I love my friends. They are from every economic and educational background. They are old and young, homosexual and heterosexual, red, yellow, black and white. My friends are from various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Their politics vary and some of them make me crazy but they are my friends. Some love cats and others prefer dogs; while there are a few who are just not pet people. I have friends who love to camp and those who prefer the city. I have prissy, high-heel-wearing friends and sweats and tennis shoe friends. I have guy friends and girl friends. I have friends who are incredibly picky eaters and friends who are adventurous with food and many other things. In fact, the more different you are from me, the more I like you because I want to learn from you and seek out the common ground somewhere beneath our differences.
My friends and I met first on the street where my parents have lived in a quiet neighborhood in south St. Louis for 48 years. While my first friends were all fairly similar, I enjoyed their special quirks and unique qualities. Later we met at Francis Park and at swimming lessons at the YWCA on South Kingshighway and at the cabins on the shore beside Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks. Out in public, I sought out the kids who looked the least like me and desperately tried to become their friend. Then at home, I would beg my mom to "PLEASE USE ALL OF THE BARRETTES" because I wanted to have hair like the beautiful, brown-skinned girl I had met at the grocery store.
Eventually, my friends were my classmates. We discovered each other in class, in the parking lot which doubled as a playground, and playing sports in the evenings and weekends. My friends were short and tall and chubby and thin and some were only nice when we hung out on our own but were kind of mean when everyone else was around. But I liked them anyway.
My high school and college friends introduced me to diversity. Diversity of thoughts and ideas, diversity of beliefs, diversity in culture and upbringing... And I loved it. Most taught me about loyalty. Some taught me that I couldn't trust everyone. Others introduced me to heartbreak.
The workforce afforded me the opportunity to meet friends from all over the city, state and country. When I entered the workforce and the ages of my friends spanned from ten years younger than me to twenty years older.
My friends have been a tremendous part of my journey and my development as a person. I love my friends. I love their differences and their sameness. I love when we agree and I appreciate when we disagree. I cannot imagine living in a world that would not allow me to understand the human experience from as many perspectives as possible. I am grateful when things happen that exponentially increase the happiness of my friends. Even the friends who are vastly different than I. And I am profoundly saddened when tragedy hits, no matter who is affected.
The tragic event in Orlando, FL yesterday caused me to reflect on the similar senseless tragedies that have happened throughout history. From Wounded Knee to Black Wall Street to 9/11 to Orlando, no matter the numbers of those killed and wounded or the ethnic background of those affected, each event was carried out in hatred. Those events happened as a result of closed-mindedness and the inability to understand that different is not bad, it's just different.
Every time something like this happens, everyone wants to know what they can do. Well you can write your representatives about changing the gun laws. You can go donate blood. You can send money to somebody's Go Fund Me effort. OR you can just START WITH YOU. It is not too late to broaden your circle, to get to know someone who is drastically different than you. It's not too late to learn to love people because they bring something new and different to the table. It's not too late to learn to be ok with someone else's normal. Just be kind. To everyone. Especially the ones you just can't understand. And the world will be a better place.