Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Very Small Circle of Friends

I was working on the Monday New York Times Crossword Puzzle and the clue was "Indian city of 13 million." I had the first letter, "D", so it took no time to fill in the blank spaces with "elhi"--Delhi. Just when I was feeling smug because, with that word, I'd managed to finish the easiest puzzle of the week, it hit me--thirteen million people, and I don't know a single one of them. In fact, take all one billion or so people on the subcontinent--I'm not acquainted with even one human being. Add China, Indonesia, Russia--don't know anyone who lives there, either. In France, I have one friend and a few relatives I've never met; in England, a lovely couple we met on a recent visit. And that's about it. If the world is a global village, I must live on the moon.

The extreme narrowness of my acquaintance first struck me forcefully during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Like most Americans, I was horrified and riveted by the unfolding scenes of chaos in New Orleans. I have neighbors who were concerned about friends and relatives made homeless by the storm. But I realized that I myself don't know a single person who lives in the entire state of Louisiana, let alone New Orleans, unless you count a friend's daughter who attends Toulane and an old college friend who, last time I checked, teaches there. I can't even claim an old college friend for Mississippi, Alabama, New Mexico, or Utah. And the list goes on.

I've lived in places that can justly lay claim to being cosmopolitan--
Manhattan, Boston, Palo Alto, Chicago, Miami--and I've regarded myself as someone with friends from many different backgrounds. On reflection, though, that's not quite true. My friends may have different religions, different professions, different ethnic origins, but most of them, like me, grew up in intact middle-class families, went to good colleges, moved to suburban locales to raise their kids, and currently live in or around Boston.

I love my friends. I just wish I had a few from more far-flung places. All these years I've thought of myself as worldly and sophisticated. Turns out I'm just a small-town girl with a very small circle of friends.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but the quality of those friends is what counts. This stems not from geography, economy, nor education, but from the ortho-center of that circle. You. And at this late date, it's not that easy to add new friends. Our children will have friends from the global village. But then again, we can remember our first TV. They take the internet for granted. Kevin

Anonymous said...

Great blog and truly American. Until we visit many countries and see the unknown faces that inhabit the plant with us we have no idea how out of touch we are with the other faces.

Part of the problem is not being able to get into the shoes of others when we live so well.