When I was pregnant with my first child, I was heading to lunch with a work friend when I tripped at the top of a set of very tall and very steep concrete steps. I tried to grab the railing to catch myself, but it was too far away. Luckily, my friend was strong and had good reflexes, because he shot out his arm to block my fall, and then steadied me with his other hand. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have fallen all the way down those stairs and ended up in a broken heap on the asphalt parking lot many feet below. I was still shaken when we reached the restaurant, and apparently, so was my friend, because the first thing he did was order a stiff drink. I noticed his hand was trembling slightly when he lifted the glass. There’s no doubt in my mind that he saved my baby’s life.
Aside from our work life, my friend and I had very little in common. He was single and still living with his parents while I was married and living in my own house. He had never left the St. Louis area, whereas I had only recently returned to it. He was gay; I was straight. I was an avid animal lover, yet when I asked him to sign my anti-vivisection petition, he politely declined, saying he saw nothing wrong with experimenting on animals if it had the potential to help humans. I could go on, but you get the idea. We were two very different people, and yet we worked together quite well and found it easy to be friends.
And this story is just one example of the many times my life has been enriched by people who are very different from me. I am white, but the woman whose encouragement gave me the most confidence to write for children is black. I think deer are among the most beautiful creatures on this earth, but I have friends and relatives who hunt. I love to read, am terrible at sports and have unbelievably bad math skills, yet the man I married rarely reads, went to college on a sports scholarship and makes his living as an accountant. And I couldn’t imagine life without him.
I know the current trend is increasingly to “stick with our own kind,” and have nothing to do with those who have different values, different cultures and different beliefs, but I honestly think it is a horrible one. Sure, we can watch only news shows that reflect our opinions, and we can rage against those who think (and, worst of all vote) differently than we do, and we can “unfriend” all the people on Facebook whose posts we disagree with. But if we do, the loss is our own.
So many people are worth knowing, if we are brave enough to give them a chance. When we get close to people who seem different, we often find they have some wonderful qualities mixed in there with the stuff that puts us off. l don’t know about you, but I have good friends who voted for Clinton, and I have good friends who voted for Trump. I didn’t vote for either of those candidates, but you know what? I still value my friends who did more than words can say.
And whenever I do feel the temptation to “stick with my own kind,” all I have to do is remember my friend and coworker from all those years ago. Because if I hadn’t gotten to know him, he wouldn’t have been with me on those steps. And I might not have a daughter at all.