The Mercy of Human Company 27 December 2005Posted by ABD in ABD, Philosophy, Psychology, Spirituality.
We enter and leave the world alone. The most powerful moments in life—the discovery or loss of meaning, the confrontation with mortality or with the prospect of immortality—are utterly personal experiences. At the end of the day, the things of this world are so many flies buzzing around your head. Even so (and perhaps especially so), the company of others makes the most difficult moments bearable. If you’ve woken up from a nightmare and sought the silent reassurance of a loved one, you know what I mean.
Aristotle argues that in the highest form of friendship a friend is “another self”. Such a relationship can only mature from the long-term company of those who are your intellectual and moral peers, and is therefore restricted to at best a handful of friends. Pleasure and utility are the motivation for lesser forms of friendship, but here they are united with the mutual pursuit of the good. This is a very appealing idea to me, and gives me hope that there are other people who, via a similar itinerary of thoughts and passions, will see life as I see it. As we know from our own tradition, believers are mirrors to one another.
If that is the peak of friendship, there is also a vale. Two people who have nothing in common but blood and argument can nevertheless share something that escapes words or thoughts. Because these attachments are unconditional and nonnegotiable, no exchange is required. When I first had thoughts about the end of the world, I would fall asleep clutching and unclutching my mother’s hand to let her know I was still alive. Even now, I am glad I live with my brother because he will sit with me in silence until the moment has passed.
With time, relationships that are conceived in reciprocal desire can also take on this character. Susan Sarandon’s character in “Moonlight Mile” describes why she sticks out a difficult marriage in something like the following words:
“When I go to bed at night, I stick out my hand. I know when I do, no matter how cold the damn thing is, no matter how difficult it might feel, no matter how desperately we want to kill each other it’s gonna be met by this warm body on the other side. To pull me out of my head, quiet the voices, save me from myself… without ever having to ask. Every night, 31 years. Every night there’s my hand and every night he never lets me down.”