates, were suddenly being thrust into the world after three years of unity and closeness. I remember discussing this with some of my classmates, who were heading off to different parts of the country, the continent, and the world. Most I knew I’d never see again. Some promised to keep in touch. But there were a few: and I remember these discussions… we knew that no matter how long it was until we saw each other, or how we had changed, when we did get back together it would be like no time had passed. Oh, we’d catch up on events: but we’d still be the same people. That’s exactly how it was for some who were true friends. I’d “come out” over the years; a few rejected me, but that just illustrated that they were not willing to “be there” and were not really “friends” in this sense. But some helped me to wrestle with the issues behind coming out, and could “be there” when I was making decisions about my sexuality. They may not have understood it, but they accepted it and eventually respected it. That became another example of the kind of friends who can “be there”, and for whom I’m thankful.