Thursday, January 2, 2014

every gregory needs his basil

One can give nothing like oneself. 
--Gregory of Nazianzus

One of the strangest and most delightful facets of deep friendship is that your friends need other friends to be your friend.
They have yet to develop a word that describes the warm and happy relationship you possess with your dearest friends' other dear friends.
It is a beautiful and delightful acquaintance--to know that the major link between you and this other person is one particular person whom you both mutually love and adore.
It is a relationship warmer than acquaintance, but not a stand-alone friendship on its own. 
They have not found a word for it yet.

There are many people who bemoan the fact that the word "friend" has become an orphan word, separated from a solid definition and has become a placeholder word, an empty, boring "Space Reserved" sign to refer to "any person I know."
Many people wiser than I continue to bemoan this sad fact. 
It feels hard to really work oneself up to care all that much about a word being used too liberally, because language is not a precise art at all. As much as I love good grammar and I attempt to not abuse the word literally, sometimes sentences sound stiff and awkward when trying not to end them with a preposition and sometimes playing with words is more fun than following the rules.  As long as we do actually understand what the word truly means, words are meant to be explored, played with, uncovered.
They are made of elastic, not steel.

For example, I never really mind if someone says "I love mac and cheese," because I'm guessing they do not mean "I am willing to put mac and cheese's needs and desires before my own, to learn how to bend my iron will to the will of mac and cheese, to make myself a servant of mac and cheese, to bring mac and cheese tea in bed and read a story to them when I'd rather go on my morning run, to hold mac and cheese's hair back when they are throwing up into the toilet, to bite my tongue when I want to deliver unto mac and cheese a bitingly acerbic commentary on all of mac and cheese's annoying daily habits, and instead smile and tell mac and cheese that they look lovely this morning, and no, I do not know where their ipod is, but I will help them look, if they say please"

For these are all the things that love is, and it is clear that love, like friendship, is a large enough beauty to escape the undignified taxonomy of a graspable definition. 
If you try to define love and then set it aside on the shelf, you have missed the point entirely, and will end up not understanding what love is at all. But if you attempt to live out love each day, to act as if you fully understand the definition, then it is very clear what love is: it is the act of doing good to another human because they are another human, worthy of good to be done to them.

I do assume that is what someone means when they say: "I love my mother," or "I love Janet" or "I love myself" but I do not think that is what someone means when they say: "I love mac and cheese."
Mac and cheese was a food that I never understood the unique appeal of--and then I became a college senior, too poor and busy to buy proper groceries, and I realized that cheese is less expensive than meat; but no one has relayed that memo to whatever those tastebuds are that determine the richness of food. 
Thus, those foolish tastebuds think they have been satisfied by some full, rich cuisine, when really all we fed them was just cheese, milk, and butter melted into a pot of boxed pasta, and mixed in some vegetables, in a half-hearted attempt to avoid scurvy or diphtheria or whatever diseases afflict the vegetable-deprived.
Thus, I began to love mac and cheese.
And, of course, when I saw "I began to love mac and cheese" I mean "love" as we use love colloquially meaning: A fond, warmish feeling towards the object.
I began to feel a fond, warmish feeling towards mac and cheese, which was only strengthened by the fond, warmish feeling that mac and cheese gave my tummy.
It gives one pause when one thinks of the catastrophic consequences that occur when we confuse the fond warmish feeling, colloquial definition of love with the actual, real definition of love.

Because when we wake up one day and find that we do not have fond, warmish feelings towards our mother, or Janet, or the random people we see passing us on the street, or that annoying kid in class, or the drunk frat house bros walking in front of us, or ourselves how do we know that we still love them? 

And perhaps something like that has happened with friendship.
It is much easier to live friendship than to define it, but I think we all know that not just any person we know and smile at, and greet is what Aristotle would describe as a friendship of the good.
A friendship--a true, not colloquially speaking, friendship-- is a relationship of mutual vulnerabilities.
In friendship, one soul encounters another soul, and reveals itself to the other, and by revealing itself, discovers itself.
When one is in a deep, long talk with a friend, we aptly describe it as "baring one's soul."
We cannot understand ourselves without a friend, for once we have bared our soul to a friend, the friend, through a strange and mysterious leap of knowledge, somehow begins to knows our own soul in a way we cannot.
And in those moments when we doubt ourselves, or act like morons, or lose all sorts of warm, fond feelings for ourselves, a friend is the one who can save us by reminding us of who we truly are.
Through friendship, we learn to understand another person.

Friendship is an art of learning a different way to see the world.
The man who has true friends can never be narrow-minded, for he has learned through them to see the world with many different sets of eyes, he has learned to step into the shoes of different people, to learn their story, to think with their hearts.
We learn what it is to look at the world through different eyes, because no matter how joyously similar to us this beautiful human being is, they will always be infinitely different.
Friendship is really the art of discovery; and human beings do love exploration:
Marie Curie discovered radium, and Cook discovered Hawaii, and Newton discovered an apple that fell on his head.
But the human being who has made a friend has discovered reality.
For reality is not a singular person, but a friendship.


Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
--C.S. Lewis

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