“Until the Break of Day”: Some Thoughts on Friendship

Image courtesy of Vlado /FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Vlado /FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

“Until the Break of Day”: Some Thoughts on Friendship

By Andrew Lazo

Following Holly’s lead, I’ll start with my own translation of Rosario Catellenos’s haunting poem:

 

It is needful, from time to time, to find companionship.

 

Friend, it is not possible neither to be born, nor to die

except with another. It’s good

that friendship takes clean away

from work that façade of punishment,

and from deep happiness that illicit, air of robbery.

 

How can you be alone at an hour

brim-full, in which the things and you talk, and you talk

until the break of day?

 

For all of my life, friendship has provided me with the most reliable love. I think of my friendships as treasure-troves, strewn around the country, and all carrying safely pieces of myself that I sometimes forget. My oldest friends have travelled with me for more than thirty years, and they still perform that strange and welcome miracle of grace. By this I mean that my friends and I both remain steadfastly certain throughout the years that each of us is getting by far the best part of the deal in loving each other for a lifetime. We carry each other. We remember. And so in some ways this poem strikes me as a bit too thin.

For I know much about friendship, and rely on it as the most sustaining of what C. S. Lewis calls “the four loves.” He describes of friends standing shoulder to shoulder, seeing the same things the same way, and treating the same questions as important. He explains the experience as, “What, you too?? But I’d thought I was alone!” And, as Castellanos says, how can you be alone at the brim-full hour, the hour of talk and talk of the things you both see? This talk is the fabric of friendship, the way we weave our lives together. And from so many such conversations through miles and years, I have woven a cloak to cover me, a tapestry to make the walls of my rooms beautiful.

Such conversations feel nothing like the talk of lovers—they haven’t the urgency. Nor do they resemble the mostly trivial talk among family members or work colleagues. There we speak of the humdrum things as a sort of way to participate in something larger than ourselves.

No, talk with my friends offers me a place to make myself at home in my own heart. To watch as the deepest things inside me begin to take shape and make perfect sense to someone else, someone who owes me nothing, and who listens out of the sheer pleasure of what I might say, and what he or she might say in return. That is the deep gift, and it’s how I have crafted such a life as I have, and it makes me rich.

Two young women in my C. S. Lewis class this semester found this in each other. I worked closely with them on a book I know more deeply than any other, and yet they still managed to find things together that only they understood. And at the end of most classes they would sail off, arm in arm, delighted in their discoveries that somehow excluded even me. I wish I could have joined them, but propriety, time, and respect forbade it. They’d found that holy place of friendship, and I might well have just come with my boots on and stomped upon their glad garden of understanding. I knew enough of friendship to just smile gladly as it grew.

Sometime after Charles Williams’s death, Lewis wrote a poem about losing his great friend. In it he finds himself facing “A hard question, and worth talking the whole night on. But with whom? / Of whom now can I ask guidance? With what friend concerning your death / Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?” Although Lewis legitimately had at least a half dozen people he could consider his best friend, it nevertheless haunted him to observe lack of Williams without Williams himself to speak to about it. Lewis later remarked that now that Williams was gone, he had less, not more of Tolkien. And, as the poem laments, no one to talk the whole night with.

As the poet says, it is needful indeed to find friends. But I think we need to do so more than just from time to time. Castellanos seems to suggest that it is friendship that brings about the break of day, that ends the longest nights and fills them up with the good talk. And I agree.

No place in my experience offers such a welcome ground to be fully myself, and to embrace and enjoy someone else’s mind, heart, humor, and soul. There may exist somewhere in this wide world a more gracious, more reliable gift, but I’ve not found it. Castellanos is correct—it imparts meaning to work and purity to joy. It makes up the solid goodness of a good life, at least for me. And for that, and this little poem to remind me, I find myself glad to the depths of me.

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