Monday, January 28, 2013

The Secret to Making Friends

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

- Zig Ziglar

I learned this lesson in 3rd grade in the basement of Greendale Mennonite Church at a Pioneer Girls meeting.  Every Wednesday we would gather for the Christian equivalent to Girl Guides, earning badges, playing games and learning about Jesus.  We wore light blue jumpers with white blouses underneath, a beanie on our head, and a sash displaying the badges we earned for things like candlemaking (my favorite), playing music, memorizing Bible verses and even learning how to be a hostess.  The most popular girls were usually the ones who had the most crests sewn onto their sashes.  (I learned all the books of the Old Testament and New Testament to festoon myself with that enviable badge.)

I wasn't a fan of going to Pioneer Girls.  I hate the uniform: my pudgy knees were on display for all to see, I could have been at home reading, and most of the girls knew each other from school or church.  I went to a different school and a different church from most of them so I was the outsider.  Even so, my mom thought it important that I attend so after dinner each Wednesday, I would be dropped off in front of the steps of the church and walk myself around the side of the building to the basement where the lights were blazing and everyone seemed to be having fun.

Everyone but me.  I'd stand in the corner watching all the pretty petite little girls giggle and twirl and call our leaders names like Buttercup and Daffodil, palling around with these cheerful ladies as though they were their friends.  

There would be songs and Bible stories and rousing games that had us running around in circles and slamming our knees onto the hard concrete ground, in an effort not to be eliminated.  It was always the most athletic, spritely girls who ended up winning.  Never me.   And then there would be the chants where we would take turns muttering "Indian" incantations, one syllable at a time: "Oh-wa-ta-gu-si-am" faster and faster until we all collapsed laughing, realizing what we had just said.

In spite of the good clean fun, I felt ugly, unfriended and the odd-one-out.

Then when I arrived one evening, I noticed another girl in the opposite corner of the dank, cold basement.  She had owl shaped glasses and bangs that looked like her mother had put a bowl on her head and used a blunt pair of safety scissors.  Her knees were knobby and her shoes scuffed. She had on a tattered red sweater and her uniform looked like a definite hand-me-down. When I saw her, I saw myself.  

What was the point, I thought, of her standing alone in her corner while I stood alone in mine?  Granted, she wasn't cool and I wasn't sure I wanted to be associated with her, but I wasn't very cool either.  At least we could be uncool together.  More importantly, at least I would no longer be alone.

I walked across the room and gave her a crooked, shy smile. "I'm Leah," I said.

"I know," she replied.  "I'm Ingrid."

And a friendship was born.  Sort of.  I don't know that we stayed friends.  I think she moved not long after.

But I learned an important lesson that day: if you wait for people to approach you, they might not.  But if you approach the  people who are looking out of place, just like you, you'll no longer be alone and you might just make a friend.

I still do it.  When I walk into a room of people, I always beeline for the person who is standing on their own, looking unsure.  I hold out my hand, smile, and say, "Hi, I'm Leah."

It's made me a lot of friends over the years and it's kept me from being a wallflower.  People think I'm an extrovert, but I'm really quite shy.  Selfishly, I'm willing to be a friend so I don't have to risk not having one.  

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