When I was young, I expected that my friendships would continue in their steady pattern unabated.

Not, per se, that every friendship I had would hold throughout life, or even through the next phase of school, but I had faith that though friendships would come and go, kindness and honesty would remain a part of them all.

After all, that was how I thought.

I remember a once-dear friend of mine telling me of a proverb, which I more recently discovered is actually a snippet of writing from 19th century poet Dinah Craik.

When I was first given the quote, it was presented as a definition of friendship.

But in its original form, it is written thus:

"Oh, the comfort— the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person— having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."

From A Life for a Life (1859).

Now, I am older, and I know more of my world than I did then.

I know, for example, that I am no longer familiar with that comfort described in the passage above.

There is one man with whom I grew up, and for as long as I have known him I have trusted him, but he is an odd sort. In the world but not of it, and his advice, always wise, is sparse and rightly so--for his wisdom shouldn't be wasted. I do not drag my stories to him because he doesn't express a desire to be entangled and I would not foist upon him what he would not willingly request. As such I admire him more than almost any man I have met. For the result is that while he remains outside the dirt and dust and dramatics of my social circle he maintains the ability to comment on it with integrity, grace, and truth.

All others, from the beginning of my life until the present, have failed to live up to that standard.

Most wish to offer advice. Some would act as a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on because their ear is empty and their shoulder needs weight upon it. They desire my attention and would be sympathetic so that they might come by it. Some begin genuinely wanting nothing more than to listen and be heard, but quickly flare up in anger when my words go against the grain of their opinions. Others start out by attempting to subject my will to their own.

Even the dear friend who first presented me the quote on kindness broke down last year, and finally expressed to me that he was uninterested in maintaining any communication with me because I do not accept his every piece of advice as the mandate of heaven. Amazement flooded me when I realized that for him, friendship was conditional, and the condition was that he be respected as the foremost authority on everything on which he decided he was an authority.

It became clear to me then that when we were young our friendship had remained untroubled because while young I thought him to be my better and he was informed far beyond the limited bounds of my experiences. As I grew and matured and learned, our spheres of knowledge began to differ (and mine to expand to new ground), and he began to make assertions in fields which my sphere of knowledge contained, and which I knew were incorrect. Yet each time I contradicted him wounded his pride and his ability to interact with me comfortably. And so our friendship fell apart slowly, like a ship shattering in deep space and tumbling apart. Each new difference of opinion a meteorite ripping through another structural support.

The first lady I ever loved, I once believed would be a comfort of the type described above, but I disappointed her many times over many years while we struggled in the dark places of young life, trying to discover who we would grow into. Eventually we fell out of contact and life is better this way. I have no concern daily for a hearth 150 miles from my own, and she has no love lost on a man incapable of being there for her in her times of need.

My second love was little more than an attempt at escape and rebellion against my cynicism. I had chosen a girl that I felt I could help, but I failed to help her and only succeeding in teaching myself a fundemental truth: you can't help people who don't want to change, even if they like to talk about changing.

The man I call my brother has his own problems and doesn't need my burdens cast upon his shoulders. He willingly takes on the burdens of too many others as it is. The woman I call my other sister is desperate to control each friendship and connection and possess it, and my spirit is both too free and too wild to be possessed by any of her ilk. My mentors and teachers have had their own worries and priorities, and besides they are behind me now, lost in the mist and shroud that graduation generates among those of us mature enough to leave the nest of school willingly. My colleagues and peers had their own concerns and rarely wanted more from me than that I followed the litany of my family.

These are (or were) a few of the men and women in my life who I would call my friends. I would make sacrifices for them without hope of reward. But I do not trust them. I will not pour out my words unguarded for them and establish a connection. All fail equally in providing for me the comfort I now realize I have been searching since the late 1990s.

And so I find myself wondering: now that I maintain my cynicism, am I beyond the bounds of that comfort forever? Now that my motto is "I entertain the hope that people can change, and maintain the belief that they won't" and my theme song is Rufus Wainright's One Man Guy, I am starting to fall into a place where I will gather friendships, but never experience intimacy.

And I guess I'm ok with that, because really, what other choice do I have?

Sunday, May 22, 2005


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