Sunday, July 09, 2006

That's What Friends Are For

Emerson takes friendship far too seriously. I don't want you to think that I don't take friendship seriously, I do. To me there are different kinds and levels of friendship--there are friends and there are Friends. For Emerson, there are only Friends, all others are pretty much a waste of time. And to be a Friend of Emerson is pretty near impossible. In his essay Friendship, Emerson writes there are two necessary elements, truth and tenderness. Truth fosters sincerity, a rare luxury between people according to Emerson. All too often in our relations we must make accommodations, be tactful, compromise, humor the other person, but none of this is required when meeting a true friend. The role of a true friend is not to warn you when you are about to go out in an outfit that makes you look fat or take your side when the person you've been dating dumps you for someone younger or better looking. Friends should certainly provide aid and comfort, after all, tenderness is a required element, but the point of friendship is conversation "which is the practice and consummation of friendship." Friendship is a meeting of the minds in which "our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection," and lifts us to a higher self. Like love, friendship is more than two people, so much more in fact, that Emerson insists "there can never be deep peace between two spirits, never mutual respect, until in their dialogue each stand for the whole world." I don't know about you, but I have never considered my closet friends as representing the whole world. Certainly friendships can represent something more than two people, but the whole world? And of course, Emerson, being the transcendentalist that he is, loves his solitude too. While he wants friends he doesn't want them around too much. He likes to know they are there when he needs them but they should stay away until he is ready to be with them. Emerson cannot afford to talk to his friends too much because their visions might interfere with his visions and that will mess everything up. And if you are a true friend of Emerson's, you too will respect truth. Therefore when Emerson tells you to bug off you will be okay with it even if you were coming to him for comfort. Emerson admits that the higher the requirements we place on friendship, the less likely we are to actually have friends, but that's okay. He says it is better to have no friends and keep the faith and hope in the right kind of friend coming along than to make "rash and foolish alliances." All this leaves me wondering how many friends Emerson had. Was he so strict about his friendship that he kept people away or is what he writes about in his essay merely an expression of an ideal world? All I know is, I prefer my mix of friends, ones to save me from making a fool of myself, ones with which I can make a fool of myself, and ones I can share the deepest part of myself. To expect one person to be all things is a burden I would not put on anyone. Next week's Emerson: Prudence