Beckie is my college friend. Tim is my high school friend. Adam is my camp friend. Don is my American friend living in France.
It’s a common practice to refer to people in regards to how you know them, like my example above. I refer to the many friends I’ve met through our ministry as “street friends” because that’s where we met. So how should I refer to them after they are no longer on the streets? Just friends. But it’s more than that.
When I talk about Beckie, I tell people that we met in college but just became friends a couple of years ago, and that she is a kindred spirit.
When I talk about Tim, I say he’s my high school best friend, and that he’s the one who taught me I was worthy of respect and love apart from my sexuality.
When I speak of Adam, I talk about summer camp, and connecting with him through humor and stimulating conversations about faith and writing.
When I talk about Don, I tell people he’s one of my writing partners and close friends even though he lives in France. When they ask how I met a guy in France, I say he was one of the first street kids I met in Denver, share the famous Spades story, and tell them about him falling in love with a French girl. I love Don’s story, but why do I sometimes feel the need to share that he was a street kid?
There’s always an explanation attached to the name because I want everyone to know who my friends are, how we met, and what they mean to me.
Like Don, I have a few friends I’ve met on the streets that are no longer living there. I am amazed at their tenacity and courage and how they’ve brought about positive change in their lives against some heavily stacked odds. A small part of me wants to introduce them as “former street friends” because I want others to know about that tenacity and courage too. I want people to hear the pride in my voice as I speak of them being over-comers. BUT, is that rude? I don’t want to be rude. Ever.
If Don were standing next to me and I introduced him to you, I’d just want you to marvel as I do at his artistic talent, his stunning wit, and his undying love for his family and friends, not the fact that he lived on the streets for a couple of years. It’s not who he is.
Where we’ve been says something about us, but it doesn’t define who we are!
Why use the phrase “street friend” at all? Because we haven’t come up with a better alternative.
When we’re posting on Facebook that we need more volunteers to bring food for Supper in the Park so our street friends can have a hot meal, we want people to know that we’re sharing food with our friends who live on the streets without calling them “the homeless” or calling our meal a “feed.” You feed cattle. Our year-round hot meals in the park have nothing in common with a “feed.” The phrase “street friend” is meant to be one of honor and respect for the relationship we have with our friends who are houseless. It’s also to help people who aren’t familiar with our ministry understand that we’re not just inviting random friends to meet us in the park for a picnic. We have a purpose – to meet up with our houseless friends and share a meal with them. For some it may be the only meal they’ll have that day.
I wonder if this whole conversation is just me being a girl. I swear there is something in our DNA that makes us want to categorize people into levels of friendship. From a very young age, we girls distinguish between having a friend and having a BEST friend. We do it as adults too, at least I do. I have several BEST friends. Even Facebook has categories for it.
So how do you describe your friendships? Friends? Friends of friends? BEST friends? Friends from work? Friends from church? Neighborhood friends?
Is there a better way to let people know details about a friendship such as where you met or how you know your friend? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.