Recently I was asked to consider what it might mean to be a friend of another. Simple enough, I thought. Upon reflection I realized that it is, for me, very much an unexamined idea. Is a friend someone who I know well, someone I care for, someone who I wish well for, not in a generalized way, but in a way that is specific to that person? Yes, I guess so, all of these are true. And, to be a friend of someone probably means that I hold such feelings as those for that person. With a nice ribbon of my immediate answer tied around the question of friendship, I could move on.

But a nagging thought arose. What is the condition of friendship in the moment, in the moment when we are together, or in the moment when my thoughts turn toward this person? Is there not only just a generalized feeling? A feeling of warmth, or something in that direction? Yes, certainly, but what is the activity of friendship in the moment? I think it is the fact that I attend consciously to the person. My attention is not only directed towards her or towards him, but is devoted to her or him. I care about what my friend is saying, and I cast my attention on them, bringing it’s full force to their words, their presence, their situation. I express that fact of my friendship through my attention. But is there more?

I see that the source of the word friendship is Latin. And there is an original meaning of the root word in Latin, “to stretch out towards or to distend towards.” Here lies a deep idea, that attention is a physical stretching out towards something or someone. Attention is a material substance that extends outwards towards something, in this case towards my friend.

And, like any substance in my possession, my attention has value. We speak of paying attention. I pay for friendship with my attention. For to pay also has an original meaning. To pay means to settle a debt. The extent of my friendship determines the degree of my indebtedness, and a living friendship requires that there be an ongoing payment. So, towards my friend I again and again extend my attention. And the friendship is nourished through my payment, allowing it to continue, not only being itself nourished, but nourishing me, as well.

Finally, in this time of great difficulty the care and attention we give to those others we call by the name “friend” is perhaps needed more than ever, whether it is in person or by whatever means is now possible.

Your comments are very welcome.

2 Comments

  1. Dennis, reading this post once again and thinking—during this isolation from physically being with friends under “shelter in place”— how important it is to reach out and give attention to friendships through other means. We’re all in this together and it’s time to embrace friendship from afar. Your postings do this and I especially appreciate the photo that you’ve chosen for this one. Hugs to you and Karen!

  2. Thank you. I am very appreciative of what you shared, and, yes, in these times it seems more important, doesn’t it?

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