A Fundamental Bond

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He that as found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend and no scales can measure his excellence. A faithful friend is an elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find him” (Sirach 6:14-16).

Thomas Merton once said that he liked people, “but after about an hour I’m tired of being with others.” He also said, “I do know that the best way to really waste time is to get with a lot of other people: then it will be killed for certain.”

I understand what Merton was saying. For example, cocktail parties are hard work for me. There’s all the smiles you have to exude, all the effort at being charming. There’s the burden of intermingling, the vapid togetherness, the toil of exerting oneself to be congenial and to keep smiling. I remember smiling steadily while a Hungarian lady told us about what a beautiful tomb she had bought for her third husband. I spent a long time listening to a man ramble on about a trip he and his wife once made to Minneapolis. There’s the bantering and raillery. And, like Merton, after about an hour I start thinking about how soon I can get out of this? There is something in me that can stand only so much time of unrelieved socialization, hearing people comparing illnesses, all the one-upmanship, the planned summer trips, the latest guest on Dr, Phil, and then I seek solitude. We puff our jobs, balloon our travel plans.

One can note that Therese of Lisieux said “conversations with people, even pious conversations, fatigued my soul…for there is so much self-love intermingled with spiritual conversations.”

Many people claim to have many friends (politicians do it all the time). But who they’re calling “friends” are not more than affinities. People can bestow the title “friend” too generously; they are referring to acquaintances.

My life is riddled with holes where people I called friends once were. There are the lost friends. How hard it is to avoid offending somebody. One or the other makes a misjudgment, presumes, and a rift opens between them, the equilibrium is gone. Friendship is vulnerable.

The philosophers of ancient Athens wrote compellingly about friendship. Aristotle (Ethics) said that friends are needed for happiness, and defined a friend as “a trusted other who understands and accepts me as I am.” He also asserted that true friendship only exists among people who are good people. Cicero (De Amicitia) wrote how friendship ennobles human life and provides some of life’s most splendid moments. The ancient Greeks used the word storge to describe friendship. Storge refers to the love one has for comfortably familiar people. It denotes a tender care, something maternal, something gentle.

Aristotle was right when he regarded trust as the bedrock of true friendship. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “a friend will prove himself to be an ally when alliance becomes necessary” (Four Loves, p.88). Overall, the essence of friendship involves unconditional acceptance, loyalty, and support. In a story by Flannery O’Connor, a boy describes a friendship he was aware of this way: “they never quarls, they like one man in two skins” (Greenleaf, p.299). As far back as the fourth century, Gregory Nanzianzen, speaking of his friend, Basil, said “we seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit.” The Church honors Gregory of Nazianzen and Basil the Great, the two friends, with the same feast day, January 2. “Two bodies with a single spirit” implies that what happens to one’s friend, happens to oneself.

A few other characteristics of deep friendship would be: friends share a vision of life; have common interests, common delights. friendship must be about something; they can pass from light jesting to talk of the deepest things; they can dip into each other’s thoughts; friends can fall into a calm companionable silence; etc.

Sharing a common past is usually a part of deep friendships. Friendship and reminiscence go together. True friendship involves sharing memories, being able to say to each other “Do you remember?” It involves talk about “those days,” and talking about the same people. Friends passed into different rooms of their lives together. They possess together the precious, incommunicable past. Friendship and affection mellow as the years unfold.

Truly deep friendships are gifts from God. It’s not by accident that people come together.

Certain people were born to be comrades. A famous spiritual writer named Garrigou Lagrange wrote that the continuance of friendship for more than twenty years is a sign that the friendship has a divine origin (Life Everlasting, p.234). Friendship is one of life’s fundamental bonds. Friends are the blessing of a lifetime. They enable us to celebrate living. They bring some of the happiest days. People can live without a deep friendship, and it seems that most people do. Still, in many ways, life has no better gift to give, and friendship should be nurtured, cared for, invested in. The best things in our lives are the loves we have known. When you have a true and close friend you have one of the best things this life has to give. Most of our hurts come through relationships, so does our healing. Social psychologists claim that psychoanalytic therapy doesn’t work much better than the untrained ear of a true friend. Friends give us life and love and God. There is the old hymn that goes: “Where there is Caritas and Amor there is God.”

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such a friend.