Monday, October 22, 2012

The Ship of Friends

I love my friends. In case you haven't noticed by now, I love to be with them, talk with them, joke around with them. I love their ideas, their insights, their challenges. I have even been known to laugh at some of their jokes. And hey, they've even been known to laugh at some of mine! Yeah, I just love my friends.

And so, when a letter came in the other day, I had no choice but to try to arise to the challenge within it: "Can you write about friendship?"

Well, that's not exactly what she said, but it's close. "For the past few months in my life", she write, "I have been blessed with the company of a dear friend. She is so many wonderful things and means a lot to me. But with having this close of a friendship, I have also had to learn and accept a few things. One one of them being that, even though I love her greatly, sometimes you have to be apart for each of you to grow."

How true. I know, in many cases, that my love for my friends grew when we were apart. In fact, I have often said to my friends that I don't miss them terribly; I miss them very well. I am almost a professional at missing them. (Oh no. That reminds me. I forgot to call a friend back last week. Eek.) (In case I haven't mentioned, I suck with phones. If I don't call you, it's not because I'm not thinking of you, or don't like you, or anything. It's because I don't like phones.)

But back to this letter. She asked if I could share some thoughts on friendship.

"You mean I haven't?" That was the question I asked myself, and, after a quick look, I realized that she was right. I haven't. Well, not directly.

Then, me being me, I sort of turned it back on her and asked her if there were any quotes form the Writings that she would recommend be included in such an article. She came back with two, and they were two that I hadn't thought of in my own searching. (I just love readers who share what they have found in the Writings. It adds so much more to my own vision.)

"Some of the creatures of existence", writes 'Abdu'l-Baha, "can live solitary and alone. A tree, for instance, live without the assistance and cooperation of other trees. Some animals are isolated and lead a separate existence away from their kind. But this is impossible for man. In his life and being cooperation and association are essential. Through association and meeting we find happiness and development, individual and collective."

In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, we find the following quote: "...If between the friends true love--based on the love of God--could become manifest, the Cause would spread very rapidly. Love is the standard which must govern the conduct of one believer towards another."

And then, if that wasn't enough, she shared a few of her own beautiful thoughts on this subject: "I have learned that true friendship is not based on superficial things. You find joy in simply being with that person and serving with them... (A) true friend is someone who you love and think about even if it seems like they don't do the same for you."

(You know, I could end this here, and I'm sure I would look very wise. I have always thought that one of the keys to appearing wise is to ask someone else what they think, listen attentively, and agree with all they say. But if I did this, I don't think I would be meeting her challenge to put my own thoughts down on... screen.) (Come to think of it, it would be very easy for me to put my own thoughts down. "They're silly and superficial. They're so obvious, even a monkey could think of them, but a monkey would dismiss them as less interesting than a banana peel." See?)

So, you may be wondering, what about my thoughts? Well, after such an inspiring introduction, I'm not sure my thoughts will stand up to scrutiny.

As always, I began with a simple search in the Writings.

"Do not be content", was the first quote that crossed my mind, "with showing friendship in words alone..." But that only tells us to make our friendship more than just words. It doesn't tell us what friendship is.

In another quote about how good friendship is, He says, "Unless these thoughts are translated in the world of action, they are useless."

Ok, but how? He says that we must show "forth to all the utmost loving-kindness, disregarding the degree of their capacity, never asking whether they deserve to be loved". He says that we must "be worthy of trust", "be exceedingly kind and loving toward each other, willing to forfeit life in the pathway of another's happiness", "willing to accept hardships... in order that others may enjoy wealth... enjoy trouble... that others may enjoy happiness and well-being." He says, "You must love your friend better than yourself; yes, be willing to sacrifice yourself."

And there are those to whom I feel that. Perhaps someday I will be able to feel that for all people, but I am most definitely not there yet.

My friends are those I love. They are the ones I will go so far out of my way to spend time with. (A man once said to the Master when He was visiting North America that he had traveled a hundreds of miles to be with Him, and the Master replied that He had traveled thousands of miles to be with him. I can see, once again, that any thought I may have about my friends was magnified ten-fold by the Master. But this is where I am at, and I can only be grateful that my friends accept this.)

My friends are those dear souls that I love. They are the ones that I want to see succeed in all their endeavours. They are the ones I know well enough to see their strengths, the virtues in which they are strong, and I will do all I can to encourage them and help them grow. And they, by some blessing in my life, do the same for me, just as 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise."

My friends are those precious souls with whom I serve. They are the ones who stand by me, even as those who "do battle for His Cause in serried lines", which, as the Master pointed out, means, "crowded and pressed together, one locked to the next, each supporting his fellows". They are the ones who are "weaponed with pure intent, with righteous motives, with counsels helpful and effective, with godly attributes, with deeds pleasing to the Almighty, with the qualities of heaven." They are of that cohort of angels who are giving their all for the "education for all mankind, guidance for all men, the spreading far and wide of the sweet savours of the spirit, the promulgation of God's proofs, the setting forth of arguments conclusive and divine, the doing of charitable deeds."

This is how I view my friends, though they may call me delusional.

They are there when I need them, helping me rise when I fall, guiding me when I am lost, comforting me in times of pain, and loving me when I am most unlovable. They are the ones who cried with me in times of loss, laughed with me in times of joy, and just went out to the movies with me because we felt like it.

My friends are the art work that adorn the walls of my existence, those priceless volumes that fill the bookshelves in the rooms of my soul. They are my companions on those walks in the forest of my life.

Most of all, friendship is, to me, like an ark.

Like Noah's ark, it can carry us through times of disaster, help guide us to safety and peace during the dark floods of troubling times, and yes, remind that sometimes we have to put up with the crap of our companions. And if we don't toss that part of it away, we will be inundated with the stench and disease that follow.

Like the Ark on Mount Carmel, it is a thing of beauty that can inspire those who see it. Some will wander, in love, with the beauty of the gardens that grow there, filled with plants of all varieties, colours and scents. Others will cherish the messages of love that are sent forth from the holy spot. And still others, those few who are closest, will see that divine Source of inspiration that is "the heart and center of what may be regarded as nine concentric circles" in life. "The outermost circle" can be seen as "none other than the entire planet", while that innermost circle can be viewed as the heart, "round which the Concourse on high circle in adoration".

That, to me, is the bounty and the beauty of the sacred ship of friends.

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