Tomorrow morning, I have an appointment with a friend. I have to confess that I’m looking forward to it. Our last dialogue had a special rambling quality to it. A half-hour chat turned into two hours discussing a selection of topics as varied as socks and Socrates. It was a delightful exchange of thoughts and insights on everything from the trivial to the profound. And I walked away with several dozen fresh ideas with which to occupy my waking hours.
Among these was an unaddressed, but important thought regarding the nature of friendship. As a youth, I was quite confident that a true friend was someone who stuck with you through the hard times. They were someone you could call at 2 AM in full confidence that they’d drive half way across the State to help you out of a pickle. They could be relied upon to protect you when you were unfairly accused and, oft times, even when you weren’t. Like a wall, they stood between you and the world, giving you the chance to rest and recover your senses. They were there when things got rough… not just when it was convenient. And they were the sort of person who would be a part of your life forever.
As I aged, my perspective became more refined. I faced the startling realization that relationships change as we, ourselves change. People move out, move on, and pass away. Sometimes these transitions are gradual – a slow drifting over time. Other times, they are violent, premature terminations which leave us in pain. Those we thought would be there forever often aren’t. Yet even in their physical absence, they and what they have meant to us remain.
For good or for ill, I can still envision the faces of the friends of my youth. I can recall their names and the sound of their voices. I remember what they taught me and how their presence changed who I was an altered who I would become. While I may not have appreciated the parting, I can say earnestly that I do not regret the relationships we had. With Shakespeare, I would argue that it is “better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”
Still, there is another aspect of friendship with which I find myself even more perplexed – that not all “ill weather” friends are truly friends. Those who are with us in times of grief or pain aren’t always available when the sun is shining. Indeed, if I were to be hospitalized this afternoon (my laptop having exploded from overuse), I could immediately count on the care and concern of at least a hundred individuals. (Perhaps more, but I’d hate to overstate my case.) Each would be there with visits, phone calls, and offers of assistance.
What I can’t count on is that any of these individuals would be there when there was no dire need. Grief makes expressions of friendship a necessity. Joy does not. Indeed, I have found very few who make time for relationship when no pressing need exists. Too few seem willing to sit with me in the sunshine simply for the sake of enjoying its warmth. The result is that I have amended my youthful claim that, “a true friend is someone who is there for you when things get rough” with the words “and has time for you when they aren’t.”
Friendship, it seems, is a tricky business. Even the best of my friends won’t be here forever. But the recollection of the time we spent together, enjoying life for its own sake always will be. The warm memories will never fade.