On her radio show on April 27, Diane Rehm interviewed actress Kate Mulgrew (Startrek Voyager, Orange is the New Black), delving into her autobiography with enthusiasm and obvious admiration. One especially striking moment in the interview came when Diane brought up Kate’s special friend. They met at the NYU mess hall, bonded immediately, and were there for each other through every event in their lives, good and bad. “Best friend” does not even begin to cover the role this woman has played in Kate’s life. She is her “touchstone,” the love or her life, and tears come to her eyes just thinking about her. Diane then goes on to tell us that she understands completely, because she also had a friend like that, a woman who unfortunately died last year.
This amazing kind of friendship is a central part of our humanity, what I call in my book, the Sacrament of Friends and Mentors. There are special people out there in the universe waiting to connect with each of us. Montaigne describes his relationship with La Boetie in this way, David and Jonathan were “knit” to each other, Thornton Wilder suggested there was a “constellation” of special friends waiting to form around each of us and played with the idea that there were “slots” waiting to be filled, almost like the valences of an atom: 3 people younger than us, 3 people of the same age, 3 older.
These kinds of friends are gifts of the gods. We want them to be part of the good times in our lives, but even more importantly, we need them to support us when we’re down. The comfort they offer is extraordinary, in fact, it is akin to the comfort Christians feel when they really turn to Jesus. One of my students described how at one point her life fell apart, she couldn’t take it anymore, so she gave up trying and “turned it over” to Jesus: “You take it, Lord, you take the burden—I can’t do it anymore.” And if you really believe, He does take it. You’re free. It’s like an enormous weight being lifted from you, you can work again, you can eat again, you can live again. If the pain returns, you remind yourself that Jesus is there to get you through it, that He has shifted this heavy load onto His own back, and you are not alone anymore. That’s the divine gift that a true friend can offer as well.
Whatever your views on Jesus, one thing is certain: friendship is a blessing, and a deep friendship, whether it happens in a blinding flash the first time you meet or develops over months and years, it is indeed a sacred bond, equally as sacred as the bond of matrimony. Your friends are a part of your being at all times. You are aware of them always, even though long periods of time may go by where you don’t see them, even though death may separate you, you can still find them in your heart, they live on with you, and the comfort they offered remains to console you still. I might go out on a limb here and say it’s not so much the friend, it’s the friendship. The friend is the agent whereby we recognize Friendship, the face of the Divine, the Spirit we must embrace in order to embrace our humanity to the fullest degree possible.