Aristotle (computer graphic)
After the heartening response to the Christmas blogpost, it would feel like a betrayal to return here to business as usual. I offer a few observations and reflections on friendship, dedicated to you who responded so generously to that previous message.
I love birthdays, including Christmas, because they celebrate you not for any achievement but just because you are. So much of life is striving, but being, simply being, is equally important. I remember a Christmas card that I received years ago. The front cover of the card showed a drawing of an overjoyed couple (who “look like” Joseph and Mary, looking down . . . at the side you notice a bit of straw, a few lines suggesting a piece of wood . . . and then it dawns on you that you, the viewer of the card are implicitly placed in the role of Jesus—the one who is the occasion of such rejoicing.
As long as each friend is growing, their relationship grows even if they may go through a long time of not interacting. Then they see each other again or connect in some way, and they recognize that the friend has become more, is more now. Love surges forth more than before in response to that more real friend.
There are factors in friendship that can be understood and communicated to others, factors of similarity and complementarity, strengths and needs. But to some extent, friendship cannot be accounted for: the loving contact between unique personalities transpires behind a veil of mystery. It is not something that can be explained. That does not mean that love is blind, just that what the lover sees in the beloved goes beyond any justification that can be explained. It is not the mind and body, but the unique personality, constant through change, that we discover and recognize again and again.
Friendship may catch fire when, amid the interactions which are mainly about physical, mental, and social activation, the other person is authentic enough and open enough to (usually unconsciously) reveal who they really are. When we get a glimpse of that unique personality, a masterpiece of the Creator’s art, we can never be the same. Our concept of the Source Personality has grown. Our motivation to love has expanded.
And there are the things that friends, especially close friends, do for one another, things that can make us grateful forever, can even give us the sense that we could never in one short lifetime, by any series of things we could ever do, fully express our gratitude and affection.
Soren Kierkegaard in Works of Love contrasts (1) divinely commanded neighbor love, which must be equal toward everyone if it is to be genuine toward anyone with (2) preferential love, which is unequal. Like a demanding, ascetical, and unreasonable master, he drives home his first point, leaving no place for preferential love . . . until the end. I am unsympathetic with his exposition, but I make the same point in a different manner: our being equally sons and daughters of God underlies and sustains preferential love, such as friendship.
Aristotle’s idea of friendship has a lot to do with shared interests, things that friends can do together; but it also includes types: friendships of pleasure, friendships of practical usefulness, and friendships of persons who are excellent (I always want to add friendships of persons who are profoundly committed to growing). Aristotle also recognizes the height of friendship—to lay down your life for your friend(s), an action that someone of excellent character can choose because that action, in the right situation, has a beauty to it that attracts the soul of the loyal friend.
Happy loving, happy befriending in the year to come!