After all, say what we will, the one supreme luxury of life of Life is sympathetic companionship. Friendship is a comprehensive term, and to a considerable degree comprises those relations of friendly feeling which are given, which should be given, freely and widely, but which do not, necessarily, involve the element of companionship. One may give all good feeling and good wishes, and be quite willing to give occasional time to the individual whom, after all, for his own pleasure alone, purely as a personal matter, he would never long to see. Because it is only companionship that can be absolutely desired and longed for, and those who give it in any measure are comparatively few, and those who give it in perfect measure still more rare.
In this the vital quality is perfect mutual understanding. It is the quality the Italians exquisitely express as that of being simpatico. It cannot be defined nor acquired, because it is a temperamental relation. It is or it is not, and its origin is prior to all our questioning.
Among its attributes are similarity of experiences. To care for the same authors or the same plays or the same range of human interests does not necessarily create sympathetic companionship, though it is safe to say it never exists without this. And still in no dead level of accord is it found. The likeness of differences is more attractive than the likeness of similarities.
But there is a conversational freemasonry that exists in a kind of foreordained way, and which people do not make, but simply discover. To like or dislike Wagner's music, Signora Duse's acting, Pierre Loti's romance, Gladstone's statesmanship, Mr. Henley's poetry, the Dutch Sensitivists, the French Symbolists—to espouse one side or the other of the vexed questions of the day, is not so much the point as it is to flash back opinion and repartee and comment on these existing phases of art and criticism. The world would be far duller than it is if there were not someone to retort, when you assert so-and-so of French Impressionism, 'Ah, but don't you know that Monet himself thinks' this or that? or who revises your wavering recollection of Maarten Maarten's latest poem, or sets your denunciations or ecstasies to a new key, by the flash of wit or raillery or knowledge. All this makes the freemasonry of that atmosphere we name culture, and which is an unconscious result, and not at all a matter of ethics or determination. It is this play and freedom and brightness and spontaneousness that make the true social quality. For social equality is never determined, in its finest and most enduring sense, by rank, or wealth, or even knowledge, but by culture. In this exquisite sympathy of companionship lies the true luxury of life.
And the social luxury becomes the spiritual necessity. To receive happiness and to give it are equal in the just measure for measure. To one who is, for instance, in the role of host there can be no more bitter rebuke than to have any guest or even chance caller go out from the portals with the feeling that he is sorry that he came—that he is depressed rather than uplifted, saddened rather than gladdened, and in the mood of discord rather than that of harmony. For all personal association, whether permanent or transient, whether prearranged or a matter of accidental contact, should leave behind it a lingering charm, as of something sweet and gracious—a deeper sense of the possible exaltations and loveliness of life. When any meeting does not do this, someone is to blame. One or both is not giving of its best; and not to do this is a wrong to society in general. No one is living aright unless he so lives that whoever meets him goes away more confident and joyous for the contact. Faith in all ultimate good should be so vital that it can communicate itself, as with a vibratory impulse, to others. There should be such gladness and joy in life that all may partake of it. 'There are some men and women in whose company we are always at our best,' says Dr. Drummond. 'While with them we cannot think mean thoughts, or speak ungenerous words. Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops in our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find music in our souls that was never there before.'
Now, it is not only a possible ideal in life to conceive of evolving harmonies of spirit in this way, it is the absolute Christian duty of every thoughtful man or woman. It is a simple obligation laid on every one—
Somewhat the better for his being,
And gladder for his human speech.
To attain this art of living is to attain happiness. It is only a matter of spiritual serenity and exaltation. Be glad in the Lord; that is, so find your environment in aspiration and generous out-giving that you may live and breathe and have your being in this magnetic atmosphere of sweetness and joy. Experience it and radiate it.
There is no mental attitude more disastrous to personal achievement, personal happiness, and personal usefulness to others than that of despondency. 'I will expect nothing'—of that nothing comes; it is spiritual suicide and intellectual negation. 'I will expect everything: I will believe and be glad in the untold richness of life'—of that comes everything. Faith creates the conditions in which the noble purpose may take root and grow; but we utterly neutralize all our own potentialities by doubt and despondency.
It is a law of science that sound cannot travel through a vacuum—the sound waves require the atmospheric conditions for their vibration; and this may serve as an analogy that through the spiritual vacuum made by unfaith no divine aid can pass.
It is love that is life—so much love, so much vitality. It is measure for measure. The only life that is found is the life that is lost. If one would be happy, let him forget himself and go about making someone else happy.
'Is not the life more than meat?'
The life is so infinitely above being made or marred by material things that one almost marvels at the esteem, the actual reverence, indeed, in which mere things are held.
And ride mankind,
lamented Emerson. But one may refuse to be ridden by things, he may refuse material limitations and denials; he may assert his integral power of spiritual potency. So entirely is the giving way to despondency a species of spiritual suicide that one should regard the tendency in himself as one of actual and positive wrong. There is a sensitiveness that is very nearly akin to selfishness. It is the self-centered, the self-contemplating quality, not infrequently met in refined natures, but one that is still incompatible with the best quality of life. Personal happiness comes, not by seeking it specifically, but by seeking that nobler quality of living that produces it as a result.
Let one lay hold on life—the life of the spirit. Let him rejoice in the Lord. The term is not a mere rhetorical figure; it is literal and true. The Lord is the giver of life; in His presence are joy and exaltation. The life of materiality is friction and discord and depression. The life of the spirit is joy and peace and exaltation—the charmed life. And the test is 'not religiousness, hut Love,' the life of love. The test is to diffuse around one joy and gladness and uplift of spirit—to evolve the nobler harmonies of life.