Most of us can count on one hand the number of authentic, lifelong friendships we have. We would like to believe our friends at work and play are deep and meaningful but we know, because it has happened before, that after we leave we will gradually lose contact with people we have cared about. This is a natural, even healthy part of life. Friends come and go, the circle of life.
We have all been hurt by someone who said they would always be there for us. Perhaps we were more invested than they were, we made assumptions and believed that the other person cared as much as we did, but we were wrong. I too have been blindsided, more than once, by someone I loved with abandon only to find out that they had completely different feelings and assumptions.
Every day I counsel people who have been damaged by someone they loved. It helps, perhaps, that I have experienced a little bit of that pain and know at least something of what it is to ‘endure’. People disappoint and rare is the friend who you cannot shake, cannot offend enough to leave. I aspire to be someone like that, as many of us do.
In his book, You Can Make A Difference, Tony Campolo tells the true story of two men who were traveling together on a train out of Victoria Station in London. Twenty minutes into their journey, one of the men had an epileptic seizure and if you’ve ever seen this happen they you know how frightening such an attack can be. The man stiffened and fell heavily out of his seat onto the floor of the train. When this happened his friend immediately took off his own jacket, rolled it up, and put it behind the stricken man’s head. Then he blotted the beads of perspiration from his brow with his handkerchief and talked to him in a quiet manner to calm him down. A few minutes later when the seizure was over, he helped lift his friend gently back into his seat. Then he turned to the man sitting across from them and said, “Mister, please forgive us. Sometimes this happens two or three times a day”. And then, in the conversation that ensued, the friend of the epileptic explained. “My buddy and I here were in Vietnam together, and we were both wounded in the same battle. I had bullets in both my legs and he caught one in his shoulder. For some reason the helicopter that was supposed to come for us never came to pick us up. My friend here picked me up and he carried me for three and a half days out of that jungle. The Viet Cong were sniping at us the whole way.
Understand, he was in more agony than I was. Repeatedly I begged him to drop me and save himself, but he wouldn’t let me go. He got me out of that jungle, mister. He saved my life. I don’t know HOW he did it and I don’t know WHY he did it…but he did. Well, four years ago, I found out that he had this epileptic condition, so I sold my house in New York, took what money I had, and came over here to take care of him”.
Then he looked at his friend and said,
“You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.”
Real love is like that. When you truly love someone, not just think you do, but love them with every part of yourself there is nothing they can do to drive you away. I love my family like that. There is nothing my children could do, no crime or indignity they would commit, that would make me love them less. I’m reasonably sure you can understand what I am saying. Friendship, however, is not held together with blood. There is no legal contract, no external pressure forcing you to care. Friendship is about loyalty.
I do not hear much about loyalty, outside of movies and documentaries about the mafia.
Trust, faithfulness, sacrificial love, unselfishness, commitment – character traits that are not automatic or easy to assimilate. Loyalty is inconvenient, it is costly. It walks in, as they say, when everyone else is walking out. It’s easy to talk the talk, make promises, spew platitudes; but it is another thing altogether to walk the walk. Loyalty shows up at three in the morning and holds your head when you throw up. Loyalty doesn’t keep track of slights or demand tit-for-tat.
Loyalty is hard.