An ancient and very effective form of punishment, some may say torture, is the deprivation of human contact. It is the theory behind solitary confinement in our prison system and the bamboo boxes in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand this. The boxes in Hanoi solved two problems for the communist guards; it prevented easily manufactured conspiracies and broke the human will. Today, it is cold and raining and my very close friend, Sharon, is returning from a buyer’s market in Dallas, Texas after a week of perusing the goods at that huge market. She has only been gone for 4 days, but the Tazz and I are ready for her return. Her absence has provoked this discourse on friendship and what it means.
We all have many, many acquaintances. These are the folks that we “know” when we see them and may or may not be welcomed into our daily lives. These are the folks who may, or may not, share our values and perspectives but are worth the greeting of the day when you meet. Let’s call them the “good morning, how ya’ doing” folks. They are likely to respond with “just fine” and inquire about your well being. That is about it. They typically mean you no harm and you reciprocate accordingly. Contact with these folks represents a fraction of the friendship formula, and we can’t honestly recall the verbal exchange beyond a day or two. Most folks are much closer to their pets……..
Just friends comprise the next level in the relationship recipe. These are typically folks who have sufficiently impressed you with some particular characteristic to the extent that you care for them and their well being beyond the ordinary. Most folks have a relatively decent inventory of “just friends”. These are the folks that you will most certainly share your strengths and preferences with over a good cup of coffee, and may even occasionally enjoy a project with, such as digging a post hole or building something. When it is your time, one or two of these folks are likely to accept the invitation to carry a corner of your casket when the funeral planner, usually a good friend, can’t assemble enough folks to do the heavy lifting. These relationships usually involve innocuous expectations and weak promises.
Good friend are different…….really different. Good friends make no demands, have few if any expectations and have little need for promises. When the time comes for “someone to get it”, these friends will carry the bat. These friends not only hear you when you speak but can hear you when you are quiet. These are the folks who honestly assess your strengths and with whom you will share your weaknesses. Good friends are comprised of a father’s sternness when needed, a mother’s love, the antagonism of a brother or sister and the honesty of a Catholic Priest. They are sincerely honored when the planner is assembling the heavy lifters for the last ride on your day of judgement, and they are asked to participate. These folks are held in the same esteem accorded to an old dog who has watched you cry, fume and shake your head when confronted with some mysterious circumstance. They are life’s most precious gems…..and are usually identified only after they have demonstrated a high regard for you when you have done something really stupid. They appreciate your weaknesses and honestly council you when this council is necessary. These kinds of friends are why, in the end, we live. If you do not enjoy this degree of friendship…….you are missing a really great part of life. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them”. That has certainly been my experience!
As I close, it is important to acknowledge the betrayal and pain that accompanies the “good” friend who sees you only as a prop in his or her life and casts you aside when the going gets tough. These people are snakes and deserve the sequestration they surely will earn as time goes on. These folks are particularly vexing as they represent not only a betrayal of your confidence but a personal error in judgement. I hope you never feel this sting……..
Find a way to thank a good friend today.