“Watson. Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same.” —from Sherlock Holmes: Adventure of the Creeping Man
I recently read an article that sought to make a very troubling argument—that friendship is a waste of time, or as the article put it, a “toxic” waste of time. I wasn’t impressed with the writing quality of the article (20+ F-words is a few too many for my taste), nor did I buy into many of the arguments, but after I finished reading it, I scrolled down to read the comments from other readers, and I was taken aback by what I read. There were a few readers here and there who disapproved of the article in their own way, but for the most part, all of the comments said similar things: “I feel the exact same way.”
In a nutshell, the article argued that friendship is too often abused nowadays, and that the only thing most friends are good for is to pry into your life, weigh you down with their own problems, or ask too much of your time and energy. At one point, the author explicitly stated: “There is literally nothing I need from friends.”
I had several reactions to what I read in the article, none of them comforting. But it was clear from the other reactions I read that the statements the author was making were not so ludicrous after all, or at least, there seemed to be others who felt the same way about friendship as the author did. Even without the article in mind, however, one thing is clear, and I don’t think it’s too presumptuous for me to say this. No one has time for friends anymore.
One of my favorite Robert Frost poems is a short little poem called A Time To Talk, and it goes like this:
To some, the poem might sound dated, but I don’t think it is. In fact, the words of this poem have come to my mind on several occasions, and they’ve caused me to stop and do exactly what the speaker in the poem did. Sure, I wasn’t hoeing weeds or tilling ground at the time, but I was occupied with some other task. The message of this poem is the same today as it was in 1916 when Frost published it—”There is never a set time for friendship. You have to make it.”
Once, when I was a teenager, I was driving through my hometown with a friend of mine named Travis (shoutout to Travis if you’re reading this). We came to an intersection where a couple in a convertible were stalled out in the middle of a lane. Both of us noticed them there, and they looked like they needed help, but they happened to be stuck in a very inconvenient spot. It was at a busy four-way stop, where there was no room to pull over and get out to check on them. To do so would’ve caused an even bigger traffic jam. And so, Travis and I drove on by, and as we did so, I glanced in my rearview mirror, wondering if I had made the wrong decision by not stopping. We drove on up the road a short way, but finally I decided that I had to stop. There was nowhere decent to pull over close by, so I kept driving until I came to a good place to park my truck. I pulled in, turned off my truck, and then jumped up to start running down the sidewalk back toward the intersection.
I don’t remember if I said anything to Travis or not. All I remember is that I jumped out of the truck and started running, and he fell in behind me, without a word of complaint. And so, the two of us ran in silence, and as I ran, I thought of how glad I was to have a friend like Travis with me at that moment. I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I had figured on having to push the couple’s car out of the intersection, but they told us there was no need for it. Apparently the man driving the car had already made arrangements, and neither of them seemed nearly as concerned about it as I was. Travis and I walked back to my truck, and that was that.
When I think back on that moment, it makes me think about the phrase that I used to hear kids say all the time when I was growing up: “What are friends for?” That moment taught me a lot about Travis, but it also taught me a lot about friendship in general, namely, that friendship exists in a place that transcends logical thinking. I realized in that moment that every feeling of guilt for passing by those people was being shared by my friend, regardless of whether or not he was thinking or feeling the same things that I was. It was as if I was projecting my own guilt onto Travis so that the weight of it felt twice as heavy, and in turn, the desire to do something about it felt twice as strong. And to me, that gets at the heart of what friends are for—they’re for embracing all the sensations of life with twice the vitality. In other words, friendship lets us live two lives at once.
To some, like the author of the article I mentioned, the idea of living two lives at once may seem exhausting. Perhaps friendship is not for the faint of heart. In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” One of the arguments the author of that article seemed to make is that friendship robs us of the time that we could devote to ourselves, because after all, friendship takes time—precious time. But perhaps that very desire to live one’s own life is actually what friendship is all about. Perhaps friendship is not about giving our time away to someone else, but rather it’s a way for two people to make their time count for twice as much. For only in friendship can two lives be joined together into one, and in so doing, the two friends can depart having lived twice as much life. Essentially, when we make time for others, we literally make time.