The conversation of friends, the great Samuel Johnson once said, is nothing more than a “calm interchange of sentiments.” And Joseph Epstein, in his Friendship: An Expose, devotes an entire chp to the talk of friends. Here’s how he defines such talk:
“At the heart of most friendships is something much simpler: talk and, going on beneath the talk, understanding, preferably easy, immediate understanding” (166).
Which means that true friends enjoy one another’s presence: “You like your friends, in other words, for what they are and not for their use to you, however useful some of them may also, on unexpected occasions, turn out to be” (167).
But here’s a comment — what do you think of it? “A person’s opinions are perhaps the least important thing about him” (173). Genuine friends are not simply those who agree with us, but those with whom we want to spend our afternoon talking.
Which also means that sometimes the conversation of friends goes nowhere and has no purpose and doesn’t solve anything — all the conversation did was put spirit next to spirit for a time together.
Which also means good friends listen to one another. Some I know don’t have any capacity whatsover to listen; others don’t often hold up their end of the bargain in talk. Friends listen and hear — and that means they can carry the conversation forward — not according to a plan but by responding to what is being said.
I have to admit I’m incredibly proud of my Department, the BTS Dept at North Park. We genuinely like to be together and our spouses enjoy us and we them. It is not all shop talk about Bible and theology — but we have to include it. (Boaz once warned us about it; I said, “Fahget it. We can do no other, friend.”) We get together once a month during the summer to dine — and the 2 hours or so of our time together flies by. Boaz Johnson finds for us restaurants that border on the exotic — once we went to an Ethiopian place where we sponged sauces and the like off our plate with some variant on a crepe. Another time we were at an Indian joint with a waiter who was a stand-up comic. In August we went to Brad Nassif’s home and he cooked real Lebanese for us — a solid three hours of chat. Friends, that’s what we are. It’s too bad we have to work — if teaching be called work — because we could just as well spend our afternoons talking.
Believe me, the young ones — Genevive Dibley and Joel Willitts (and spouses) — can hold their own. If we all lived near one another, we’d never get anything done — but maybe that is what friendship accomplishes.