Purple Friendship

“I have defriended a bunch of folks on social media until after the election,” a neighbor casually mentioned while we were out for our evening walk.

Well great I thought, that’s exactly what we need in 2020…less dialogue.

During the summer after our sophomore year of high school, Michelle was given a simple task.  Bring soda to a small potluck.  Michelle proceeded to bring an entire cooler filled with liters and liters of every imaginable brand of soda.  Her reasoning, “Well, I didn’t know what people like.”  This image pretty much summarizes Michelle as a person:  generous, conscientious, thoughtful and ultimately one of the best damn friends you want to have around.

Our friendship is going on 23+ years.  She was a bridesmaid in my wedding and now is Nicholas’ godmother.  It is one of those big, lifelong friendships.

It is also a purple.

Michelle comes from a more conservative family background than I do.  That being said, my dad’s side of the family is WASPY, but Catholic.  WASCY?  Is that a thing?  My grandparents voted for Nixon over Kennedy so that may give you a sense of their loyalties. 

Back to Michelle, I remember her as being “the conservative” in our group of high school friends although neither one of us could specifically recall a political conversation from those days. This was also the San Francisco Bay Area so “conservative” may be a term for anyone who votes center-right.  I am cautious not to mischaracterize her politics. She notes that her political leanings skew libertarian; she is a registered independent.  Michelle voted third party in the 2016 presidential election after the Access Hollywood tape soured her on Trump.

In all the years we have discussed politics, I do not recall a single incident of raised voices or hurt feelings.  So, how have we managed to do that successfully?  I wanted to explore this with her, especially when so many people I know have felt the need to “break up” with their friends of opposing political parties.

We sat down to record our Zoom conversation.  I was determined that we were going to get to the bottom of the how one can successfully cross THE DIVIDE.

Well guess what?  We didn’t get to the bottom of anything.  There is no special sauce, magic pill or political fairy to aid the seventeen of us who seem inclined to bridge the chasm.

Michelle and I did manage to discuss politics for two and a half hours that night.  In that conversation, we discovered that we both cited 9/11 as being a significant point in our political maturation.  She talked about the Patriot Act, and how its erosions made her realize how fragile one’s rights could be.  My first protest was against the Iraq War; I felt the weight of the American justification to invade a country without any direct link to the 9/11 attackers. 

Maybe, our purple friendship superpower is just that.  Finding common ground through listening to each other.  When did that become radical?

Of course, there is this nagging voice in my own head.  What if she had voted for Trump? What if she votes for him this year?  Her voice whispers a response in my head. “You voted for Warren. I got over that.”  Now, I am laughing and the two of us have magically managed to transcend time, space and COVID precautions to enjoy some chips and margaritas together.

That is ultimately what friendships do.  Transport us beyond the narrow categories that so often constrain us. Party. Ethnicity. Degree. Net Worth. Gender.  Friendship opens the possibility of simply being with each other.

In my final question in our conversation, I asked her what someone who considers herself more progressive/liberal like me should know about her viewpoint.

“More conservative-oriented people share the values of helping people in a different way.  Sometimes that gets missed but you can meet people there halfway on that alone.  There are differences in how people approach that but that core value is very similar and can be place of common ground.”

Works for me.

Michelle, Hans, Nicky and I enjoying some gelato in Little Italy in 2018.

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