Once, I had a friend. Let’s call him Frank T.
What a great guy. Smart. Insightful. Hard-working. Godly. A goofball. Wonderfully irreverent sense of humor that sometimes treads right up to the line but doesn’t cross it.
We were pals, Frank and I. Our friendship taught me some of his favorite movies (Mel Brooks figures heavily). It communicated to me his favorite sports to watch. I know what sport he plays best recreationally because friendship led us to play together. Ol’ Frank collects some sports memorabilia; I know very little about the collecting, but our friendship made it interesting.
Frank frequently showed a certain gentleness and generosity of spirit. He would get his hands on some little treat, some snack for someone in my family. He managed to convince one of our kids that head-butting was fun. I watched Frankie park himself on a bench and interact with a squat, leather-skinned, mentally-challenged man whose hands were hardened by years of manual labor, and assure him that they would one day know each other in paradise. I’ve still got the picture of the two of them, huddled on that bench in the sunshine enjoying a very different kind of friendship for a moment.
C.S. Lewis, in writing about the strange bond of male friendship, asserted that the reason friends can be closer than brothers is that we pick our friends. We are stuck with our siblings, and usually we love them. Friends, on the other hand, are people we select out of the masses; we send to one another the silent message, “I could have chosen anyone, so I picked you.” Pals are examined, selected, chosen, and pursued voluntarily. Frank and I were thrown together by circumstance, but for a time I think we felt as though we were choosing to be friends.
Yes, Frank was a good guy; I mean, is.
Frank is alive and well, somewhere out there. This is a dirge for a friendship that’s died, not for a person. It didn’t last long, our friendship, and once dead it apparently fell into a dark hole without bottom, removing all chance for relational CPR.
Requiescat in pace.
For the all the considerable amount of thinking I’ve done on the subject, I cannot figure out why and how. How do two Christians fall out this way? More to the point, how did Frank and I end up here, separated by an emotional distance that seems insurmountable? Death comes for us all, but I assumed that relationships were more sturdy, especially in the body of Christ.
I made mistakes, of course. I’ve never claimed to be a perfect friend and I’m sure my flaws were on display for Frank to know and loathe. And Frank, for all his pursuit of godliness, is just as human as I and as a matter of course (I imagine) made his own mistakes. Friendships often suffer when people make mistakes, but isn’t grace a balm and forgiveness a salve? Do they not soothe long enough for the Spirit to heal?
What is it that we did to one another that was so terrible, so beyond the reach of emotional triage and relational medicines? For all my thinking, I cannot find it.
We cross paths at times, Frank and I. When we do, we’re civil. We’re polite, but that’s all. We’re two uneasy medieval allies, forced together by duty; we’re on the same side and swear allegiance to the same King, but we never remove our helmets, nor set down our shields. We’re no longer brothers in arms. The friendship that allowed us to talk about aging parents and seminary benefits and March Madness has shuffled off, leaving us isolated from one another.
We’ve not discussed it. We are Christians charged with loving one another, but, as Robert Burns wrote, “a man’s a man for a’ that.” Men, on the average, do not engage in that kind of discussion, that sort of frivolity. To discuss things would require the removal of armor. We’d need to be vulnerable to one another. In performing friendship’s autopsy, I’d have to cut myself open and trust that this other guy, this ex-friend, won’t hurt me because he lies on the table as well, similarly exposed. We would need to be willing to allow the questions of Why and How to fade. Or rather, we would need to answer those questions with a simple, “Because we’re human.”
I wonder. Does Frank think about those heady days of fraternity and their subsequent dissolution? I didn’t, not for years. In the last several months, though, I’ve asked myself about that loss. Were we lessened, each of us? Did we slice off a piece of ourselves when we allowed our Christian frienship to fade, like Donne’s view of the continent’s loss of a single clod of dirt?
I wonder. Can I possibly look past my own memorial long enough to consider whether Frank has sung his own dirge for that friendship?
I dare not ask him. I can’t, I couldn’t, I won’t. Mourning over the expiration of something valuable is a private matter, and I’ll not pry into whatever grief he may (or may not) have experienced any more than I plan to pour out whatever I feel to him. I’m just sharing this with you, and between you and I it will stay.
Rest well, Friendship, rest well.