What is friendship this elevated expression of love between two souls which beforehand were nameless one to the other. The Creator, Himself, has in one place called us His friends (Jn. 15:15). Mourning is not a difficult emotion to feign during a time of sorrow and so surprisingly this is not always a true test of friendship. In the same way, though we would expect for our friends to be there for us in times of our need, this does not always happen. Sometimes they might be suffering at the same time and in another world, more desolate than ours. This is where friendships have been lost because trust and the benefit of doubt have been removed. Rather, the true test of friendship is the unbridled joy we might experience when news arrives that our friend has been the recipient of a wonderful success. Heartfelt joy cannot be feigned and is hard to pretend for more than a few minutes and an hour. It is the absence of envy, then, this “green-eyed monster”, which is the truest indication of the depth which two souls are travelling together.
We can experience loss in many different ways. And unlike pleasure which is quickly passing, loss can remain with us for a long time. There is the inexpressible loss of loved ones or the devastating sense of abandonment a child can experience. Then there are other losses still very difficult but the impact of these stop at a given place. Once trusted friends walking away from us never to return, work opportunities not given to us after years of labor, the loss of our youth and health, the loss of dreams no longer attainable, the lost opportunities at reconciliation. But there is a greater loss still, the loss of ‘the light’ every time we deny the other a show of compassion. Every time we say no to the movement of grace and ‘rob’ Love of its work. Every time this happens, we die a little more.
If we had knowledge of the peace and comfort we could bring to a suffering brother or sister with one single paragraph and the insufferable pain we might cause them for holding back on this kindness, our hearts could break. We wait for the moment to be heroes by jumping into the freezing waters to save a stranger from drowning, a time which will probably never come for most of us. And if it did, can we be sure we would dive in? What if it was a burning car? Yet we would withhold a generous act which would take no more than a few minutes and which might allow for another human being to break free from the heavy weight of our shadow. Love is more often revealed in the small and sympathetic acts of everyday encounters, like pieces of sunlight which suddenly break through into a dark room.
Idols cannot and will not replace the living God. So we create gods to live amongst us in our own image and likeness. We call these men and women ‘stars’ and nowadays too, ‘influencers’. And when they betray or rob from us, and demand of us that we lay down our lives for them in war or in servitude, we are initially dismayed and shocked. Why do we continue in this folly? One of the explanations that perhaps somewhere in our subconscious we have comprehension we are created for something ‘higher’. For some hidden reason we despair of reaching that height ourselves so we throw that mantle of light away and look to place it on another’s shoulder. There is an otherworldly agitation within us all which goes back to that divine spark from creation. It cannot let go and it will tug at the ears of the soul to our final day.
Clichés will often speak the truth with a stunning simplicity. ‘Do not judge a book by its cover’ we say. People who we might dismiss on account of their appearance or social status could carry within them the greatest of treasures. So magnificent can this treasure be that its brilliance can easily blind us to its great worth. Like the secreted potential of the humble young donkey waiting to carry the Son of God into Jerusalem a week before Easter Sunday. We have walked past the finest poets, the most beautiful singers, the smartest minds, the bravest people, the most heartbroken and repentant of the fallen angels. We have not stopped. And we have not said a word.
There is nothing new under the sun. Even the Homeric school paid homage to the poets who came centuries before. True originality exists and moves in our daily expressions of love, for Love itself draws upon an infinite and inexhaustible source of creation. All else falls into varying degrees of imitation ranging from the breathtakingly sublime to the cheaply crass, whether to do with the finest art or the cruelest tyranny. Acts of love alone remain uniquely inimitable like the unmatched patterns of a snowflake or the membrane ring behind the cornea of your eye.
If I cannot find meaning in the existence of the other, whatever dreams I might build will collapse all around me, like words I might speak devoid of sentences. I become alive and experience the breadth of life by entering deeply into the joyful-sorrow of the one opposite me. There are many examples from all facets of life where this can be experienced. A telling model is that of marriage with the exchange of the crown of thorns, or when a child is adopted into its new family. Another way to experience this life-giving synergy is when we practice the noble art forgiveness.
If you can live with the revelation that your dreams were oftentimes your greatest obstacle, that no one will ever see you ablaze with love, or take in your finest scent, or that your enemy will never hear you praying that they be blessed with gifts you will never taste, or that your best poetry is forever lost, or that the beautiful woman who yesterday crossed your path will never know you at twenty-one, or that you will never be reconciled to all those things which need your reconciliation, that soon it will all be gone and death is the one undeniable truth of life, then you will be happy and you will be beyond the reach of any sadness. If you can live with the knowledge that it is not beauty which will save the world but compassion, then all of this will make some sense to you.
In the end we can only heal ourselves, and this is one of the hardest truths. This is why the Nazarene, that great investigator into the mysteries of the human soul was able to say, “Physician, heal thyself” (Lk. 4:23). Others can and should help us when they can, but that kind of help however needful and valuable, cannot and does not last long into the night. So why do we persist looking for healing outside ourselves knowing that it will in the end prove short-lived like a painkiller for a toothache which will return. Is it not because of the need to confirm we still matter and that our suffering must not remain anonymous and unacknowledged? Our ontology demands such recognition. There is also a marvelous term we find in Buddhism, Vipassana, to explore reality [‘reality as it is’] within oneself.