Virtual Voices

On friendship

Culture

I'm not a very good friend, and so there's irony in being asked by an editor at The Wall Street Journal to write something about modern friendships. Then again, I'm sure the devil himself knows all the saints especially well.

I am neither a good friend in the particulars nor in general. As to the particulars, I have walked away from many friends during my miserable tenure on earth. Never with notification, mind you, because in addition to being a poor friend I am also a coward. Instead, I left by shrinking away from them in times of crisis---theirs or mine---and letting contact atrophy. There is the friend in college whose devastation over his girlfriend's betrayal made him unbearable to me. The friend from high school whose email asking for renewed contact sits in my in-box a full year later, unanswered. The friends who surrounded me after I had worked myself into a dark, squalid little corner of self-destruction, all of them asking in one way or another, "Why didn't you call us before it got this bad?"

There is my general failure, as well, which is my failure to befriend all people I meet, even my enemies. In writing the Journal essay, I happened across one intellectual who tried to imbue friendship with an essential reciprocity---you can't be a friend to someone, he explained, unless that person is a friend to you. Of course, that's nonsense, because we see in Christ the God-man who befriended all of humanity when they did yet revile Him. It seems to me that reciprocity-friendship is precisely the problem with the world, insofar as it captures man's unwillingness to give himself away without calculation.

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I would like to love my fellow man better, or at the very least the people I call my friends, and it seems that the best way to begin is by favoring myself less. There's years of habits to be undone in that regard. In this, at least, I have some good role models, for while I have been a poor friend, many of the people who call themselves my friends have been very good to me. Which is one more bit of evidence that miracles are not as rare as we think.

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