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Friends Discovered, Not Made

Friends in any true and abiding sense, therefore, are in the nature of a discovery; but when discovered, it is because of a predestined spiritual relation that compels recognition and which transcends and dominates all temporary and external conditions or circumstances. Friendship of this order is as eternal as the spirit itself. It is a part of spiritual identity and simply cannot be destroyed. As things go with human beings in a finite world, it may be subjected to much jar and fret, and be thereby deprived of much of its inherent joy and exhilaration and the luxury of that sympathetic comprehension which, in its ideal state, would be perfect; but still it can endure this and not be destroyed because there is that in its nature which is of the divine order and therefore indestructible. Of course, this is that rarest order of friendship which comes not only not more than once in a lifetime, but perhaps not more than once among a hundred, or even a thousand lives. It is one of the heavenly mysteries, and cannot be accounted for by any earthly formula. It is, too, a relation for which the world has neither sympathy nor comprehension. 'Oh, you idealize so-and-so,' says society; 'you see what is not there. You set up a chimerical creation of mere fancy, and fall down and worship it.'

To listen to this is to turn away from the heavenly vision; to be deaf to the voices which the multitude cannot hear and which call to you alone. To idealize is not to follow a delusion, to mistake clay for alabaster, but it is to see more clearly, to discern that finer significance that he who runs may not read. It is only the exceptional nature that can be what the world calls idealized, which is simply recognition for what is actually there, and not in the least a process of investing it with qualities it does not possess. It is the inner vision that sees 'the beauties hid from common sight.'

Any friendship that is worth the name is not in the least a matter of reason or choice, but rather of magnetism and temperament. It can bear almost everything of friction, jar, annoyance, or pain—not, surely, without losing much of its divineness and sweetest joy, yet still it can bear them—and still spring up again with renewed vitality. And as it is a wholly spiritual relation, it may not only spring up with renewed vitality from experiences that would simply exterminate and annihilate any lesser bond, but in the region where it lives—the miracle region of life—the renewal may be absolute regeneration as well, and transmute it into an infinitely higher condition—purified, redeemed, from the elements that so nearly wrought its wreck and destruction. It may undergo a kind of resurrection hour, in which all baser elements are eliminated from the crucible in which it has been tried; sown in weakness, it may be raised in power. This experience, while exceptional, is possible, and depends upon the magnanimity and the generosity of the one who, of either, has the most to forgive, and the way in which the forgiveness is offered. A certain mingling of dignity and delicacy, with yet a liberal allowance of generosity and faith in a better future, go a great way in this regeneration of personal relations. One who receives this feels the responsibility upon him of proving not again unworthy this noblest of aid; and so the very springs of endeavor and aspiration are renewed, and there rises before his vision a new heaven and a new earth.

People talk lightly and carelessly of friendship when they do not know the meaning of the term; when they are not, themselves, the stuff of which friends are made; when they know less of the truth and trust and tenderness that the name implies than M. Flammarion believes that he knows of the emotions of the inhabitants of Mars. To exchange cards or calls or dinner invitations; to be members of the same club or the same church; to hold views in common as to Wagner operas and the drama as it is in Ibsen—is no more friendship than it is politics or theology; although these relations, and others even more superficial, masquerade under its name. In its true sense friendship is a relation that defies analysis, defies explanation, and defies all the known laws of the chart of polite society, because it is grounded in something far deeper and more abiding. It is, when found, something to be held sacredly as the inestimable treasure of life, as its profoundest and most potent source of inspiration. It is something in which to believe as one believes in God. 'The soul's emphasis is always right.' Its insight is unerring, and its vision swift to discern that which is spiritual reality.

There are plenty of people fitted out with a good relay of substantial qualities and pleasing attributes, who are admirably calculated to fill the place of the extensive outer court of agreeable acquaintances. But that life alone is rich which holds one perfect friendship, in which mutual sympathy is mutual clairvoyance as well; in which sacrifice on either side would be luxury and not trial; in which the bond is indestructible because it is that of the spirit, and therefore divine and eternal.

