Worthy of Friendship

In the last few days, the social media newsfeed has shown numerous posts reflecting upon creating our circles, and choosing friends wisely. It’s left me with this thought. We teach our children to choose their friends carefully, curating relationships based upon outward actions, reputation, behavior, and other attributes that we can see with the eye. This is understandable. We don’t wish ill will or difficulty to come to our little ones as they learn and grow. We don’t wish their reputations before being fully formed, to be tarnished. We don’t want them to be on the receiving end of cruelty or ridicule by other students, and honestly, by other parents. We teach them to select friends from whom they will benefit by matter of character. We use these same principles when selecting our own circle of friends and colleagues. It’s said, “choose your tribe”, “select those who will help you soar”, “be around those who benefit you and challenge you”. This has merit. Yet, I ask, upon what is this based? The majority of the time it is based solely on outward presentation. When first meeting someone we have no other knowledge from which to draw a conclusion. It seems to me, rather than draw a conclusion of any kind, rather than selecting myself who I want to associate with, rather than picking and choosing based upon reputation, the focus should be inward. Am I someone that others would want to be around? Am I someone that helps uplift others? Am I someone that has depth of character and compassion to be a good friend, a good human to any and all or only to those who fit a certain mold? It saddens me to read things about discerning the character of others based solely on reputation, especially so when the person is young. I knew a girl in high school who had a poor reputation. She was referred to by many as “trashy”. Yet, few knew the details of repeated abuse that stole her value. She truly had not even “slept around”, as it was said. All it took was one or two foul mouthed male students who took from her something and then by their actions made her daily life hell. Freshman year, my second school already, and being the new girl with few friends, I was fortunate to have made a friend in her. She was real. She was honest. She was smart. She was significantly more than anything ever repeated about her.

Sophomore year brought another change of schools and a student who was decidedly cruel to me was waiting there. I never understood why. She would call me names in Spanish that would be inappropriate to repeat. She whispered to other girls about me. She occasionally pushed too hard walking past me, but not hard enough to be considered hitting. There was no reason, of course, so on most days, I shrugged it off. Somehow, in my 16 year old jolly optimism, I decided to do the opposite of what I wanted to do. She did frighten me because of her tough persona. Yet, nearly every time I saw her, I said, “Hi Angelina,” as if she was my best friend or on lesser days, I would at least smile. She wouldn’t talk other than to ridicule me. Other times, on days when I couldn’t handle it, I did steer away. Flash forward to graduation night after all the diplomas were passed out. There before me in white cap and gown with black mascara streaks down her face stood Angelina. She looked much smaller that night than when encountered in the halls. She said she never understood why I was always nice to her even though she didn’t return the treatment. Then she thanked me. What?! This girl, this bossy mean girl was thanking me? She then briefly told me of a rough life, of not having much, of not even having one true friend. She apologized to me for the nearly three years of whispers and hallway jabs. There was nothing to apologize for and standing there on the field in 100+ degree heat of late spring Phoenix weather, we hugged a long, earnest hug. We never saw another again. We didn’t exchange numbers. Yet, to this day I am changed by that moment with that girl of bad reputation and mean outward behavior. I can only hope she was changed too. Rather than focus on those who we perceive as worthy of spending our time with and worthy of befriending, it seems to me, we should focus on being worthy ourselves by not giving attention to outward representation shown to us by others, but instead on the inward reality of ourselves. Show love, give love, be love. This is what changes lives. 💓

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To Every Thing There is a Season

As a youth, I was part of a peer counseling program that traveled the state of Arizona with skits directed at students and educators regarding social issues facing teens. While it was some time ago, many of the issues are still current. From it I learned a lot about myself and made dear friends who are still close to this day. One such friend is an artist named Kyle. On a trip to the four corners area of Northern Arizona, our group stayed overnight in Chinle. This is Navajo nation. We had wrapped up at the schools where we presented skits and discussions on drinking, teen pregnancy, suicide and other topics.  The school nurse opened her home to us. It was a small home typical of most on the reservation. The nurse was a mystical woman with long flowing gray waves that framed her face before cascading down her back. Kyle was fascinated with her crochet work and photography. While the others spread out on the living room couch and in the guest room, Kyle and I decided to camp outside. I say camp lightly because we were only armed with a sole sleeping bag. It was large enough for two, but it was the week before Thanksgiving in the high deserts of Northern Arizona. It was COLD! With our youthful stubbornness we cast aside the weather and lay under the stars. After naming all the stars and constellations we could remember, which weren’t many, we talked the night away…sharing our teenage dreams and life thoughts. We talked about our families, our problems and friends, only silencing ourselves when we heard packs of wild dogs running. They sounded much nearer than I’m sure they were. Kyle was the first boy I believed when he told me I was beautiful because he wanted nothing from me but offered friendship.

The next morning we warmed our hands with coffee and our bellies with freshly baked pumpkin bread smothered in butter. We visited an outdoor market where the nurse bought yarn. I found the raw log stall with all of the colorful yarns quite lovely and ran my fingers along the dangling varieties. From there the group drove to Canyon de Chelly. At the time, I had not yet even seen the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t sure what to expect but as a nature lover, I was excited. On the drive I was listening to a cassette tape of Tuck and Patti. I love her silky jazz vocals and his fingerpicked rhythms. The cassette needed to be flipped. I turned to the side of the van where the cassette player sat under the window. It was then that I saw a view that literally took my breath away. Warm drops graced my cheeks as I continued to stare through the window of the moving van. What seemed like several minutes was only seconds before the van rolled to a stop and I could pull the door open to be free in the fresh air and beauty of this marvelous landscape. I ran to the edge and stood in complete awe of what my eyes were taking in. Tears still coming down, I tilted my head back and inhaled. Kyle took a great photo of me standing at the edge, 15 years old- jeans tucked into slouching boots wearing a borrowed over-sized leather jacket. What the picture doesn’t show are my hands covering my mouth in awe as I stood in silence intently searching through every detail of the canyon with her high red walls, ancient Native American dwellings and hieroglyphics. It was in those moments of gazing into the canyon that I made a life altering decision; a decision that would not only change me, but my entire family.

Reluctantly it was time to leave. We tumbled into the rented minivan for the five-hour ride home to Phoenix. Turning towards the back window to get one final look, I saw the most incredible sight I have yet to see since. At the top of a cliff, with all the colors of an Arizona sunset just starting to form was a lone white horse. He was wild and this was his land. He ran to the edge and stood majestically surveying the land beneath. In that moment I felt a calmness all through my body as if the horse was a sign from an old Navajo spirit sent to tell me that everything would be alright. ❤

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