Whether Lampries have nine eies, as is received, we durst refer it unto Polyphemus, who had but one, to judge it. — Sir T. Browne
Last evening I had a conversation with a friend which, like a ship tossed at sea, found itself in many unintended places along its voyage, one of which was the small island of Time and Space. For a brief period of time, the conversation itself discussed the nature of friendships, particularly focusing on the transitory nature of them. I explained that due to the current situation in which I now found myself, it was very likely that in a year and a half I would not be living in the town I recently moved to just six months ago. Likewise, I so explained that many of the friendships I had made in the past have sadly enough been left behind just as the towns and cities themselves. It is a depressing thought, I was told, yet I argued that it was a true thought. Friendships have forever been transitory, and it has not been until the current growth of social media and modern communication that we ever required so many distant relationships. It is not the intention of this post to decry those inventions, for that has already been sufficiently done on this blog. However, I wish to argue in defense of the transitory friendship along a few lines: (1) While the past often defines us and future hopes motivate us, we but live in the present. (2) As we live in the present, it is our duty to love and serve those few whom we can in the Time and Space our Lord has given us. I will then conclude this post with a proper way of dealing with relational transience.
I think most people would agree with me when I argue that there is a significant difference between a present and physical conversation and a pithy, distant one. In the first, facial expressions are entirely important in any conversation. Many who know me can read me like a book (unless I am writing one). In some instances, the facial expression reveals more than the spoken word itself. Furthermore, The mere aspect of touch is completely taken away with distant divides, and touch significantly alters a conversation. A young man will eventually decide to hold his lady’s hand, and considering he does so for the appropriate motives, and for the sake of this argument, his doing so displays a level of trust, loyalty, service etc. that was not so evident before he reached out for her hand. Is it not a curious thing that wholesome relationships honor physical touch? A kiss may just be a kiss for many in our culture, but even if it is done for improper motives, it signifies a level of the relationship that could not be reached without physical touch. And this peculiar aspect of physical contact is not unique to the dating relationship. For whose mother does not greet their son with a hearty hug after being away from him for so long? Is it not also odd that friends will hug upon departure as if they wish to cling closely for just a few more moments before the inevitable goodbye? But the distant relationship does not have this dimension and utterly lacks the ability to show physical affection.
I must now argue in defense of having fewer friends and defend my own honor of having so few. To start, it is important to note that rudeness and obliviousness are never good traits for a man to have. But the pressure many feel in having a wide range of close friendships, or what we may call contacts, is improbable when we consider the transitory nature of relationships. I cannot bear my soul to everyone, but I ought to bear my soul to someone. If I know I will spend but two years in a town, which seems to be my general habit, I can either invest in a few people with all my might, or I can spend all my might in increasing my circle of contacts. It is certainly more profitable if I alter the lives of three or four for the better during my short residence here; otherwise I may discover that I know many a people but not a person knows me. This issue is one of logical capacity each individual has for close, personal relationships. For my keen sense of myself tells me I am unable to bear the burden for so short a period, and I cannot help but notice that our Lord chose twelve despite his capacity for more.
The thought of leaving is certainly sad; indeed, if friendships are close, it is always hard to say goodbye when it is not so certain when the next meeting will be or if it will be. If we are to say goodbye without hope, our goodbyes are done in despair, but if with hope, we believe we will see each other again, I argue the goodbye is truly good. The whole paradox of the situation is that while saying goodbye in this transitory life of ours feels like a shot to the stomach, it also breeds an opportunity for the beauty of hope. It creates a situation in which hope can fully flourish, for we cannot hope for that which we see. Hope is, therefore and in some sense, a somewhat sad virtue. Hope is based on a good that we do not have but that we confidently feel we will one day obtain. It resides in a longing for something which is based on no empirical evidence. But certainly the writers of the New Testament believed hope to be a good thing, and it is perhaps ironic that hope can be best experienced in times of great pain. The eleven chosen by Christ had a deeper hope sprung within them only after they saw him ascend, and it would take one without feeling to believe they experience no pain at that loss.
Thus, if we do not allow ourselves to realistically see our temporary relationships here as fleeting, we will be disappointed. We will choose not to invest the time we should invest in other people; we will focus on ourselves, and when the time comes to say goodbye we may be filled with regret. If we, due to the burgeoning of modern communication, are too preoccupied with those relationships which we have little ability to affect, we may miss out on the opportunities our Lord has placed for us in the present, physical moment. We cannot deceive ourselves into thinking that a Skype conversation can have the same affect on a person as a meal together, for God ordained the meal as a communal, perhaps even spiritual, event, and any modern means of replacing that and making smaller our world, not only destroys proper communion, but creates a pseudo-relationship, which will be more focused on the efficiency of the conversation instead of the encouragement of the soul.
The conclusion on the matter is this: we must, as best we can, seek to invest in the few people God has given us in our lives. It would be a shame to abuse this gift. It would be a shame to meet him in the end and explain that you did not invest your talents wholeheartedly. I leave, then, with a very brief solution to the problem of modern communication and the transitory nature of friendships: letter writing. If we are going to stay in contact with the many friends across the globe, we ought to do so by letter writing. For myself, this means using a typewriter. The typewriter allows us to write as if we would by hand. We cannot fix mistakes so easily, and we must consciously think about what we are going to write before we write it. Many do not have a typewriter, and so writing letters by hand may be the answer. However you do it, letter writing is the best way to stay in contact because it is more personal. And I trust that when I leave this place in the near future, I will be able to bear my soul via letter written on my glorious typewriter all with the painful hope of someday seeing my friends again when His Kingdom comes.