It is quite useless 'to strike leagues of friendship with cheap people where no friendship can be.' People, like pictures, should have the advantage of a good light and of fair and true perspective. This is only simple justice. Many persons are like the pictures whose color is put on in the decomposition du ton—the method that blends only at a certain focal distance. Seen too near, the canvas is all one blot and blur of shapeless smears of paint, without meaning or values; but go to the true focal distance, and, behold, the purple smear becomes a mountain range; the shapeless patches of blue or grey or rose become a sky and clouds; the red and green spots show as scarlet flowers in the grass, and the entire landscape is palpitating with light and throbbing with life. It is luminous and beautiful; the artist has fairly painted light as well as color. But all this is only to be felt and seen at the true focal distance. Another school of painting permits the closest scrutiny, but at a distance you miss the wonderful atmospheric effects and the light and life of the impressionist.

There are people who correspond to each—those who suffer by being seen too near, and those who may be seen to advantage in small details, but whose character or achievements, when viewed in perspective, are not impressive. Each must be given the advantage of the true light and the true focal distance.

Again, friendship, like love, must be largely taken 'for better, for worse.' It is idle to 'throw over' a friend who in many ways gives you pleasant and agreeable companionship, because, indeed, you discover faults not at first perceived. If one waits to find perfection in his friend, he will probably wait long and live and die unfriended at last. The fine art of living, indeed, is to draw from each person his best. Friendship is in itself as fine an art as is music or painting or sculpture. Let the artist approach the keyboard, and what melodies does he evolve? Let the untrained and the ungifted come, and we have discords. The skilled fingers of the sculptor touch the clay into beauty of form and charm of suggestion; the painter, the poet, brings color and vision and power; but the one not endowed with the artist's genius produces discords, daubs, or meaningless rhyme. So with life. The individual gifted with tact, faith, sweetness, and charm creates the very qualities in which he believes and which he himself possesses. He 'gets on' with people harmoniously. It is the exquisite result of high qualities.

Per contra, to be swift to discern the faults or follies of others does not argue the possession of superiority. It takes far less insight to discover defects than it does to discern noble and lovely qualities. 'It requires a god to recognize a god.' Noble people recognize each other intuitively. Of course there are persons with whom no friendship can be—people who are cheap, petty, selfish, and self-seeking. One should not 'strike leagues of friendship' with these, for with them no friendship can be.

Nothing is more fatal to friendly relations than complaints and reproaches and demands for explanations. People must be judged in the wholeness of their conduct. A thousand subtle influences, unexpected and unforeseen events, have their action and reaction on life. A thousand things occur that can neither be analyzed nor defined. Many a temporary alienation is effectively overcome by silence. Reproaches, questionings, but widen the gulf. Leaving it alone, taking up other interests and ideas, bridges it over. Then, too, if people would truly meet, it must be in an atmosphere above the merely personal and local and visible. By different and very diverse paths they may gain the same spiritual plane; and when there, meeting is inevitable. In fact, there is this element of inevitableness in all friendship worthy the name. It is not so much an achievement or an agreement as it is a predestined relation. Its strongest bond is charm. 'Men talk of morals' says Emerson, 'but it is manners that associate us.' More deeply still, it is tastes that associate us. An expression that jars on one's sense of taste will undo in an instant all the influence or impression made by sterling virtues through a term of years. A defect in knowledge, even in morals, can be condoned, but not defective perception. For its roots lie deep in temperament, in the lack of all that culture which is the result of a thousand subtle influences.

The lack of fine perception that results in want of consideration for others, in forgetfulness and carelessness in little things; that imposes upon the time, strength, or resources of other people—is a defect more inimical to friendship than is many a graver fault in morals. It implies lack of good breeding, lack of refinement, lack of a thousand essentials of daily intercourse.

Cheapness of nature can be redeemed only from one source—that of the invisible power on the divine side of life. By seeking this in silence and concentration for a little time each day, all refinement and loveliness and charm can be achieved. It is the magic of life.

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Lilian Whiting

  • Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
  • Author and journalist
  • Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget
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