You don’t make friends. In my experience. Friends just happen.
That’s how it happened with my friend George. He’s unlike me in every way. He’s an older Black man who lives across the street. He’s as skinny as a rail, my height and probably half my weight. He’s not well educated and I am close to my PhD. He is probably a school dropout.
I grew up as the only child of a family that knew I was going to college from the day I popped into the world. George is from a big family, one that lived in the rural South, in conditions more resembling the 19th century than the 20th. Family was strong, resources slender and opportunity small.
I’ve always been a straight arrow, too cautious for adventure, assured in my white privilege that cops were there to be helpful, never actually rebellious. George’s experience has been different and included stints in jail. I’ve never asked much about that.
I moved to the small cottage I lived in about three years ago. I haven’t driven a car in years, and on my slender income couldn’t afford one, anyway. So I walked to and from the grocery, which can be a real chore in Florida’s hot summers. One afternoon as I was walking to my door, I heard this voice say ‘If you ever need a ride, let me know.’
So on the next hot summer grocery day, I figured what the hell and asked for a ride. He gave me one and has been doing so since. I pay him a little, catching a cab to the store would cost far more and carrying things by bus is not very practical. That was two years ago. Turns out we think a lot alike. He and I both think that kids need to be more respectful, that a lot of people who have a lot of things tend to think they’re God’s chosen, when they’re really just full of themselves (George probably does not know the word ‘hubris’ but she sure knows the concept). He’s easily taken advantage of because he’s just naturally generous. He’s a magnet for people who take unfair advantage. That’s a problem because his income is even more slender than mine.
His partner in an exceedingly complicated relationship was a deeply troubled woman into drugs and alcohol who had been mistreated most of her life, and could not believe that someone would really care about her. George in effect rescued her. She’d sometimes scream at him and nearly broke his tolerance more than once. Once he sat on my back stoop and I sat next to him and we talked about how unfair life can be. She died earlier this year, from an overdose of alcohol and drugs given her by so-called friends. She died in his arms. That moment of love and compassion has redeemed all his sins. Are you listening, St. Peter?
I have no actual family and a few good friends. Now and then I walk over to George’s front porch, where he sits and watches the world. He’s good company. He has rescued me from a bleak mood more than once. And his advice to me is ‘this is a good day. You woke up.’