The Gift of Friendship
I begin this autumnal essay with a few divine quotes about the nature of friendship.
“Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shock of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” — George Washington
“Not every soil can bear all things.” — Virgil
“What I enjoy is not the fruits alone, but I also enjoy the soil itself, its nature and power.” — Cicero
Approximately twenty years ago, I was stoically explaining to a teaching colleague the deep disappointment that I felt about a dear, trusted friend. He wisely told me that there is no better way for a friendship to be tested and tried and enriched, than for a person to move past the disappointment of her friend. It will either happen or it won’t; and the friendship will either reach a higher plane or it will wither.
I moved past my disappointment with my friend, but as a result of that process, I grew toward an even more profound friendship with this colleague. He became a friend-of-the-heart.
We sometimes sows seed of amitié in soil that is meant to cultivate other rapports: mentor, lover, confrère, foe, even an adversary who becomes an endearing friend. The risk is always there for your trust to become a tool of treachery for the other person; but the chance is also always there for your trust to become the foundation of a deep and lasting bond with this other someone.
The term, friend, is too often treated nowadays like a digital conquest or weapon, a joyride that ends abruptly with the click of a key, a mechanism by which a self-seeking goal is achieved quickly through nefarious and naughty means. Friendships don’t seem to last as long as they once did, even though the life-span of humanity steadily increases.
Perhaps in the long ago the brevity of life, the uncertainty of tomorrow, the unsettling awareness of mortality right around the corner sustained an affinity in ways that we nowadays find hard to find. Perhaps it’s not the friendship, but the era in which the rapport must survive that nurtures this special but fragile commitment between two people. And perhaps friendships were more frequent and enduring in the past because they were so esteemed, so celebrated. The Victorian Language of Flowers is one guide for that quiet jubilation; it is a language of love that speaks uniquely to friends.
I used to outgrow relationships rapidly because I needed to grow, to change as part of my maturation, to move toward the wisdom that I’d believed that companion would inspire within me. It was only after I departed any association with that person that I came to realize, and sadly understand, that the affinity between us had not been a true friendship at all. Each of us had been a sphere that had intersected, all too briefly. We’d called our interactions “amity”.
In reality, I hadn’t truly felt free to be me. That limitation always feels painfully wretched to me. It’s as if a part of my soul has been mangled, or trampled on, by another person.
There also have been those relationships, affairs of the heart, whose depths I did not, could not fully grasp, during the duration of each alliance. I was not meant to know the richness of the heart that had loved me. Years later, sometimes many years later, I felt the exquisite tenderness and the profound joy of the love that went unexpressed — precisely because there are times when that pact of empathy awaits a higher plane of expression, a language that only the angels can interpret for us.
“Que sera sera” succinctly approximates the whys and wherefores of that reality, but in a wondrous, miraculous way!
We are each links to one another in the chain of life. Any individual determines whether her heart feels rapture or rage, depending on her ability to open her heart to feel love, or to cast it aside through fear. The gift of friendship is the reward for the heart that speaks, honestly, to another heart. Friendship is the first step toward love, toward loves, of many kinds. It is a circle that remains forever unbroken.
A friend, a true friend, is the person who allows you to be who you are. He laughs with you in a way that no one else can do. And he knows when you need to cry, but he also knows that you may not need, or want, to cry in front of him. He will mercifully and gracefully permit you the dignity of your grief, and your privacy, that innate need to be with yourself. Though you might have met this person only a month ago, something inside of you tells you: Somehow you always have known him, and you always will know him.
Each friend deserves to be celebrated. She deserves the right to be seen in her own light, to produce her own radiance of delight, and, yes, even the shadow of disappointment.
Of such adventure is life composed. The newness of today cannot be compared to the newness that was yesterday, or the unknown newness that will be tomorrow. On the days when you feel disheartened, contemplate the spirit of friendship, not the sorrowed setback you’d known, or the sweet dream that is yet to be.
It is with such an intrepid spirit that friends, and life, are embraced. The friend-for-life is the gift granted to you by God because you have surrendered to life, all of it, ecstasy and abomination and every shade of emotion in between. Only then can your heart encircle the immeasurable blessings of the forever friend.
To be friends with your own self has become a trite and tawdry thought; and yet the need to know yourself leads to understanding of not just yourself, but of others, and of life. Trust in your own person is the basis for any devotion to another human being, even with a pet. The ultimate friendship comes alive in an accord with your Lord. This harmony with the Ineffable forms the ideal alliance. It is the firm reliance upon which all other friendships draw the serenity of strength and the valor of virtue.
This essay formed in my mind while I was sorting through pages of my handwritten notes for novel material. I came upon seven quotes, three of which I used at the beginning of this essay. All of those statements in carefully-penned cursive appeared to me, one after another, upon the pale lines of a vintage piece of soft ivory paper. They felt like friends of yesteryear who had come to visit me while I sat this morning at my breakfast table.
I enjoyed the wonderment of a tender smile while reading those quotations; and I realized they were meant to be used for an essay, not in a novel. Those witticisms had been stated by individuals from vastly different times and places. Those persons might have been friends, had they lived during the same timeframe. Perhaps they are friends, presently, in a higher dimension.
The remaining four quotes are presented below in the order in which they were written onto that page about fifteen years ago. The last quotation is anonymous, and, to me, it contains the most compelling suggestions in this essay.
“Come forth into the light of things,
Let nature be your teacher.” — William Wordsworth
“Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift — there is nothing small about it.” — Florence Nightingale
“No race can prosper till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” — Booker T. Washington
“There will never be another now —
I’ll make the most of today.
There will never be another me —
I’ll make the most of myself.”