Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Makes Friendships Real?

I had some nice visits this weekend with some long-time friends (notice I didn’t say “old” friends). Some were people I had not seen or heard from for many years. Others were people I had not seen for a long time, but whom I have been in touch with in varying degrees through one or more kinds of media. Still others were people I have seen (and keep in touch with) frequently over the past thirty (or more) years.

It is a blessing to be with friends. It is good also to stay in touch (and I am glad in this regard for some of the conveniences developed by technology). I marvel with gratitude, however, at the fact that my life has been so endowed with such real, substantial, and long-lasting friendships. I realize after nearly half a century of life that this is not a common experience in our culture.

But what makes these friendships real? What makes any friendship real? I have found that there are two kinds of enduring friendships, and although both presuppose time spent together, both are based ultimately on something that transcends (even as it enters into) time and space. That “something” is truth.

The first kind of enduring friendship is one that is based on a common search for the truth. These friends may not share the same faith, and may have other disagreements over matters of importance. But they have traveled the road of life together in some way, and have ardently engaged together in seeking the purpose and significance of things. In these friendships there is a real recognition of “truth,” even if the term is not used, because what unites these friends is their awareness of a common desire for something real, for something that lasts and gives meaning to the events of time and the story of life. It can be a something that is hinted at and reflected through very ordinary experiences that people share, or even in the intuition that corresponds to the harmony they discover with each other through shared interests or sympathy of temperament and perspective. But for friendship to endure, it is not enough to have “things in common,” or to simply “get along;” there is the enduring theme of a great destination, toward which friends journey–perhaps in the dark, perhaps without knowing the way, perhaps in continual argument over what exactly the destination is, or perhaps simply with the quiet, implicit recognition that it is there and that it draws them onward.

The second kind of enduring friendship is in many ways like the first, but it has another aspect. It is a common journey toward the fulfillment of the truth that has already been encountered. Such friends are often brought together by some wonderful event, something that defines the rest of their lives and that they will never be able to deny without denying themselves. And one often finds that these friends will be the most odd and unusual sort of companions. One is struck by a great variety of temperaments and preferences, backgrounds, inclinations, and tastes. What binds them together as friends, however, and keeps them together through the years and even through divergent circumstances is a common experience.

And it is not just any experience. It is an encounter with nothing less than the Mystery that gives meaning to all of life, the Mystery that has entered their world and placed them together on a common road. At a certain point in time the Truth brought them together, they recognized the Truth, they tasted it, they said to one another, “Here is the reason why we live,” they met the Truth and were regenerated by it.

Sometimes we forget where we come from. But when we meet our brothers and sisters again, we remember whose children we are, and the home that we are all seeking together.