Monday, October 8, 2012

Homecoming and Friendship

This weekend's annual Homecoming at our college drew me to the post I wrote for last year's Homecoming. I was then prompted to reflect and develop further these (still very incomplete) thoughts about friendship. On a certain level, the things I said last year are a precise "fit" for this past weekend. But my reflections have continued to grow, and so here is a revised post of considerations that are still in progress:

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

And then, finally, there were the people I see all the time, and who help me in my own life. Especially with them, the pace of daily events often crowds out the simple possibility of "visiting" one another. This is something we hardly realize until some celebration comes along that brings us together gratuitously. This is one of the great values of a celebration.

It is a blessing to be with friends. I marvel with gratitude that my life has been 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 particular event or experience they have shared. They have had an encounter with persons and circumstances that seem quite ordinary in themselves, and that might be spread out over a significant period of time. But this apparently ordinary history of place and time and circumstances carries within it the experience of something extraordinary and utterly convincing.

These friends have experienced together 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 they 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 this 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. We help each other simply by seeing the different ways in which this awareness has shaped each of us thus far, We recognize--in the various ways that our personalities are maturing, and also in our struggles and failures--the Reality that we still have and still seek in common, even if we haven't seen each other in a long time.

And, of course, we can become great friends with others who have found this same truth under different concrete circumstances, whom we meet further down the road.

All this, however, raises another question: When I encounter the truth of my life, does that mean I can no longer have the "first kind" of friendship? Does it mean that I ought to look down upon those who are still searching, with pity and a sense of superiority? Not at all. Quite the contrary!

The truth of my life is not an abstract theory, which I can master by learning its terms and its logic. The truth of life is a Person. He has not come into my life to end my journey, but to show me where I'm going, to draw me to Him, and to shed light on everything along the way.

This means that my friendship with those who are still seeking the truth can only become more profound. The relationship with Him who is the truth of life can only deepen my appreciation and reverence for every person, and my desire to be their companion. I recognize that I myself am part of the experience of that person's life, through which the Mystery-who-dwells-among-us invites and draws their freedom.

Those of us who know Jesus Christ cannot simply live like a club, or a partisan group that controls truth and that preaches down at others. We are called to stay together as brothers and sisters, but also to dwell with others and share their lives and their sufferings and their searching. He who is "the truth" has us. He is changing us, and He wants us to be living witnesses within the journey of others...with the right words in their proper time, but above all with the love that He generates and shapes according to His particular plan for each person.