Joseph Epstein’s Friendship: An Expose turns in chps 3 and 4 to two more topics: best friends and how to kill friendships. This is not a review or even a description, but the simple recording of some quotations and some thoughts. Respond to what strikes you.
On best friends, those who bring you the most delight, etc., are chosen. In this chp. Epstein moves from Michel de Montaigne’s famous essay on his friendship to Epstein’s friendship with Edward Shil. The chp led me to reflect on what “best friend” means to me. Now, I’ve gone on record to say that my best friend is Kris, and because that is so, I don’t have a “best” friend as Epstein and others describe such. This is not a post on “wife” or “spouse,” so I’ll not get into a discussion of Kris here.
Having relieved myself of the confession that I don’t have a best friend, I want to say that I do have one colleague who would be my best friend if our lives permitted it. Greg Clark, a philosopher at North Park, and I used to share schedules more and we shared proximity of offices — he would wander into my office, and I into his. I like being with Greg, and I think he likes being with me. He’s younger, he’s a philosopher (which I’m not, nor the son of one), and he lives in a Christian community. But, we like to talk about things — usually we agree and sometimes when we don’t, we discuss it long enough that one of us changes our minds.
But, I teach on Tues and Thurs and Greg on MWF. He thinks of faculty meetings and other meetings as I do, so that means we both schedule our lives in such a way that we don’t even get to see one another at these meetings. We used to see one another more often, and sometimes I find myself in need of wandering into Greg’s office to chat — but he’s not there or I’m at home. But, it seems whenever we get together we are right back to where we were before.
When I was at TEDS I had a few colleagues who were much the same; I always coveted Murray Harris’ counsel, and Grant Osborne and I chatted about our students and our colleagues and our writings, and Jim Speer and I found a common interest about sociology, and Kevin Vanhoozer, before he left for Scotland, was one with whom I talked some theology (what theology I knew). Those are the sorts of friends I have had at my schools.
Epstein makes a point about what kills friendships, but he saves it to the end, though you could feel it coming the whole chapter through: “Few things are likelier to kill a friendship quicker than a careful and strictly adhered-to theory of what qualities are needed in a friend.” I like this. I think a friend is what happens to two people who enjoy one another’s presence. Those who think friendships are about chiseling away the other person’s weaknesses will quickly wear one another out.
In that chp. Epstein records this from The New Yorker: “How can I love my enemies,” a man said upon leaving church, “when I don’t even like my friends?”
And I’m with Epstein when he says he’s not for friendships that are all about sharing one’s feelings. It is contrary to much of what is fast becoming instinct in some Christians circles, but I’m of the same mind. Kris is the psychologist in this family; if someone wants to unload all of their emotions and start telling deep secrets and memories, then I’ll probably glass over at the eyes within a few minutes and they’ll find someone wearing a white jacket. Sure, students sometimes tell me these things, and I listen as well as I can, but that is not what I expect of my friends. If they want that, they’ll have to make friends with others.
As for me and my friends, we enjoy being with one another.