On true friendship and being a better human
by Rebekah Choat
We’ve been musing this month on W.B. Yeats’ “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing.” While my fellow muses have done an exceptional job of exploring the facets and feelings of the poem, I’ve been intrigued with the question of how relationships grow, how people get to be such friends that they can understand so well and speak so directly and lovingly to one another.
A couple of marvelous things have happened in my life fairly recently: I’ve finally recognized and embraced my vocation, my work; and I’ve found the deepest, truest friends I’ve ever known. I can’t help feeling that the two things are connected.
When I was growing up, my ‘friends’ were determined primarily by circumstance. In first grade, the other painfully shy, unpopular girl and I sat together in obscurity on the playground. A few years later, the girl across the street and I walked to school and home again at the same time, so we walked together. My mother’s best friend had a daughter my age, so voila! I was presented with an instant ‘best friend.’
The pattern continued into my adulthood. I could have pleasant conversation with the people who sat near me in Sunday School, smile and go shopping with the wives of my husband’s business associates, but it was all very circumstantial and superficial. At one time I did get fairly close to two couples in the church, but then the church fell apart and we all went off in various directions.
And that, I realize now, is the heart of the matter. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, friendship must be about something; those who have nothing in common can share only up to a point; and those who are going different ways cannot travel together. Those former ‘friendships’ were simply products of proximity. We were in the same place for a time, but we weren’t going to the same place by the same route.
I was introduced to the C.S. Lewis Foundation three years ago, and a whole new world opened up for me. At the first Foundation retreat I attended, I hardly dared to speak, but I was warmly welcomed home and felt the thrill of recognition, ‘These are my people.’ Here were men and women with whom I could spend hours talking about Narnia and Middle-Earth, reading poetry, discussing how writing happens.
Suddenly, I had a wide circle of what Lewis calls Companions – people who share the same general interests, who have read the same books, who speak the same language. And during the following weeks and months and now years, I have found within that circle some of those truly kindred spirits I’ve longed for all my life; the ones with whom I’ve shared that “What? You too?!” moment.
We might not have met if not for our common work, our shared vocation, and it is an integral part of our relationships. We read each other’s work in various stages of completion; we encourage, suggest, challenge each other to be better writers; we exult together in both the success and the failure of each other’s work, not to mention the dry spells. But we are Friends in our whole lives, not just in the arena of writing. We entrust our deepest dreams, our shadowy fears, our silent struggles, into each other’s hearts. We encourage and challenge and help each other to be better human beings.