The Healing Grace of Friendship

My father, like most fathers of daughters, had no sense of fairness. On camping trips, he assigned my mother and me to dish duty while he and my brother built fires and checked fuel and lit lanterns. I asked to learn, and he always refused. Maybe he genuinely thought these were skills I’d never need. Maybe, being Mormon, he assumed I’d always have a man nearby–that a woman, like a toddler, shouldn’t wander out of range of a father or husband. Women can’t be trusted to make good decisions, he told me once.

But maybe I’m the one being unfair now.

Either way, I found myself on a group camping trip this week, and I needed to boil water. I had no idea how to light a propane stove, and I assumed that if I tried, I’d go up in flames and take our campsite with me.

But my new friend, H., showed me how to turn on the burner and listen for the hiss of gas. She showed me how to pull out a match, close the box, and strike it against the side. When I managed to light the match and handed it off to her, she saw me take a quick step back. “Okay, maybe that’s enough for now,” she said. And I felt grateful.

See, I learned on the camping trip that all seven of us had our faults. Two of us–one being me–were competitive know-it-alls. One was keen on proselytizing the Gospel of Veganism and was always delivering plugs for it. One was a Queen Bee type who whined whenever things got hard. One had anxious, control issues. One was withdrawn and often distant. And one split her time between being brilliant and talking shit.

I love them all. At moments, each one can get on my nerves, especially the ones I love best. Especially the ones whose nerves I fray.

And that’s the beauty of friendship, right? It’s a pact to accept each other, even knowing the worst.

I know my last post about friendship was negative. But there’s a difference between toxic personalities and your basic, run-of-the-mill human being.

All my life, I’ve been afraid of being dumped the moment a friend discovers a fault. After all, that was the way my parents treated me, and it was how my toxic friendships operated.

Now I find myself in the midst of some truly awesome people who put up with my shit because they know I’m more than my worst day. They believe in the better parts of me. And I put up with their shit because I also see so much more inside them–more even than they sometimes see in themselves.

And that makes the rest of the world easier to face. It also renders my own humanity less a liability and more a source of compassion and connection.

So how did things turn out between me and the stove? H. rounded me up for the next meal after I’d had time to calm down. She lit one burner in front of me. “See?” She said. “Easy.”

I tried again. I held the lit match right up to the hiss of gas like she’d showed me. Whoosh! Blue flame encircled the second burner.

“I did it! I did it!” I hugged her.

She laughed. “We’re all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for,” she said.

I thought that was just about one of the cheesiest and wisest things I’d heard in a long time.

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