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Carved In Water

by on March 3, 2016

                                                             Carved In Water

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

                                                      All comments welcome

“Have no friends not equal to yourself.” Confucius. (551 – 479BCE) Confucian Analects 1.8.

Friendship is a mysterious phenomenon.  When many people are asked why they have the particular friends they do we often get rather vague, superficial answers. And quite often these revolve around circumstance: were in the same classroom, lived nearby, met at work or through some activity held in common, friend of a friend.  I’ve not yet heard someone say, “He followed me home.” 

So the initial bond, such as it may be, was formed on an external, a kind of neutral template providing the catalysis of two entities which otherwise would not have joined. 

Circumstance obviously has much to do with friendship.  Much to the horror of some readers, there are likely many people around the world who think and feel in ways deeply similar to me.  We will never know of each other, much less become friends.

Recent trends in the social sciences have supported and developed the grouping of people according to, among other things, their interests or their abilities in acquiring friendships.  Little is said of the potential for self-fulfilling prophecy, the concept so often thrown at horoscope groupings.  Read the categorical descriptions, decide which one fits, and conduct one’s self accordingly. As someone on the “cusp” of Libra – Scorpio I’ve always had a back door; it could be either, depending on my mood that day. Through younger years I compromised with Well Balanced Sex Maniac.

But notice I said above, acquiring friendships, not “making friends.” Somehow the image of making was always repellent to me.  Admittedly, I was just short of six years old before having any meaningful contact with anyone even remotely close to me in age.  I’ve wondered if social development goes through stages similar to biological functions, the classic example being non-human animals (even humans) raised in absolute darkness developing poor or absent eyesight.  By starting school in the 2nd grade at age 5 did I pass over the socialization stage most kids experience and develop in pre-school?  Probably.

Most of us have at least read of, if not known people who have had close friendships with someone since pre-school or early grade school.  Having moved around so much I have a hard time imagining that.  I’ve also tried to establish the distinction between an acquaintance and a friend.  The term Friend is far too easily used, and this greatly predates social media such as MyFace, Your Tube and whatever else is floating around.  I’ve heard people say they have lots of friends, but when asked about them they are hard pressed to remember last names, to say nothing of any substantial details.

The cyber world has forever changed the concept of friend.  In its initial year this site was read in 124 countries.  Since then it has stabilized in a steady 77.  Obviously, the vast majority of readers do not comment and their views cannot be assumed.  They are neither acquaintances or friends until they present themselves.  And, there is the occasional individual who attempts an end run around the more socially accepted process.  One reader who perhaps had an issue with my piece on dialect (see: “Old Proverbs…”) attempted to cause me harm.  Be assured, no cyber tracing through this site was necessary or done; simple and reliable HUMINT quickly uncovered the individual and appropriate measures were taken.

The internet is a new avenue for reviving friendships, but another has been around probably since the advent of Man.  Many years ago I had a small, top floor walk-up apartment in a city far from here.  The other apartment across the landing housed Georges Sanguinet and his ailing wife, Marie, both in their late 70’s.  Although my work took 18 – 20 hours a day I found time to befriend Georges, at first by helping him carry groceries up the stairs.  He turned out to be a rich tapestry of life not usually found in history books. In fact, talking with him was an exercise in field ethnology.

And then, his wife died.  I helped him with the arrangements and brought him to the church and the cemetery for services and burial. He seemed to have no one else, at least not close by.  Not much later I was done with my work and had to move thousands of miles away.  I kept in touch by mail as much as I could, but as we so often find, the person began to recede into the rapidly building background of life. My letters went unanswered.

A couple of years later, as I’ve written elsewhere, some colleagues here in the U.S. dropped by my house and asked me to accompany them to see a “Spiritualist”.  I did so and, without my saying a word to this woman she simply said, “George is here. He says it funny, with an S. He’s French. He wants you to know he is with Marie now and he is very happy.” I remember Georges to this day as if I had just left his apartment.  But of course, that’s my friendship. I can’t exactly say to someone, “Meet my friend Georges. He’s dead.”       

At my age I could not begin to tally the acquaintances I’ve had.  The job is far more easily done for friends.  And, through cyberspace some friends long drifted to the background have reentered my life in very meaningful ways.  The old question, I wonder what ever happened to…….. is far more easily answered now that one can enter a name on the internet.  Of course, having an unusual name helps.  And, having the same name over time also helps; women who have followed cultural convention and changed their last names on marriage are all but lost.  But the very fact that the friendship resumes and even deepens after so many years of separation, life events, moves and so on speaks eloquently to the original question of whether this person was initially a friend or an acquaintance. Of course, one can also track those who were distinctly not friends.  As the saying goes, Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

So, what then is a true friend?  Obviously, the answers are many and varied.  But I’ve always felt a true friend is one who is willing to completely hear you out and consider the merits of your view, even if disagreeing with you the entire time.  I do not think a person who gives himself/herself “unconditionally” to someone is a friend; deluded people do that all the time.  A true friend is one who takes the time and makes the effort to deeply analyze who you are and how you conduct yourself accordingly while at the same time giving you to you with eyes wide open.  “Overlooking” is dishonest. It is also not helpful.

Yes, there are ways of blurring the lines between acquaintance and friend, using concepts such as casual friend, work friend – but never social friend, and so on but those concepts rest on the circumstances and not the person.  The ever changing circumstances of everyday life are irrelevant to true friends.

