What is Friendship?

I have a friend who lost everything. I mean everything. His business, marriage and his apartment. I believe he lives out of his car now and he has been living this way for years.

Most of his wounds were self-inflected. He spent too much, was too arrogant and lost a lot of people’s money in a business deal that went south.  Now as a result, he is totally alone and on his own. His father passed away and the rest of his family lives overseas, so he no longer has a support system he can count on. He still lives in the N.Y.C. area, which is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, because he wants to stay close to his daughter.

He and I grew up together in N.Y.C.  Most of his closest friends still live there and most of them are financially well off.  Some even have multiple homes. Yet, nobody offers him a place to stay. Most of them know his situation, and from what I can gather, not one of them has offered to take him in.

His predicament got me thinking long and hard about what it means to be a friend. Is a friend just someone who we have a lot in common with and talk to frequently, or does it mean something more?

The city we grew up in is very liberal. There are numerous charities and programs to help the less fortunate. In fact, most of the people in our social circles give lots of money to charity and think of themselves as good people. And yet, when faced with actually doing something personal, like allowing him to stay in their homes, they all have punted. I think their actions say a lot about who they are.

Yet, I don’t believe their actions are any different than what most people’s would be under similar circumstances.

I believe that a true friend is someone that borders close to what we call family. Someone who would give the short off their back for you. The Japanese definition of friendship is likely the appropriate one. They have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past. 

There is an interesting video in France wherein a reporter asks people on the street about the immigration crisis, the lack of housing and the effect it is having on the nation. Most of the citizens are quite welcoming of the immigrants. When asked if they would be willing to open their homes to them they all responded positively; yet, when presented with an actual immigrant who needs their help, they all decline. Check out the video to see what I mean.

The video is great at pointing out the fallacies and foibles of we humans. You see, we all tend to think of ourselves as humane, noble and kind; but, when truly given the opportunity to act in such a manner we decline. It is easier to give lip service than to actually be noble.

I know I’m no different and this pains me. Their are, however, exceptions. My wife used to pick up kids from the street in Ecuador and have them eat in her house. She has changed diapers and bed pans for the old and infirm.  I also have witnessed a friend of mine who, after divorce, took in her ex-spouses elderly relative to live with her. I am not sure I would have the spirit of heart to do something like that but she did. When measured against these people, I truly fall short.

This leads me back to my original question of what does it mean to be a friend? If we are only going to be there for the good times…the laughs… and only for the occasional inconvenience what is the point? Why have friends at all?

The fear of abandonment and failure scares us all. The Huffington Post ran an article that 70% of all Americans fear being homeless. The fear is real and felt by many. Yet, within my close circle of friends, we know someone who is homeless and nothing is being done. This is a tragedy. Its what’s underlying the despair and fear so many feel because we know if we ended up in his same predicament there would be no help. My friend now knows that he is on his own and must fend for himself. The tragedy is that all his friends know it too.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com