The older I get, the more distance life creates between myself and many of the people I've come to love and cherish as "friends." People are graduating college, moving to new places, falling in and out of love, starting families, and so on. The less time I am able to spend with people whom i claim to love, the more pertinent the question "what makes a friend?" becomes. Is the validity of a friendship determined by time spent in one another's company, or by the time spent in conversation, whether it be in person or over the phone? Or can a person you haven't seen or spoken to in ages still be considered your "friend?" What about time? Is there a certain chronological marker that signifies the transition from acquaintanceship to friendship? Or can you build an ephemeral friendship with a total stranger, that starts and ends within the span of a single conversation?
I had two interactions this past week that prompted me to question friendship in today's blog. The first was with a person who came to my high school for a little under a year on a foreign exchange program, about six years ago. In the time that he spent here, we bonded frequently over our favorite extracurricular (albeit illegal) activities. During such chill sessions, our conversations would more often than not drift towards my favorite subjects: politics and religion.We got to know one another. We became "friends." Then he left, and I didn't talk to him for a while. After a few years of silence, we started to reach out to one another on social media, usually just making small talk and "shooting the shit," so to speak. On some occasions, like the one this week, however, our conversations take intense turns. After contacting me with praise for my artwork, we launched into a discussion about addiction and suffering and dead loved ones-- all the fun stuff. I shared some advice and personal stories, he returned the favor, and then we thanked each other profusely for our "friendship." Thank you, I told him, for always being there to listen to me when I need. Thank you, I wanted to tell him, for showing me that a "friendship" built in only a few months can transcend both space (the distance from Laramie to Copenhagen is 4,820 miles) and time (almost six years now). You're welcome, he tells me, before thanking me back. Then he adds that, should I ever find myself in Denmark, I'll have a place to rest my head.
My other experience this past week, which I won't go into in too much detail for the sake of a future blog post, occurred when an elderly, semi-blind, black gay man from the heart of Georgia came into the studio to edit some footage of his late husband. Now, I couldn't care less about a person's age, race, sexual orientation, or ability to see, but, as young, straight, white male with perfect vision, one might expect the commonalities between myself and this gentleman to be few and far between. But that was not the case. After working on his project for a few minutes and engaging in a bit of small talk, the video's lengthy render time afforded us the opportunity to dive into subjects of more depth (again, as seems to always be the case with me, things like spirituality and politics and the meaning of existence). Then we moved to the more personal subjects: our experiences with death, addiction and mental health issues. We both shed a few tears, traded emails, and before he left he thanked me for listening--told me that he had shared some intimate details of his life that he had never shared with anyone, and that he hadn't planned to share with anyone. Even if I were to never email or speak to this gentleman again, words like "stranger" or "acquaintance" don't capture, at least in my mind, the nature of the relationship we built over the span of just a few hours. Couldn't it be said, that however impermanent the sentiment, that in those few hours we were "friends?" And if so, then how can I define "friend?" Again, what is a "friend?"
Essentially, I believe that a friend is any person with whom an individual has shared a positive connection, and with whom that person would happy to share a connection with again--no matter how improbable such a reunion proves to be. A friend is someone who, no matter how much time and space an individual has spent with them--no matter how much time and space now lies between them--would receive a message or phone call with a smile, ask what it was the individual wanted, then would listen with an open heart and an engaged mind. I believe that friendships can span several minutes or several lifetimes. I believe that a friendship you build in a few minutes can last entire lifetimes, as long as there is love remembrance on both sides. I believe a friend is any person that was happy to help you once, and would be happy to do so again.