When the topic of friendship and people with disabilities came up in a discussion several weeks ago, I immediately thought of my friend Tryn, whom I have known since the winter of the Indonesian tsunami. Tryn and I met at the church of a mutual friend. Although I was visiting California from Brooklyn, my trip was long enough for Tryn and me to forge a connection that has lasted more than seven years.
I had never had a friend with Down syndrome, or any other disability, before, so I didn’t know what to expect when she and I had lunch the first time. Once it became clear that our shared meal was not a one-time thing, but the start of something bigger, I think my greatest fear was that the connection we formed would not be one of true friendship.
But now that we’re many years into it, I can see that friendship with Tryn is not only possible but fairly normal. When I still lived in Brooklyn, we kept in touch by email and phone calls and she even came to visit me for nearly a week. Now that I’m in California, we share meals sometimes and text regularly. We have old jokes and shared stories. We exchange gifts and run errands.
If there is a difference in our friendship, it is probably in terms of initiative and sacrifice. For various reasons, my circumstances in life have rarely thrown me into contact with the people whose company I enjoy as often as I’d like to see them. As a result, most relationships have taken more work to maintain. I am often the one to send the first email or suggest a trip or shared meal, but the roles are completely reversed with Tryn. Usually once a week, but often several times, I’ll get a text from her around 5 o’clock, asking how my day went.
I’ll often just tap a quick, generic response to her, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about those texts. When you’re sharing life with people, “How was your day?” is one of the most basic ways you begin to reconnect after a day apart. And it’s usually those who love you best who have the patience to hear a day’s minute ups and downs, indignities and rewards.No other friend shows as faithful an interest in my day as Tryn. And few friends come quite as far as often in order to spend time with me. Though my job is somewhat difficult to reach by mass transit, Tryn has frequently made the trek from bus to BART to MUNI to my office for coffee or lunch together. Because she lives outside San Francisco, it can sometimes take her close to two hours to reach me, but she’s made that trip not one or two times but several times.
I don’t have many people in my life who are that committed to seeing me. Granted, the barriers to seeing a lot of other friends aren’t as high (Tryn lives about 30 miles from me), but it isn’t very common in our busy age to so prioritize seeing friends.
Almost none of the things I thought would be true about friendship with Tryn have come to pass. Instead, I have been blessed with a friend who is generous with her loyalty, love and time. And I have gotten the chance to discover some of the beauty God bestowed on Tryn when He thought her up. Though she has lost loved ones and gone through far more hardship than I have known, Tryn radiates joy. And though she faces challenges that most of us could hardly imagine, Tryn has shown a remarkable persistence in hoping and striving for new challenges and experiences. And although many in the world around her see little place for someone like her or can’t imagine a role she would fit, Tryn has an almost prophetic ability to see and inhabit places and roles for herself that no one else would have imagined until she showed up. Once she has stepped into those situations, it is impossible to imagine them without her.
My life was one such place, and it has been immeasurably enriched by knowing her. I’m excited to see what we get to share in the future.
Anna Broadway is the author of Sexless in the City and a regular contributor to the Her.meneutics blog. She has also written for Books and Culture, Beliefnet, Reject Apathy, Paste and the Sojourners blog.