The Nature Of Friendship

“And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all.  In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood.  One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone.  They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.  Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility.  There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.  That is what lies at the root of true harmony.

Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage

Well, hello there, good old friend of mine
You’ve been reachin’ for yourself for such a long time
There’s so much to say, no need to explain
Just an open door for you to come in from the rain

Carole Bayer Sager, Melissa Manchester, Come In From The Rain

Friendship is an ephemeral concept.  Most commentary or quotes about friendship focus upon its various outcomes, shortcomings, and difficulties rather than upon its chemistry.  There is undoubtedly good reason for this, as there appears to be no single chemical formula which would account for the concept.  All you have to do to understand the differing chemistries which support friendship is consider the relevant clichés about it –  from the notion that opposites attract to the belief that true friends are sculpted from the same clay.

Friendship requires some form of mutual, base level attraction which is not physical in nature.  Friendship is a loaf of mutual fascination formed from some combination of time and  place, shared thoughts, passions, and goals somehow unique to those involved, and somehow baked separately within each participant’s crucible of self-awareness, empathy, and curiosity only to emerge as a single, shared finished product.  While there is no universally correct list of ingredients or recipe for friendship’s creation, the process of its formation always requires this initial spark of attraction.

Given the twin mysteries of the requisite ingredients and the particular processes of their combination, it is no wonder that the final loaf is always a unique enigma peculiar to those involved.  It is their respective personalities which will determine whether the friendship, once formed, will prove lasting or ephemeral; friendships can either be quickly consumed or carefully nurtured.  To stick with the bread analogy, the participants can either eat a single loaf of warm bread of any variety with shared gusto in one or two sittings, or they can re-bake many loaves of sourdough bread over the long course of time by carefully maintaining the levain, the starter, within the secret places of their hearts.

Both varieties of friendship have value.  Friendships are often situational, dependent upon shared experience for their creation and maintenance.  Consider, for example, a friendship formed in high school or college, or during military service, whose existence is determined by the urgent needs of time and place.  While such friendships might be capable of being nurtured through time, there is nothing wrong with an act of single consumption that ends when the declarative situation does.  Such friendships are not only enjoyable in consumption, but they are often the source of pleasant memories that sustain good spirits in times of desperation or need.

Long term friendships are of a more complex nature.  They somehow survive the tides of life, constantly reforming and reshaping as the needs of each participant vary according to whatever exigencies life may deal them.  These types of friendships are carefully formed, sip by sip, over lengthy periods; trust is of their essence, and the participants understand and respect the value of its fragile nature. It is this type of friendship that allows one or another of the participants to come in from the rain when it is necessary to do so, and unburden themselves with the confidence that whatever it is that they may hear in response – be it supportive or confrontational – will be incisive, necessary, and well-intentioned.

Because of their complexity, long-term friendships are not dependent upon time and place but rely, instead, upon the more ephemeral ingredients of similar personalities and shared viewpoint and passion. Indeed, they  are often at odds with the causes of situational friendships  in that they may cross the boundaries of generations or of formative cultures, overcoming these inherent differences because of a mutual principal focus.  For such a friendship to be successful, each participant must possess a natural curiosity; the kind of curiosity that allows him or her to question whether the participants’ perceived differences due to differing ages or upbringings are truly real or only mistaken perceptions resulting from faulty or all-too-casual communication.  In short, such friendships succeed due to the insistence of each party to search for shared truths rather than defining differences; to seek commonality in the teeth of perceived rational differences by means of the telling of, and the listening to, their respective fundamental and formative life stories.

I have been fortunate to have such friendships.  Each is a rare orchid, dependent upon its own peculiar potting soil for survival, dependent upon the individual will of myself and those with whom I share them for their continued existence.  I am grateful to the gods of chance, for I am a lucky man.

About Gavin Stevens

Humptulips County is the wholly fictional on-line residence of Stephen Ellis, a would-be writer, an avid fan of William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha County, and a retired lawyer.
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