My too friend and me at my mom’s funeral
“I remember desperately wanting to be popular in high school, but I was always just too,” and here she paused before continuing, “fill in the blank.”
I stopped in mid-whip as I was whisking eggs for our breakfast. My friend and I had arranged a girls’ evening, and she had spent the night at my house while my husband was busy with a conference at work.
I smiled at her. The fact that my friend was too ____ is probably the biggest reason I became friends with her over 20 years ago. I had lived in the DC suburbs for six years at that point, and I’d never had a close friend in Maryland like the friends I left behind in West Virginia. Though I loved the area, I hadn’t found it easy to make friends, having come from a small town where everyone knew everyone—and their parents. She and I had only worked together for a few weeks when she invited my husband and me to dinner with her and her husband at their home.
The fact that she was too was one of the reasons I was drawn to her. I learned during the years of our friendship that she was too too for many people—too loud, too emotional, too effusive, and, sometimes, too free with the F-word. But she made me think and she made me laugh, and in the years that we’ve been friends, she has always made me feel loved. On the evening I received a cancer diagnosis, she rushed to my house with dinner and sat in the living room, rubbing my shoulders to get the knots out of my back while my husband took a break from reassuring me that everything was going to be okay. And when her husband—my first intimate friend of another race—died unexpectedly after minor surgery, my husband and I were among the first to rush to her home to hold her as we all wept and tried to fathom the capriciousness of death.
Now, I made breakfast for the two of us and served it up in the bowls she had brought me the evening before—wrapped in gold paper and accompanied by a card reminding me of how much I meant to her. I got a lump in my throat as I read the card and laughed when I opened the gifts. The last time she had spent the night, I’d complained that the only serving bowls I had for my everyday dishes were too heavy and that I could hardly lift them. And being the too attentive friend that she is, she’d remembered that for weeks.
Now I listened to her explain how long it had taken her to accept her too-ness. She went on to explain that she had learned in her previous job—the only job she never enjoyed—to deal with the fact that people weren’t always going to be happy with you. And for the first time I heard her give voice to the positive side of a job she disliked: “But, you know, that job taught me that everyone wasn’t always going to like me. And for the first time in my life, I was able to think, Well, okay, then. But you’re missing out on knowing a really good person.”
In the days since that conversation, I’ve been thinking a lot about her words of wisdom. And I wonder how many of us miss out on knowing really good people because we consider them too…fill in the blank.
Like all people, I sometimes cross people off my list who are too—especially those who are too far to the opposite political extreme for my tastes. And I’m not alone. Many studies have been released recently that show that most of us gravitate to friends who share our political views. The bad thing about that, of course, is that we sometimes miss out on knowing really good people whose views don’t coincide with our own. And in the absence of knowing really good people on the opposite side of the aisle, we stereotype those who disagree with us and blame them for everything that is wrong with America.
Many are the stories about how members of Congress no longer interact socially because they don’t, as they once did, send their children to the same schools and sit on the same sides during their children’s sporting events. And their failure to cross the too line has come at a price for our nation.
So what if I made breakfast for someone who is too? Some of us do that, but we dine in civility, never mentioning the perspectives that could divide us. What if I got to know that person who is too—got to know her enough to care about what happens to her children, enough to be there if she got a diagnosis of cancer or if she lost her husband? And what if our leaders did the same?
What if each day I looked for one opportunity to have a conversation with someone whose too-ness makes me just a little uncomfortable? It might not work. But if it worked even half as well as my friendship with my too-friend, it might be enough to change the world.
Tell me your stories of too….