Fast Friendships

April 01 2014

Over the course of my life, I have had a handful of deep friendships that came suddenly and surprisingly and without any warning. They have been with people of different nationalities, ages, and backgrounds. Three are with men, and two with women. In each case, I was meeting with someone for the first time, usually for accidental or inconsequential reasons, sometimes standing in for a colleague. Each meeting I expected to be short and businesslike but each morphed quickly instead into a deep conversation between the two of us. Bertrand Russell described a similar experience in his first meeting with Joseph Conrad:

"At our very first meeting, we talked with continually increasing intimacy. We seemed to sink through layer after layer of what was superficial, till gradually both reached the central fire. It was an experience unlike any other that I have known. We looked into each other's eyes half appalled and half intoxicated to find ourselves together in such a region. The emotion was as intense as passionate love, and at the same time all-embracing. I came away bewildered, and hardly able to find my way among ordinary affairs." ("Autobiography." Routledge, 2009.)

The writer George Fowler in his book "Dance of a Fallen Monk" describes a similar first meeting. The intimate friendship between Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Lu Carr also developed quickly like this.

It is odd that so much has been written about love, yet so little about friendship - friendship seems to be the elephant in the room. And the few philosophers of friendship - Aristotle, Andrew Sullivan, AC Grayling - seem to believe that friends can only be made slowly. Andrew Sullivan, for example, says that unlike falling in love, it is impossible to "fall in friendship", a statement that is spectacularly false.

I feel the only way to adequately describe these encounters is from mythology: It was as if we were struck by an arrow fired by Cupid, the Roman god of attraction, or had magic dust sprinkled on us by forest sprites as happens in Shakespeare. But in none of my encounters was there anything sexual or erotic; indeed, none of these friends have the physical qualities that attract me, starting with the fact that three of them are the wrong gender. Rather, our encounters were meetings of minds, as if I was making contact with a long-lost twin brother or sister - someone who thinks very much like I do, but who knows different things, or has had different experiences. Since I long ago realized I think very differently to most everyone about most everything, to find even one person who thinks like me is astonishing. To find several is just awesome. These friends are my life's doppelgangers, my alter egos.

In every case, the experience was profoundly moving, and we developed into long-term friends. One person has sadly passed on. These friendships have led me to change my views on life significantly, as well as my jobs, and even my career. Their influence on me bring to mind the Zen saying: When the disciple is ready, the guru will appear.

One friend describes us as being virtual siblings, since we know each other as well as close brothers or sisters do, and we support each other loyally and without hesitation, through tragedy and triumph, as if we are family. My life is so much richer for these experiences that began in accidental meetings, that it is hard not to imagine they were shaped by some divinity, rough-hewn by us and all.

Muchas gracias, amigos.

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Bahia Blanca, Argentina

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