On Longing For Friendship
It is not through virtue that I live in solitude, but through weakness, those who live in the midst of men are the strong ones. this admission by Abba Matoes, an early church desert hermit, gave me courage as well as credence to retreat from community. it is a confession of emotive weakness and a kind of spiritual laziness. the fabric of my spirituality is simply too flimsy to portage the heaviness of human relationships. at my sunset years, my soul is tattered from being with people.
I seek solitude not because i no longer believe in community, nor because i think i am more spiritual than others. i seek solitude simply due to my weakness of heart, soul, body and mind. living with people has become a grievous endeavor. i fail others and others fail me. we are only being human. strangely, in long moments of solace, i still long for community. for years i have maintained that being human that we are, we would be destitute without other humans in community. it is self-evident that our Creator has made us for community. without life together with others, we would be incomplete, inadequate and unfinished. so in earnest, during my middle years, i sought meaningful relationships. in time, these relationships became a community of friendships.
Why do two people become friends? why some people never become friends? who knows! the human heart is dark with mystery. who can explain why my friends and i become friends. why some never become close; why some abandon what we have; why some don’t invest in what we can have. it is also a mystery why i choose one to be friend but not another. two men seem to share similar disposition – they are intelligent, articulate, successful and arrogant. one becomes a close friend, the other remains a distant acquaintance.
Like all living things, friendship seems to have a life cycle. there is a beginning, an end and an enduring middle. one friendship has last four decades; another barely survives four years. sometimes i wonder how futile are our efforts to build friendships. it seems no matter what we do or fail to do, a friendship has its durability. it rises and ebbs; it crawls under shadows and runs through sunlight. just as inexplicably when two people become friends, so it is when two people stop being friends. to be sure, it has something to do with our sinful and selfish self.
Another may never have thought of me as a close friend and betrayed me for a better person. when two others and i never got close, it is simply because one did not have the right stuff to get close to another human being. the other did not have the generosity of stuff to spend on our friendship. so we remain friends but one stays at a social distance and the other remains at an emotive distance. one day another walked away without a word. another wanted more from what i could give. to nurture a friendship is costly, to the soul, spirit and body. i wish i could simply sit back and enjoy the friends that i have. but i have not.
Ciscero, the great Roman orator and thinker, is convinced that without nobility a true friendship is impossible. he writes: a good friendship is a great accomplishment that requires no small endeavor. one ought to seek it within all human attainment. but friendship can only be nurtured between two noble persons who possess a certain character of integrity, equity and kindness.
St Paul offers as much with: finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true (transparency, forthrightness, my rendition), whatever is honorable (upstanding, dignified), whatever is just (equitable, filial duty), whatever is pure (single-minded, wholesome), whatever is lovely (graceful, winsome), whatever is commendable (admirable, respectful), if there is any excellence (superlative, virtuous), if there is anything worthy of praise (gratuitous, laudable), contemplate on these things. (Philippians 4. 8 – 9)
A friend once demurred that i had treated strangers with more consideration than with her. another quipped that he had treated me more selflessly than with any other. and another lamented that to spend any time with me was a difficult chore. in their own words were they not nodding to the necessity of noble behavior in friendships. without a nobler angel of our nature, can a friendship endure. without the nobler intentions that cover-up our imperfection, can two friends nurture and be nurtured. i serious doubt it. life’s journeys are difficult enough without the burdensome requirements of friendship. in those many murky moments, friendships are impossible simply because of this priori requirement of nobility.
I realize all the more that an enduring friendship can only be between two honorable individuals who strive to possess an integrity between thought and behavior, an equity of selflessness and an ubiquitous kindness in all encounters . in the winter of my discontent, the warmth of fewer friendships is waning for this plain reason that few of us have that required nobility.