A friend of mine, who I have known for twenty-five years, came to Vanaprastha this past weekend, giving rise again to thoughts about abiding friendships.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves– family affection, friendship, romance, charity – Lewis states, “…Friendship [is] something that raise[s] us almost above humanity. This love, free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual.”
Lewis distinguishes friendship love from that of family where instinct, duty, jealousy (I’m sorry to admit) and the need to be needed permeate and sometimes pervert love. You cannot choose your family, the saying goes; but we can our friendships. What blessings my friendships are, for I have chosen my handful of close friends well. Each friend encourages me to be better than I really am.
Friendship love is different from romantic love, too.
My husband is my partner and lover; he is not my best friend. We share ourselves in so many ways, but there are things I talk about with my girlfriends that are not of particular interest to my husband. Friendship and romance have many aspects of love in common – loyalty and trust come to mind – like the relationship our dogs Heathcliff and Freya have with one another and with us. But friends are not lovers.
“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship,” Lewis wrote, “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”
About what common interests did my friend and I talk? History (we toured Monticello), family, and work among other topics, all under the umbrella of spirituality. My friend is two decades younger than I am and a former student from all those years ago. She has taught me much about faith, so in some ways I am her student.
My friend Sarah Myers who writes The Noontimes says that friendship is like two people, on opposite sides of a bridge, deciding to meet in the middle. I see them on that bridge looking out at the world standing side-by-side. In my mind, that’s what abiding friends are – both teachers and students to one another, raising each other almost above our humanity and helping us become more charitable towards others.