The Many Faces of Friendship
I recently read the wonderfully insightful book, "My Friend, My Friend: The Story of Thoreau's Relationship with Emerson," by Harmon Smith. It was a remarkable book not only because it was about the personal lives of two of my favorite authors (I'm a bit obsessed with them at the moment actually), but because it was quite illuminating in its discussion of friendship.
While many of us know about Thoreau and Emerson as authors, transcendentalists, philosophers, proponents of the anti-slavery movement - what was most interesting to me was that this book portrayed the two men as human in that they found a profound connection in one another, yet their relationship was strained.
Emerson, who was 14 years older than Thoreau, was often quite critical of his dear friend because he felt that he was not living up to his potential as a writer. Thoreau, who was not blind to Emerson's feelings, often felt as if Emerson was not so much a friend, but an overbearing, overly critical father figure. And this great tension between them often puzzled the pair because they did indeed feel so deeply connected to one another.
While I read the account of such an honest and real friendship I was constantly reminded of my own friendships and they are a most sacred thing. Friends are people we feel a mutual connection with and when we allow ourselves to open up to such a relationship it makes us vulnerable - more vulnerable than I think even romantic love makes us.
Afterall, romantic love is based on a mutual physical attraction that involves the body and the heart, while our friendships put us in contact with one another's souls and inner most thoughts and feelings; allowing us to confess to one another what we would never tell even our therapists.
And while we ask our partners in love to fulfill the ultimate role of loving our entire being, we can have several friendships that satisfy individual aspects of our whole and because of this our friendships often run deep - ie a friend who shares our love for writing, another who is our connection to the past, still another who we can share our insecurities and questions about parenthood with, and even one who shares our (secret) love of cheesy (especially those involving tap) dance movies.
It is this vulnerability and the depth of feelings in such relationships that sometimes causes great tension. You see, we have great expectations of our friends because they have such an intimate role in our lives and when they betray that role or they change the relationship without permission or they simply don't need us anymore or they become self-destructive and we cannot stand by and watch because it hurts too much - it is some of the greatest pain we ever experience.
But when I think of my own precious circle of friends I realize that without such relationships we cannot experience life, or ourselves, to the fullest because friends provide us with the opportunity to take the greatest risks and receive the greatest rewards through a shared trust of one another.
"A friend is one who takes me as I am." ---Thoreau
"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it's the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friend." ---Emerson
May we all have friends such as these.