I am my friends. Their lives are mine; mine theirs.
I once believed otherwise. I was an individual in the American, the Emersonian, sense. Ralph Waldo Emerson (American, 19th century A.D.) said, “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. . . . Insist on yourself; never imitate” (Self-Reliance, 1841). I imagined, unconsciously following Ralph, I am a lone ship amidst storms, grateful when another vessel appears on the horizon, signaling, even sharing plight for a moment. But eventually, inevitably, I am alone. And storms abound. I was proud. I felt grim.
Life happened. Connections blossomed, and confidence in my capacities flagged. There was Mike with his lovely bride and two kids, she who got thyroid cancer, he with the contracting business and back troubles. Their challenges became mine. There came Kim with her mental illness and son and endless line of medications and courageous struggle to be useful despite it all. We became one person together. There came (and departed) Kirk’s psychological distress at work and spouse Lisa’s need to fit in. They wandered off in a boat, to my distress and displeasure. Kathy’s obesity, along with my own, occupied years. Maggie’s political battles and Don’s exuberant biking, Ken’s spiritual growth and Janet’s devoted parenting: all penetrated. Law clients arrived, with lives blossoming and disintegrating and spinning toward war and rising from ashes. And YMCA basketball guys, and ethics reading group friends, and Rotary colleagues, and good hearted opposing counsels. Each intruded, implicated me. Deep connections emerged. I learned I control little. Pride waned (slightly). I struggle; they struggle; finally, we struggle. Insight blossomed: I am my friends, conjoined in deeps of existence. We are unconsciously linked. Their web and my own form one skein of living. Aggregately, in all our various conjunctions, we are humanity. Individually, I am a lone shifting thread in time, soon snipped. Together, we are history, the interwoven tapestry of consciousness. Aristotle (Athenian, 4th century B.C.) concluded, “Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies” (reported by Diogenes Laertius in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, V.20, 3rd century B.C.). Or, I speculate, one soul in many bodies, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands. It is a mystical thought, an insight that occupies me, frequently preoccupies me.
Horace (Roman, 1st century B.C.) captured the implication: “Your own safety is at stake when your neighbor’s wall is ablaze (Epistles, 1.18). All human fires are my fires. It is overwhelming. The little I can do, however, is not nothing. Besides, I no longer feel grim. For I am my friends.