Friendship can bridge the rural-urban gap

Jenny Schlecht
Forum News Service

When my husband and I purchased our first home together, I was excited to start planting a garden in the backyard. My friend Crystal Reid was amused by my new hobby, but she never teased me. She just told me to grow an extra cherry tomato plant so that I could give her some.

Crystal was a business reporter who sat next to me for three years while I was a crime reporter. On the surface, it would seem like we really shouldn’t have become such good friends. Crystal was as urban as I was rural. She loved high fashion as much as I preferred to take assignments that allowed me to come to work in jeans. She loved to be in the middle of everything as much as I preferred to be home with a book.

But we became fast friends, sharing a common sense of humor and compatible writing styles that allowed us to team up frequently on stories.

When I hear about a disconnect between urban and rural parts of the U.S., I think of Crystal. Our friendship had nothing to do with our backgrounds. Neither of us looked down on the other because we had different childhoods and life experiences. Instead, we learned from each other and respected that we couldn’t entirely understand where the other came from.

For instance, I liked to hear Crystal’s views on politics and society. She lived in countries around the world during her father’s military career and saw things I had only read about. I lived in Montana and North Dakota, with a brief interlude in South Dakota during an internship. I accepted that there were situations that I had never — and likely would never — be in that had colored her views, and I learned a lot about acceptance from her. She never seemed to meet someone she didn’t find fascinating.

Crystal, as the business reporter, was more likely to write about things like agriculture and ag business than I was back then. She would ask me questions about farm life and agriculture that seemed, to me, almost like common sense things. But I realized straight away that there were things she talked about that went over my head in the same way that things about cattle and crops went over hers.

Like those cherry tomatoes that Crystal demanded I grow her, she appreciated the richness that comes from people living different lives and having different experiences. She saw opportunity and friends everywhere she went, regardless of whether someone thought the same as her or knew everything she knew.

I only wish Crystal had lived long enough to get those tomatoes. That summer, six days after I served as one of her bridesmaids in her wedding, she died from complications of a genetic condition.

This week is 10 years since Crystal died. I miss her all the time. Knowing her made me a better person, more willing to look beyond my initial impressions of someone and more likely to consider my own biases and blindspots.

I wish everyone had a friendship that could allow them to look at someone else’s perspective and reconsider their own. I don’t think there would be such a disconnect and distrust if they did. My older daughter’s middle name is Crystal, and I hope to teach her all that I learned about my friend and how she affected my way of looking at things.

I planted some extra cherry tomato plants this year, and they’re loaded with fruit. I wish I could share them with Crystal. Instead, I’ll eat them in her honor and keep trying to remember that my life and viewpoint is but one of many and no more important than anyone else’s.