To see true friendship we must marshal the courage to look down through the water at river’s edge, the pretty refractions of light from the little waves dazzling our eyes, the impermanent surface upon which some may seek to carve their place.  We must look to the bedrock over which the water passes, the bedrock which does not merely reflect back to us as if made in our own image.  Through the seasons, through the changing circumstances we might foolishly chase after or wish would come again, the bedrock remains.


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  1. As your articles always are, quite thought provoking. Friendship has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I can count on one hand the people who I consider close friends. Two of them are people I met by pure chance and the only thing we have in common is love of dogs. We don’t live near each other but have maintained the relationship over many years. One is a 78 year old woman whom I have talked to everyday for 10 years. We often question what it was that brought us together and formed such a strong bond. I know for me it is her strong wit and biting humor. On the other hand I can count the people who count me as a friend and I can’t understand why they think so. They are people who maybe went to the same school, or our kids know each other but in my book doesn’t mean we are friends. We don’t talk, or interact more than maybe a holiday or birthday card once a year. But there is usually some comment about how grateful they are I am their friend. I often contemplate what having/being a friend means. Thanks for a little better insight into the meaning of true friendship.


  2. Thank you, Mary, my friend. Your comments elucidate the mystery, and I’m glad we share in the wonder of what it all means. I think the concept is greatly over used, which only demeans the real thing when it comes along.


  3. ellie permalink

    My grandmother (now deceased) was born in Belgium and was sent through Ellis Island by her father when she was 17 during WW2.

    She revisited Belgium in 2001- her return trip (scheduled 9/11/11) was delayed and she got to stay a few more days until returning to the US. She later learned that her hotel was 2 blocks from her cousin’s home, but they never crossed paths; they were not fond of the internet, and her cousin died not long after.

    5 years or so later my Grandmother’s cousin’s daughter found my grandmother online via and sent a letter to their house. My grandparents had a time trying to figure postage to Belgium– until they realized they could respond via email.

    My grandmother was then flooded by photos she had either not seen or not seen in >60 years. I asked her about how she felt learning about her family in Belgium. She said something along the lines of, “It’s nice but I don’t really know these people.” — the people she had probably wanted to see (her mother, father, and brother) had had already died.

    I choose not to put a lot of effort into maintaining long-term acquaintances. I have chosen not to have Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    I have found that people interact at different times and it’s OK to let go, but that doesn’t mean their presence is unappreciated! The friends I needed as a teenager are not necessarily the friends I need today. That said, I have kept some long-term friends and am very thankful — Some of my best friends I see every few months or years.


    • Thank you so much, Ellie. This is a beautiful piece and my mind was filled with images as I read it. While your grandmother is certainly a “special case”, the lessons you shared with us undoubtedly find ready understanding among all of us who have had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others. Your closing paragraph regarding your own approach to the realities of friendship speaks of a matter of fact realism of how we all go through life, and I thank you for it. Marco


  4. What a wonderful offering; I like best those pieces in which you show us not just what you know, but how you think. It is a side of you that is seldom seen.

    I’m not someone who has ever had a lot of friends. Certainly, there are people who claim to be my friend, but I find the real thing to be incredibly rare. I find I’d rather have none at all than the false variety.

    When we first knew one another, I would never have allowed myself to think of us as friends. As much as I enjoyed our many conversations, I simply never felt worthy of the title. Much water has run under our respective bridges since then, and I am very happy to know that I am now allowed to call myself your friend, and you mine in return. To use your phrase, our bedrock is solid. Your forever friend, Rose


    • Thank you, Rose. Indeed you are a true friend and I feel honored to consider myself one of yours. It seems our conversations have had only a brief pause, a Pardon me while I attend to something. Of course there is the pull of wishing to return to those initial meetings, but our mutual development since then enriches us all the more.


      • When it comes to true friends, I take what interaction I can get, and am happy to have it. Our friendship, both then and now, is one of my treasures.


    • Dana permalink

      I agree with you, Rose. I’m always thrilled to find out what Marco thinks (in addition to how he thinks).

      I’m grateful to have you as my friend, and I like to read what you think as well!


  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, I never dreamed I would find a friend and kindred spirit such as you. Not only that, I also met and value the Internet friends who came along with you (and I regard them all as friends in the truest sense of the word).

    I am very fortunate. You are such an important part of my life, and I have learned so much from you. I really don’t have adequate words to express my feelings.


    • Thank you, Dana. I’m sure we agree relationships of this depth are not to be measured. We exist in a kind of togetherness for which context is irrelevant and time meaningless. There is always a rightful reluctance to even try such measures.


  6. Jessica Smith permalink

    This… “A true friend is one who takes the time and makes the effort to deeply analyze who you are and how you conduct yourself accordingly while at the same time giving you to you with eyes wide open. “Overlooking” is dishonest. It is also not helpful”.

    Not being one who’s had any real “friends”. I’ve always stood back, watched and had a basic fundamental understanding of peoples behaviors. I naturally search for the deeper meaning in all things and I don’t talk about it and I no longer judge. This makes me appear aloof and detached, but nothing could be further from the truth.
    I’ve not had “true friends” until the last few years. Being 49 and unwinding certain identifications has brought couple of people into my life who are able and willing to do this first for themselves, for me and our friendship.

    Thank you for the great read.


    • Thank you, Jessica, for your comment and participation. I’m very glad the piece was interesting to you, and gladder still you are finding good friends. I sincerely hope you will continue to interact on this blog site, as I would find it an honor. Marco


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