The experience of friendship

Jonathan was said (1Sa. 18) to be David’s friend who was as his own soul (and vice versa). Such friendships are rare in this life, and they are things to be treasured. Christopher Lee had that kind of friendship with Peter Cushing. He once said:

I don’t want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often.

I was blessed to have such a friend in high school. We were about as inseparable as possible. To borrow from 1 Samuel, he was as my own soul. One of the most difficult things I have ever done was to say goodbye to him when we moved to a new city. It has been decades now, and we do stay in touch from time to time, and it is always a pleasure to hear from him, but yet it is not the same. We have been separated ten times longer than we were together. There is a certain pain to this that I always carry with me; when I watched the final episode of M.A.S.H., and Trapper & Hawkeye hugged each other goodbye, I completely fell apart in tears because it reminded me so much of my separation from my best friend.

Christopher Lee understood that kind of friendship, and he understands what happens when that friend who is as your own soul finally departs:

And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.

[Emphasis added]

That is a melancholy thought, but Mr. Lee (or, rather, Sir Christopher) gets it. There has never been anything like that friendship again in my life. I do not by any means intend to slight my darling life, whom I love more than anyone. But the sort of friendship I think Lee has in mind is with another man (or a woman, if you’re female). There is something uniquely special about the friendship he and the Bible describe, as well as the one I enjoyed in high school. And Lee is right, at least in my case: there has never been anything like that in my life again. So I treasure that memory.

In Lee and Cushing’s case, the separation was brought about by the latter’s death. But there are other ways that such friendships may end. They may end in a flurry of stupid, cruel words. They may “end” because of distance. My friend and I do still keep in touch, but that special thing that we had is long over. The shared experiences upon which it was built (alongside the way our souls “meshed”) are gone. We are now just acquaintances with something a little extra: we enjoy our visits with each other, and we certainly care about each other more than the average acquaintance, but without the shared experiences that are just essential to a friendship: they form the culture of the friendship, the Zeitgeist of the thing. And without them…well, things just aren’t the same anymore.

Orson Scott Card understands this as well. He wrote in Ender’s Game (sorry, no page number available):

For now that they could not be together, they must be infinitely apart, and what had been sure and unshakable was now fragile and insubstantial; from the moment we are not together, Alai is a stranger, for he has a life now that will be no part of mine, and that means that when I see him we will not know each other.

I am not sure whether Card intended Ender and Alai’s friendship to be the sort of thing that I have been talking about here, but he surely gets the idea.

It occurred to me as I was reading over that passage from Card again tonight that the pain of that kind of separation ends with this life. When (God willing, and with His help) we see Him face to face, when we are in Heaven, when we have an eternity together, our experience will be the same: the contemplation of God Himself. And it occurred to me that in that blessed life, in that blessed place and time, all our friends will be as our own souls. That richness of love will be founded on the Rock, and it will be eternal. What a glorious thought! The friendships that Lee and Cushing, Jonathan and David, and my friend and I had are mere foretastes of even better things to come. That thought takes a lot of the sting out of what Lee said (at least for me), and it is something to look forward to.

But the best part is that we cannot even begin to imagine how wonderful the love with our actual best friend will be in glory, because that friend will be God Himself. We see through a glass darkly today, but then face to face. Amen. Let it be so, Lord!

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