I do not have many close friends. Maybe 10. That is plenty. I never wanted to have many friends. I want only a few close friends. That is what I have.
Do you want to know how to become my friend? Probably not. But since this is my blog and not your blog, I shall describe it.
First, let me give a long list of things NOT to do. Do not talk to me excessively. Do not invite me to a party. Do not mention how knowledgeable you are about the local bar scene. Do not even come close to making me feel like you need me/want me to be your friend. Do not try to “save” me. Do not try to tell me what you know. Do not call my phone. Do not send texts to my phone. Do not leave a voice message on my phone.
I have a highly developed and highly sensitive "dependency" alarm, and if this alarm goes off, you have virtually no chance to ever develop a friendship with me. If I smell dependency, I run a hundred miles per hour in the other direction.
My friends are certainly reinforcement. They help solidify me, strengthen me, sustain me. But they do not make me. I am not dependent on them. I rely on them, but I am not dependent on them.
Parasites are dependent. Friends are reinforcement. There is a big difference between the two.
Also, it is perfectly fine if we never develop a deep friendship. We can work together, coach together, play a sport together, grow up in a family together, and have fun around each other, and yet still not be friends. That is fine. None of these relationships are required by Law to develop into a friendship.
Now that we have this important foundation, becoming my friend is now very, very simple. All that is needed next is sharing a common interest. This is so incredibly easy because I have so many interests. Do you like riding a bike? Let’s go! Do you like Qdoba? Let’s eat! Do you like adventures? Let’s explore!
The second requirement (finding a common interest) is easy. The first requirement is very hard and also very rare, because it requires you to find your sustenance in something other than me (I can’t give you what you need. That comes from somewhere else.)
The foundation of friendship is FREEDOM. Only two people who are free can become friends, because only people who are free can choose. You choose your friends. This is not good advice. This is the essence of friendship, for friendship is a choice. You do not choose your co-workers, your teammates, your classmates, your family, or your parents. But you DO choose your friends. Choose wisely.
C.S. Lewis speaks of romantic love as two people looking into each other’s eyes, but he describes friendship as two people looking at a common love. Two people who are focused on doing something that they love, who are enjoying the same movie or the same sport, who are looking at something else and enjoying that something else for it’s own sake: that is friendship. All of the attention is on the common interest, not on the relationship. As soon as you start talking about the friendship, you start to kill it, because you have stopped focusing on the common love. Sure, there are times to speak of your friendship, but this should be infinitely minuscule compared to the amount of time spent focusing on a common love.
Why did I become great friends with all seven of the people who rode their bikes across the country with me? Because for 50 days, we were looking at the road. We were looking at our bikes. We were looking at our sun-burnt legs. For 50 days, we beheld the same objects of torment/joy (depending on your perspective), and every day, these same people chose to ride. It was the daily “choosing to ride” that united us. We forged deep friendships (not to be confused with “affection”) by beholding a common Love, a common choice.
If you want to become my friend, you don’t need to look at my eyes. You don’t need to try to get my attention. You don’t need to call my phone. You need to have something you care about deeply, and if I care about it too, then that is the start for a long friendship.
Physical presence is one of the least important aspects of friendship (though certainly one of the most common), for friends are not defined by doing things together at the same time and at the same place. They are defined by a common vision, a common desire, a common Love. The stronger this common Love, the stronger the friendship. I have friends who I have not seen in several years. But we have not drifted away from each other. We just are too busy beholding our common Love, and doing it in different places. I don’t have to see you riding your bike to know that you love riding your bike. Our friendship is sustained even through a physical absence, for the essence of the friendship (in this case, riding a bike) has remained.
If this life is a pilgrimage, then friends are the people who walk with me along MY path. I have had some people walk with me for a few years, and then walk away. They found something else to attract them, or perhaps I did. For some reason, our paths diverged. But I don’t hang around at the fork in the road and ponder if I should follow my friend. No way. I’m on my path. I’m marching through my pilgrimage, and when my compass tells me to go another way, I’m off. I’m not hanging around to see who follows or to see who fell off the trail. While slopping through the mud and the dirt in this world, I’m plowing through my pilgrimage, and I’m following my compass. Every now and then, I look up from my compass, and my friends are the people who I see standing next to me. But every single one of my friends must understand that I care more about the compass than I do about them.
Does that sound selfish? I hope not. I know this: I have much deeper friendships with those who also know that THEIR compass is more important than MY friendship. If you start focusing on the friendship and stop longing for the journey, you are stuck. You have begun to focus your energy on the people that are around you as opposed to the direction that you should be going. You have violated what I hold as a fundamental premise of life: OTHER HUMAN BEINGS CAN NOT GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED. Your compass will lead you to what you need. Your friends, at best, will only cheer you on along the way. But they can't march for you. They can't fight for you. They can't travel your pilgrimage for you. They can give you food, but you still have to walk. (Sidenote: it is possible to walk a LONG way without food.)
It is not possible to be a fellow soldier with someone who doesn’t go to battle. It is not possible to be a teammate with someone who doesn’t play the game. It is not possible to be a friend with someone who wants you to fill a whole in their heart that no human being can fill.
And so we come to that one thing that, after reflecting on it, I have found to be present in all of my true friends: courage. All of my friends have courage. Some friends are at different points in the battle, but they all have the courage to fight. Some friends have different levels of skill, but they all have the desire to play the game. They are at different points on the mountain, but they are all climbing. All of my friends are fighters, and every fighter must have courage. If you are not a fighter, we will never be friends. We may be kind to one another. We may quote movies together. We may work together. But we are not friends.
It is said that “No greater love is there than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I greatly desire to lay down my life for my friends. I don’t think anyone is going to literally kill me in place of my friends. But I know I can live my life for my friends. What if I were to spend my days fighting for my friends, for their children, for their children’s children? What if I were to journey to a place where others are unable to go, and bring to them the Good that I have found? What if I were to spend every moment of my days either preparing to plant or learning to plant, not caring at all what is the yield, only continually and patiently planting the harvest? What if my hands bled and my heart pounded and my brow dripped and my body ached as I worked? What if I did all this with a smile because I would know that I was doing it for my friends and for their children?
Yes, this is what I want with my life. I have had this dream for such a long time, but I have been too slow to act upon it. Until recently, that is. Until I became a man. Until I learned that I’m really not that important, but that there is a gift to give, and that if I don’t give it, it will rot within my soul. That is the only option I see: to fight and not heed the wounds, to plant and not seek the harvest, all with a smile because it is done out of love for my friends. It is that, or to let the gift rot, to go to my grave and wonder “Did I have something else to do with my life? Is there something else that I had to give?” The way I see it, I’m going to die either way, for we are already dead men. Today is as good a day to die as any other.
“We are shadows and dust, Maximus! Shadows and dust.” Yes, but not until I collapse. And there is a lot of butt-kicking to do before that day comes.
My greatest masterpiece has begun.