tagReviews & EssaysFriendship: What Is It?

Friendship: What Is It?

byCaptain Midnight©

(This is an editorial I published in the current edition of the Shallowater Weekly Express and Wolfforth Word Weekly, which I edit. Please do not use the names of the people involved without requesting their permission. This was edited slightly because I always re-edit my work.

This is dedicated to honey123, an author who asked for this story via private message and was extremely kind to me in talking about it. People like her are the ones who should be true friends.)


Two years ago, during "TV Cops Week" on "Hollywood Squares," "McCloud" star Dennis Weaver was asked what was the state motto of Texas. After answering with the traditional wisecrack (it wasn't funny, and he apologized), he gave a plausible answer. The contestant disagreed and was awarded the square, with Tom Bergeron saying the state motto was "Friendship."

Up to that moment, I hadn't known it.

If you're old fashioned, send me to the corner with a dunce cap; if you're newfangled, a simple "Duh!" will suffice. After all, I report on Frenship Independent School District.

But maybe it wasn't that obvious.

A couple weeks back, covering an event where the Lubbock chambers of commerce got together to celebrate the city's diversity, I got to chat with Alicia Laura, a master flamenco dance teacher a/k/a Alys Stuart, a prime mover in the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce. She's a native New Yorker, Brooklyn in fact (she upgraded to a Manhattan accent). She lived in Phoenix with her husband for ten years before moving to Lubbock. After all this time in the Friendship State, and in the Southwest in general, Ms. Stuart still isn't enamored with it. Her reasons are very enlightening.

New York is, of course, the city of immigrants. Most people who arrived in its early days settled in farm areas to form communities, usually with people from their home country as neighbors. When millions more came to settle, the farms disappeared but the communities remained, with very distinctive neighborhoods populated with Italians, Jews, Irish, Chinese, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and (in smaller groups) just about every country on the planet. They formed their distinctive ethnic groups; using the mother country's language alongside English and keeping mixture of American traditions and home-country traditions.

Out here, it's a lot different. Lubbock has one-fortieth of the population of New York City, spread out as far as the eye can see and then some. The "neighborhoods" are arbitrary, square-mile blocks set up by city planners. Although there used to be racial-segregation laws (I'm not sure they were enforced), people in Lubbock could pretty much live anywhere in the city they wanted.

But THAT was the problem, said Ms. Stuart. In New York neighborhoods, she explained, you grow up with people who are much like you. You have many common interests with the people around you at school, at work, in the marketplace, or at the entertainment centers. Because of the similarities in culture, you learn how to value traditions and to make and keep promises. Those, she felt, were vital in making and holding long-term friendships.

In Texas, or in Arizona or other places, it was very different. Ms. Stuart had quite a litany of problems with Texans. They made many friendly acquaintances, but very few (if any) true friends. With friendly acquaintances, she went on, people are not obliged to keep their word about showing up for an event (on time or at all), keeping a commitment, keeping a promise. We would do so if it is convenient for US – not the other person.

"Ouch," I said to myself.

There are eight million people in the Naked City, and representing at least a thousand ethnic groups (five major ones -- Jews, Irish, Italians, African-Americans and Puerto Ricans) and subgroups. In Lubbock, there are all of four groups: whites, Hispanics (nearly all Mexican-American) African-Americans, and "others." A black West Indian, a North African immigrant, a Native American, a Puerto Rican or other Latin American – all of them would be outsiders –perhaps welcome guests, but outsiders nonetheless. These people are simply dropped into the melting pot; rarely do you hear about Old Country traditions except in newspaper articles.

I remember reading an article by an Israeli Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who lived in Lubbock while his daughter received special medical treatment, expressing wonderment at how easily the community fit to accommodate him – probably the only strictly Orthodox family for 300 miles in any direction. He was delighted. His wife gave birth to a son while in the same hospital, so the young fellow is an American citizen by our laws (and I wouldn't advocate changing the laws to give him the boot!) But will that family ever move to Lubbock permanently? Almost certainly not. As nice as it is to visit, it is not a neighborhood.

Perhaps worst of all, you have no sense of community. Try going out with your buddies from work sometime. Have you ever really done it? Many companies will send their employees to a business lunch; maybe some will even go bowling or miniature-golfing or dancing. Beyond that? Very unlikely. And do you all go to someone's house at night and sit up until all hours talking and playing games? Unless you're a college student in a particularly close-knit group, almost certainly not.

I used to love theatrical parties, but once a show was over the community dispersed and the next round of parties were always different. The fact that they existed at all was a small miracle, and one I cherished, but when they ended there were no substitutes for communities.

You can have a false sense of community with your friendly acquaintances. I can't count the number of so-called "friends" with whom I no longer speak. Some of them have repudiated me over differences of opinion; others have just moved away. I got a terrible case of the creeps a few days ago, when a colleague on a theatrical show called just to say hi, how are you doing. That's pretty extreme and I hope none of you do that, but it underscores that I befriended nobody on that show, and I knew it.

Early this month, I "celebrated" the two-year anniversary of a disastrous conversation with a person I'd known for four and a half years and considered a dear friend. We haven't spoken since and almost certainly never will. Her decision, not mine. I have very little doubt that, during the week leading up to that point, I presented myself to her as a false friend, maybe even a treacherous one. But it's also possible – perhaps a sure thing -- that we were friendly acquaintances who both deluded ourselves into thinking we were friends. A sobering thought.

Per Ms. Stuart's credo, I have had VERY few true friends and have been a true friend to very few people in return. I wouldn't be surprised if you the reader haven't either. If you're married and/or have children, so much the better for you. But even those aren't guarantees of true friendship. If, like most people, you have friendly acquaintances at work or school, that is nice. Perhaps you make some on-line friendly acquaintance through mutual-interest chat rooms (although we know those are mine fields).

But, please, stop to consider how many true friends you have. The list is likely to be mighty short.

And then, think about what goes into true friendship. See if you have what it takes, and if your friendly acquaintances have what it takes as well.

Best wishes.

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