Friendship without mystery

While I'm on the subject of love and friendship...

In my experience there are 2 kinds of friendship: those that exist principally in a comfortable social environment and those that can exist independent of this. I have been privileged to experience just a few of the latter in my life. What characterizes them is not any kind of emotional dependence, exchange of favors or enjoyment of common interests; these might occur but they might just as easily not. In fact, often such friendships seem utterly without logical basis to the outside observer. Yet they work - in fact, they go to the "pit of your stomach" as I said in my previous post "The capacity to love".

In my view what characterizes such friendships is a mutual understanding; you "get" each other. There is no "mystery" between you. That is not to say that you know every fact relating to your friend; you might know comparatively little. But you intuitively understand his or her motivations. You can see the world from his or her perspective, even if your feet don't follow the same footprints.

I have friends that I dearly cherish and highly esteem who don't fall into the above category. Many of these are people I spend most of my time with. Why aren't they in the "special" category above? The answer is simple; try as I might, I cannot relate to their primary motivations. Some aspect of their lives remains foreign to me - a mystery. Ditto in reverse. This is not a slight on any of those friendships; it is just a fact that we both know and accept without disappointment or regret. It's the way it is.

I have friends who know I write blogs, for example. They might read them and even agree with what I say. But the fact that I am writing this now is not something that makes any sense to them at an intuitive level. They might cognitively understand my reasons for enjoying writing, but they cannot relate to it, just as a person who hasn't tasted a strawberry cannot relate to that taste; he or she might know that a strawberry is sweet, slightly tart, soft-fleshed etc., but the "experience" ends there.

Friends who truly "get" my particular motivations might not be inclined to stay up at night writing either. They don't need to share my hobbies or passions. But they nevertheless understand them. They can do so without having to "walk in my footsteps". Their motivations might lead them to other, completely unrelated activities, or even to doing nothing at all. But at some level they understand what and why I am doing right now. They "get" it. There is no mystery. The same applies in reverse.

Consider this: I have been friends with James for 33 years. We met when I was 8 and James was 7. I believe it was St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, also observed, "Give me a boy at seven and I will show you the man at 21." There is more than an element of truth to this in my experience: James and I "got" each other then, and I'm reasonably certain that, despite the fact that we have only been in the same room for a few hours once every 5 or 6 years on average, we still "get" each other today. We understand each other's idiosyncrasies and motivations even if fate has meant that we have led very different lives and made very different choices. There is a part of James I understand in the pit of my stomach. I have every reason to believe that the reverse is true.

He has spent his life on the move. I've chosen to stay in one place for the last 23 years. But I "get" his choice. And our friendship remains, somewhat incongruously, as it has always been, despite the tyrannies of distance and time.

I can count on one hand people who I can say fall into this unlikely bracket. I have lived the bulk of my life with a couple of them. Others, like James, have been mostly separated from me by time and space. Recently I have been fortunate to meet at least one or 2 more such friends. And my life is so much richer for it.

In this respect I am reminded of Chinese or Japanese calligraphy; a brush stroke is made richer by the presence and quality of its "skoshi" flourish - that short little flick at the end that gives it character and substance.


My Chen Pan-Ling "brother" Terry Price wrote to me after reading this article quoting one of his mentors who once said:

"A friend is someone who knows everything about you, and likes you anyway".

This reminded me that when I was saying goodbye to James he said: "I'll try to keep in touch - but you know me..."
I said: "Yes - I do. And I've never, in the slightest, minded the fact that you don't write me. It's all part of the same interesting package." We laughed, hugged and he went on his way. I know I'll see him again sometime...