By Scott Keith –
“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest
and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life
and the school of virtue. The modern world,
in comparison ignores it.”
Well, once again, the Kochs and the Keiths were at O’Leary’s drinking a few cocktails, and the conversation turned to friendship. Maybe it is because the Kochs and the Keiths are good friends, or maybe it is because we like to wax philosophical, but conversations like this always come up. As often happens, it was the lovely and talented Mrs. Koch and I who were seemingly butting heads. At one point, she bluntly asked of me: “So what does it mean to have or be a true friend?” As she asked her question, it occurred to me that I ask this question of myself quite a lot. I don’t have many friends. I often wonder if that is because I am unlikable – it probably is – or if it is for some other reason. I know many people who have more friends than they can count. But when I’m around them I always feel like I’m in that scene from Tombstone where Wyatt Earp is asking Doc Holiday to stay in bed and out of his fight. In an attempt to explain himself, Doc Holiday says: “Wyatt Earp is my friend.” To which one of the posse quickly retorts, “Hell, I got lots of friends.” What comes next from Doc always hits me right between the eyes as he exclaims, “I don’t.” I don’t either.
The long and the short of it is that it’s okay that I don’t have a lot of friends. It’s even okay that we’re not friends. Because friendship is a deep and important bond that surpasses many of the relationships we will have in our lives.
Friendship involves a care, commitment, and desire toward the same “higher order” of things in life. If we are friends, it says more than that we share a common interest. Friends walk side by side one another in the path of life that yearns toward discovering quality, meaning, and virtue. Friends share a desire to seek after what is right and what ought to be. Friends stand together facing the world in its complexities and nuances, attempting to make sense of it and encounter it together. C.S. Lewis in his work, The Four Loves, says that this is why lovers are usually pictured facing one another and friends are pictured walking side by side. Within the confines of a love relationship or a marriage, the relationship itself is often the subject of conversation. Sure, these people are dedicated to each other, might be friends, and hopefully, would do anything for one another, but they are lovers, and thus their relationship focuses on their love for one another. The focus of a friendship is never the friendship itself. In a very particular way, friendship is deeper than that. Friends work toward the other, those things that are outside of us which bring value and virtue to our existence. Lovers will make love, but friends will be doing something outside of themselves together.
So you see, we can’t be friends. I don’t know you. We have no common interest, nothing that we can work toward together, no philosophical conundrum to work out. We are maybe not even acquaintances. I am, in all likelihood, to you, merely words on a screen with which you agree or disagree. If you are reading this blog, it is not because we are friends. You may have just been passing through. You may be interested in how The Jagged Word is attempting to figure out “What the Hell is Going on Here.” You may just love my insightful prose every week. But, we are not yet friends, and I like it that way. Friendship, in many ways, demands more of us than any other type of relationship. It requires that we find someone with whom we can share adventures of either the mind or the body. It thus requires work. It is insulting to the concept of friendship when in vernacular terminology those whom we only “know” digitally are referred to as friends. You cannot walk alongside a computer screen and create the subversion of the larger group that is inevitable when two friends remove themselves from the herd in order to work out the mysteries of life. No greater virtue exists, and it is a virtue only found among friends.
Friendship is not necessary to our life, but it makes our life worth living. Again C.S. Lewis is helpful as he says it this way: “Friendship is unnecessary like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival.” It is, I think, more virtuous to have fewer true friends to walk alongside with on the journey of life, than many acquaintances in friend clothing that don’t fit the bill. The virtue is achieved by two souls seeking after those things, which make this life valuable to live. A true friend is an incredibly valuable commodity. What makes a thing valuable is that it is in short supply. What makes diamonds and gold valuable is that they are hard to mine. Friend too are valuable because they are hard to mine. So you are most likely not my friend, and that’s okay… We ought to both like it that way, because it means we have true friends.