Category Archives: Friendship

Who’s Your Bestest Friend?

Donut

Monday, ice that caused closings and delays. Tuesday, an accident.  Wednesday, another accident.  Thursday, flooding that closed two of the three routes I can take to work.  Today, I have no idea what the problem was, but it slowed traffic to a crawl and turned my 40-minute commute into a 70-minute pressure-cooker.

My blood pressure high, I greeted the secretaries with frustration: “That’s 70 minutes of my life I’m never getting back!”

But I still got a premium parking spot—on the end where I can park far enough from the next spot so that no one will ding my doors or scrape a bag the entire length of my car, which happens with frequency in a large office building where everyone is in a hurry.  That means that I was one of the earliest arrivals.  And yet when I arrived, all five secretaries in our office suite were already at their desks, cheerful and welcoming.

As the staff of teacher specialists and supervisors straggled in, the secretaries greeted us with unfailing optimism.  And once everyone had arrived, one secretary brought out heart-shaped donuts glazed in chocolate in celebration of another secretary’s birthday.  Another made a chocolate chip pie from scratch, which the birthday celebrant shared with everyone in the office.  At lunch, the secretaries all gathered around a desk in the center of the open space where they all work to have lunch together.  But they never left the office, as the rest of us do when one of us has a birthday, and they interrupted their lunch to take turns answering the phone whenever it rang.

When I worked in a school, I thought that those who worked in the district office took long lunches at fine restaurants.  I was wrong.  The last time my team went out to lunch, a distant memory at this point, we went to a chain sandwich place for a team member’s birthday and were back to work within an hour.  And even that is more time than the secretaries take—ever.

The school system just paid Gallup to conduct a survey about the engagement of our work force.  When we filled out the survey, we all laughed at one question, which asked us to strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement, “I have a best friend at work.” When we talked about it, most people rolled their eyes and said that they stopped using the term “best friend” after adolescence.

I use the term—to refer to my husband and one or two very dear friends. But most of my colleagues, especially the men, said they didn’t use the term at all.  And while I found myself wondering how much the school system paid Gallup to do the poll, I was curious about the results.  As you can imagine, that question had, by far, the lowest rate of agreement.

So, no, I don’t have a best friend at work.  But this morning, I was grateful for the secretaries, who always ask how my morning is going and who gave me a heart-shaped donut with chocolate frosting on a morning when I sorely needed a pick-me-up.

So tomorrow it’s back to a healthier diet….as soon as I leave the pasta cooking class that I’m going to in the afternoon with three of my bestest friends—my daughter, my sister-in-law, and my niece.

But it’s nice to get through the week with colleagues who, while we may not be best friends, care about each other.

So tell me your stories of friends, good friends, and best friends.

Your Way? My Way? A Third Way?

Reunion

We attended school together for seven years, members of the same graduating class.  We both moved out of West Virginia as adults and settled in metropolitan areas.  We both chose service professions—law enforcement for him, teaching for me.  We reconnected at a class reunion two years ago and keep in touch through social media.  We share a love of Washington football and RGIII, consider our dogs members of our families, and treasure our vacations on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
 
But politically, we come from different universes instead of the same hometown.  And even though we respect each other and value our friendship, we sometimes try to change each other’s opinions.  When one of us posts political messages on social media, the other one often comments—though our children tell us this is an exercise in futility.  We have never changed the other’s mind, but we respect each other and value our friendship, and we both believe it’s important to talk about politics.
 
I am a storyteller.  And it’s stories rather than facts or unsupported opinions that make me think.  I challenged my friend to post stories instead of opinions, and he reminded me that, like me, he has an ethical responsibility not to tell the stories of the people he encounters every day on the job.  That leaves us both with only the choice of telling personal stories—more difficult for him than for me because, in addition to my work with students who are often poor, my views are shaped by having grown up poor and having received government help on more than one occasion.  His views have been shaped by dealing with criminals every day who abuse the government help they receive and who have learned to manipulate the legal system and avoid paying the price for their abuses—criminals whose stories he must keep to himself.
 
Yet we have still managed to make each other think.  He sometimes laughs at me and calls me Spunky Girl, but he has recently been posting links to the stories of others that he reads in the news.  He posted one story about a woman who shot an intruder who broke into her home and threatened her and her children.  And while I couldn’t understand how that might justify the right to assault weapons, I can understand the lengths a mother would go to in order to protect her children.  Then my friend posted a story about how people who receive assistance are using their government issued cards at ATM machines in bars, liquor stores, strip clubs, and porn shops.
 
While I don’t particularly care for the news source where he gets these stories, I do know that, just as there are good people who need government assistance, there are also people who do not use the help they receive wisely.  Two of my brothers took advantage of my mother’s all-consuming love for them and drained her life’s savings to support their addictions, and one died of an overdose in her guest bedroom.  Her love and support could not save him.  And my daughter, knowing from watching her uncles that it was never a good idea to give money to the homeless, went into a fast-food restaurant and bought a meal for a homeless man who asked her for money.  When she offered the meal to him, he took the meal but cursed her for giving him food when he’d asked for money.
 
These are stories my friend and I can tell.  And when my friend posted the two stories, he reminded me that love and compassion alone cannot save the broken.  My father turned his life around when he decided to give up drinking, and though we were still poor, we were not destitute as we were when he drank and gambled every payday weekend.
 
So what is the answer?  I don’t know.  I do know that the solutions my friend proposes haven’t worked.  Nor have mine.  Somehow we have to find a balance between extending compassion and demanding responsibility.  Somehow we have to stop operating from the two extremes when the politicians in office shift from one party to another.  Somehow our leaders must learn to find a third way that is better than the ways they champion.  And, perhaps most of all, we must somehow find a way to support our leaders when they give up a little of what they believe for a third way that just might work better.
 
And perhaps sharing our stories is a beginning.