“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wyatt, Doc and difficult friendships

I like to wake up on Saturday mornings and watch old cowboy movies. This past week Wyatt Earp was on. There are two scenes that struck me. One, is when Wyatt and Doc Holiday meet for the first time. Doc asks Wyatt, "Do you believe in friendship?" He responds, "Yes" and their friendship begins. The movie portrays scenes from that friendship over the years. At one point, Doc and his girlfriend Big Nose, get in one of their typical drunken fights where they try to kill each other. Wyatt breaks the fight up and and attempts to sober Doc up. As he begins to regain his senses, Doc says, "Its not easy to be my friend, but I will be there for you when you need me" or something to that effect.

Do you have friends like that? Friends it is not easy to be friends with? Some of my cognitively disabled friends are like that (I have a greater tendency to not work on relationships with nondisabled people if they are hard to be friends with for some reason). Sometimes helping my friends with mental retardation, being friends with them is "messy." They have problems that I can't solve, and they impolitely do not keep their problems to themselves. They tell me their problems, make demands on me, and expect me to help them or solve their problems. Even keeping in contact with them is difficult because they don't follow the social etiquette I am used to. They will call me at 11:30 at night or 6:30 in the morning. They will call me 7 times a day or everyday of the week. My response has been to tell them "Please don't call me after 10 or before 7 unless it is an emergency. I will also tell them, "Please just call me once a week just to talk." I have gotten to the point that I will tell them, "You have already called me once this week. Unless this is an emergency, I will talk to you later." I may even have to hang up after ensuring there isn't an emergency. It might seem unkind, and perhaps it is, but it is what I have come to. But I like the fact that others in my church are facing the same challenges in their friendships with the people with cognitive disabilities who attend our church. These individuals are now on their radar screen. They are also someone else who can be called once a week just to talk for a few minutes.

Some of the messiness of the friendship comes from the social skill differences of my friends with cognitive disabilities. Some of the messiness comes from differences in my friends' life experiences that I may not be not used to. My friends with disabilities have to deal with...

-Access (busses they reserve to take them places), and
-conservators (who may or may not be very interested in them, but
nontheless have control over their lives),
-unscrupulous people who sell them things (cell phones can be the biggest
-being alone except for people who are paid to be with them
-dealing with human services and human service rules (in other words, the
-a lack of friends
-too much time and too few things to do
-and so on

In attempting to be a friend to some people, I find myself in the position of negotiating, or being in the middle, or whatever. They are not friends who I can call to come over, or meet for a ball game, who then go home and solve their own problems. They can be high maintenance.

The whole social skills thing is another aspect of the difficulty of some friendships. Some of my friends I am sure impact the potential of friendships with others. People I love have told me that friends of mine are "wierd." Those who are not afraid to be politically incorrect and tell me what they really think will sometimes say that, which makes me think that others with whom I am not as close probably think that as well, but just don't say it to me.

So as Christians, what do we do about this? Are we called to befriend those who are more difficult to befriend than the average person? Are friendships about us only? Do we befriend others to benefit them? Is friendship something that is easy? I must admit that I have at times asked myself Doc Holiday's question. I have wondered if I believe in friendship, or just friendship that is easy for me.



Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has reasonable intellectual capability, but she just wasn't taught how to use it. So she makes terrible decisions in situations and then feels the compulsive need to come and tell me (and anyone else who happens to be in my company) about what happened. Being friends with her can be tiring (since she has frequent bouts of this kind of behavior), and embarrassing. But it always feels good when I remember that she doesn't really have so many friends left any more. It only discomforts me on occasion, and having friends benefits her. She learns how far it's okay to go when I'm honest with her, and she trusts it because I'm fair as well. I think that's really all you need. You sound like you're doing better than many in this world.


PS. She calls me every day, augh.

Jeff McNair said...

Another aspect of this is that although I may say "I can't talk to you right now" or "Please don't call, you have already called 5 times" the people who I am talking to know that I am their friend, and there is almost nothing that they could do to not have me as their friend. I won't reject them over phone calls or social skills. So that fact makes it easier, I think, to accept the times when I tell them to stop calling so much, etc. The next time we see each other, we are happy and friendly, and conversive. They know they can count on my friendship.