Updated: Jul 2, 2019
Fair warning: I'm going to contradict myself a few times in this article. It will seem like I'm taking no position at all on what I call The Friend Test, and maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm just looking for feedback from others who experienced something similar. In any case, it will be a frustrating read, but by all means, read on.
So, what is The Friend Test? Is it an actual exam of the multiple choice variety? Will you need a #2 pencil? Certainly not. It's actually very simple. To administer The Friend Test all you have to do is become disabled. At that point, everyone that you know will then take The Friend Test. They won't realize they're taking it, but you will administer it all the same. There is no start time and no end time for this test. They won't even know if they passed or failed. That is up to the person with the disability to decide.
Grading The Friend Test is the easiest part. It is not graded on a curve - each test taker will either pass or fail. To pass The Friend Test all anyone has to do is to remain in contact with the newly disabled person in the same manner and same frequency as they did prior to that person becoming disabled. That's it. You do that and you pass. To fail The Friend Test, like most people unfortunately, you ignore all prior history with the newly disabled person, decide that their disability doesn't fit into your social schedule, and essentially disappear from their lives forever. Those people fail The Friend Test.
My wife and I have been administering The Friend Test for the past 5 years since she was diagnosed with MS. Many of our "friends" have failed miserably. Friends that I grew up with, friends that she grew up with, friends that stood up in our wedding, friends that she worked with for over 15 years…gone. Faster than you can say "wheelchair" they were gone.
I often wonder why. What is it exactly? And then I get angry. Does the disability make them uncomfortable? Is my wife inconvenient? Maybe it's something deeper. Maybe being around someone with a disability makes you think about how unbelievably fragile we all are.
And then I stop myself (this is where the contradictions come in). These are all good people. We were friends with them for a reason. They all have busy lives. They have children. They have jobs. They have shopping to do. They have their kid's sports games to attend. My wife's disability shouldn't trump any of those things. They have responsibilities to their own families and my wife's disability has nothing to do with that. We can't assume that her condition will cause them to think of her more often. It's not their job to check in on her. She's not suddenly going to be a priority in their lives.
But hold on a second. We saw these people much more when she wasn't in a wheelchair. So it must be the disability, right? That's where her mind goes. And how can you blame her? Not only does she suffer from an incurable disease which in all likelihood will get worse with time, but she already feels like an outcast everywhere we go. Her sensitivity to not being "normal" is off the charts. She feels every stare, every pitiful glance, as soon as we enter a restaurant, bar, movie theater, retail store, you name it. Of course her disability is why she's ignored.
But I remind my wife that she has a responsibility as well. She needs to reach out more. Friendships are a two-way street and a disability doesn't change that. But in her mind, it has changed everything. She's no longer an equal to her former colleagues in her own eyes. Why would anyone want to spend time with her? She's a less than. In a room full of people she's the one sitting down, looking up at everyone else.
There is no right or wrong answer here, and I'm not sure anyone should pass or fail The Friend Test, but we can't help but administer it all the same. What I do know is that we need more of our friends to earn those passing grades and we need to better understand that no one is failing on purpose.