Adventures in Friendship/Chapter XIII
I come now to the last of these Adventures in Friendship. As I go out—I hope not for long—I wish you might follow me to the door, and then as we continue to talk quietly, I may beguile you, all unconsciously, to the top of the steps, or even find you at my side when we reach the gate at the end of the lane. I wish you might hate to let me go, as I myself hate to go!—And when I reach the top of the hill (if you wait long enough) you will see me turn and wave my hand; and you will know that I am still relishing the joy of our meeting, and that I part unwillingly.
Not long ago, a friend of mine wrote a letter asking me an absurdly difficult question—difficult because so direct and simple.
"What is friendship, anyway?" queried this philosophical correspondent.
The truth is, the question came to me with a shock, as something quite new. For I have spent so much time thinking of my friends that I have scarcely ever stopped to reflect upon the abstract quality of friendship. My attention being thus called to the subject, I fell to thinking of it the other night as I sat by the fire, Harriet not far away rocking and sewing, and my dog sleeping on the rug near me (his tail stirring whenever I made a motion to leave my place). And whether I would or no my friends came trooping into my mind. I thought of our neighbour Horace, the dryly practical and sufficient farmer, and of our much loved Scotch Preacher; I thought of the Shy Bee-man and of his boisterous double, the Bold Bee-man; I thought of the Old Maid, and how she talks, for all the world like a rabbit running in a furrow (all on the same line until you startle her out, when she slips quickly into the next furrow and goes on running as ardently as before). And I thought of John Starkweather, our rich man; and of the life of the girl Anna. And it was good to think of them all living around me, not far away, connected with me through darkness and space by a certain mysterious human cord. (Oh, there are mysteries still left upon this scientific earth!) As I sat there by the fire I told them over one by one, remembering with warmth or amusement or concern this or that characteristic thing about each of them. It was the next best thing to hearing the tramp of feet on my porch, to seeing the door fly open (letting in a gust of the fresh cool air!), to crying a hearty greeting, to drawing up an easy chair to the open fire, to watching with eagerness while my friend unwraps (exclaiming all the while of the state of the weather: "Cold, Grayson, mighty cold!") and finally sits down beside me, not too far away.
The truth is,—my philosophical correspondent—I cannot formulate any theory of friendship which will cover all the conditions. I know a few things that friendship is not, and a few things that it is, but when I come to generalize upon the abstract quality I am quite at a loss for adequate language.
Friendship, it seems to me, is like happiness. She flies pursuit, she is shy, and wild, and timid, and will be best wooed by indirection. Quite unexpectedly, sometimes, as we pass in the open road, she puts her hand in ours, like a child. Friendship is neither a formality nor a mode: it is rather a life. Many and many a time I have seen Charles Baxter at work in his carpentry-shop—just working, or talking in his quiet voice, or looking around occasionally through his steel-bowed spectacles, and I have had the feeling that I should like to go over and sit on the bench near him. He literally talks me over! I even want to touch him!
It is not the substance of what we say to one another that makes us friends, nor yet the manner of saying it, nor is it what you do or I do, nor is it what I give you, or you give me, nor is it because we chance to belong to the same church, or society or party that makes us friendly. Nor is it because we entertain the same views or respond to the same emotions. All these things may serve to bring us nearer together but no one of them can of itself kindle the divine fire of friendship. A friend is one with whom we are fond of being when no business is afoot nor any entertainment contemplated. A man may well be silent with a friend. "I do not need to ask the wounded person how he feels," says the poet, "I myself became the wounded person."
Not all people come to friendship in the same way. Some possess a veritable genius for intimacy and will be making a dozen friends where I make one. Our Scotch Preacher is such a person. I never knew any man with a gift of intimacy so persuasive as his. He is so simple and direct that he cuts through the stoniest reserve and strikes at once upon those personal things which with all of us are so far more real than any outward interest. "Good-morning, friend," I have heard him say to a total stranger, and within half an hour they had their heads together and were talking of things which make men cry. It is an extraordinary gift.
As for me, I confess it to be a selfish interest or curiosity which causes me to stop almost any man by the way, and to take something of what he has—because it pleases me to do so. I try to pay in coin as good as I get, but I recognize it as a lawless procedure, For the coin I give (being such as I myself secretly make) is for them sometimes only spurious metal, while what I get is for me the very treasure of the Indies. For a lift in my wagon, a drink at the door, a flying word across my fences, I have taken argosies of minted wealth!
Especially do I enjoy all travelling people. I wait for them (how eagerly) here on my farm. I watch the world drift by in daily tides upon the road, flowing outward in the morning toward the town, and as surely at evening drifting back again. I look out with a pleasure impossible to convey upon those who come this way from the town: the Syrian woman going by in the gray town road, with her bright-coloured head-dress, and her oil-cloth pack; and the Old-ironman with his dusty wagon, jangling his little bells, and the cheerful weazened Herb-doctor in his faded hat, and the Signman with his mouth full of nails—how they are all marked upon by the town, all dusted with the rosy bloom of human experience. How often in fancy I have pursued them down the valley and watched them until they drifted out of sight beyond the hill! Or how often I have stopped them or they (too willingly) have stopped me—and we have fenced and parried with fine bold words.
If you should ever come by my farm—you, whoever you are—take care lest I board you, hoist my pirate flag, and sail you away to the Enchanted Isle where I make my rendezvous.
It is not short of miraculous how, with cultivation, one's capacity for friendship increases. Once I myself had scarcely room in my heart for a single friend, who am now so wealthy in friendships. It is a phenomenon worthy of consideration by all hardened disbelievers in that which is miraculous upon this earth that when a man's heart really opens to a friend he finds there room for two, And when he takes in the second, behold the skies lift, and the earth grows wider, and he finds there room for two more!
In a curious passage (which I understand no longer darkly) old mystical Swedenborg tells of his wonderment that the world of spirits (which he says he visited so familiarly) should not soon become too small for all the swelling hosts of its ethereal inhabitants, and was confronted with the discovery that the more angels there were, the more heaven to hold them!
So let it be with our friendships!