I’m not sure what’s happening, but lately I have been making new friends as if I’m a cheerleader struttin’ around with pompoms. Or it could be that us mid-lifers are so desperate to get away from the routines that we have levelled into, that any woman who can hold a conversation will do (which, by this time, should be all of us). Going back many, many years here, I can remember how picky I used to be about who I would be friends with. It was all based on some psychic click of recognition. It was like picking out tomatoes, so many just weren’t the perfect degree of ripeness. Maybe that hyper-selectively was because I was an introvert, or maybe it was that I feared being judged and passed over for another tomato. Which leads to my tomato story.
When I initially went to Israel in the spring of ’82, I participated in a six-month work-study program on a kibbutz (half the time learning Hebrew; the other half working on the kibbutz). My first job, disappointingly since I had envisioned myself as a new wave of pioneer building the land and not a woman still stuck in the kitchen, was to sort through crates of tomatoes in the prep kitchen. I was to rinse the tomatoes, and put the good ones in one bin and the bad ones in another bin. At home I had not bought tomatoes because they were tasteless, but I was still able to discern a good, firm tomato from a bad one in the best tradition of an American supermarket shopper. In other words, if there was a mushy part, no matter how small, or a blemish, no matter how insignificant, it was no good. Nothing with an imperfection was to make it into my basket.
After going through about four crates, the woman in charge looked at my breakdown of tomatoes: five in the good bin and an overflowing bin of bad tomatoes. She looked at me with the scorn befitting a spoiled child, picked up a “bad” tomato, cut off the offending part—half! —and placed the rest of the tomato into the good bin. She left me to redo the job. Who knew that you didn’t have to look at the tomato as a whole?
Which brings me back to friendships. As we acknowledge that there are aspects of ourselves that don’t represent our proudest parts, and discover that we can be as dull as a never-sharpened tomato knife, we learn that it’s no big deal and that all that counts is that we focus on the firm spots—in ourselves and others. The tomato-way of friendship can be liberating.
Yet, alongside that deeper understanding of how to interact with others, I have also come to the exact opposite understanding about how to view myself. I see now that to be a content person, one who can peacefully go between interactions with friends and the inaction of sitting alone, I must accept the totality of the tomato: mushy parts and all. I finally recognize that those seemingly discordant parts of myself (or those that don’t adhere to the image that I try to project to myself of myself) are not in conflict. Those parts don’t prove separate things about myself; rather, they should soothe me by enabling me to accept with honesty the fullness of my personality. There is no compartmentalized self, there is only the commitment to not ignore or disparage even the mushiest of parts.
So, do not do unto others as you would do unto yourself and you just might have a social life.