Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Friendiverse

Early this morning, one of my closest friends died (passed away, as they say in super-polite circles).  It is death that puts me at the greatest disadvantage; I tend to think of some deaths as a personal affront to me, especially deaths of very young people.  I tend to think of other deaths as a relief; but it is difficult to tell how other people would react to the death of even someone who has been suffering for years with a terminal illness.  Many would say: just say what you feel, and if any idiot is affronted, just ignore him/her.  That's easy for you to say; some of my closest friends (not the one who died, thankfully) are idiots, and have been for most of their lives.  And yes; I have given up trying to give them up.

For several years after we met, I was rather intimidated by him and his family, so while I tried not to give the impression that this intimidation was working, I did stay away from them.  Then various misfortunes befell him, and his family, and I watched things unfold without comprehension (because I had only partial information), and with horror, until various events encouraged me to offer to help, without careful planning.  At the same time, I was getting into trouble, and my friend offered to help me, and pretty soon we discovered that we could not really get through the day without a lot of help from each other.  This brings us to our first lesson: erecting a fence of intimidation around your very private life simply delays receiving--and giving--help, sometimes by many years.

Well, I anticipated scores of lessons we could draw from our friendship, but I'm going to have to stop with that one.

Actually, I might have another.

My friend did not suspect, nor did I suspect, that so much support would come from each other.  Stumbling on someone on whom you can rely is such a hit-or-miss thing, isn't it?  On one hand, you just can't go about broadcasting your state of helplessness; it just isn't done.  Though I gave the impression of being quite satisfied to manage by myself, (perhaps not entirely successfully,) I was barely keeping my head above water, and my colleagues had to pacify my students at times, for lashing out at them (the students) because they had not done something or another, or for doing something or another.  For instance, one student was indignant at being kept in class for a minute past the end of the period.  I had told the student that he could leave, but he preferred to stand at the back of the classroom, winter jacket on, focusing hostility at me, as a gesture that I should let the rest of the class go.  Each person, of course, was at liberty to leave, but this man wanted a formal dismissal.  Evidently I was exceeding my bounds.  Unfortunately I swore at the man at the back.  I got a visit from the Dean.  I had to apologize.

These sorts of incidents were a clue that all was not well in Archimedes Land.  Pretty soon, everyone knew that my friend and I were a mutual aid society.  We were both presently bachelors, and we would shop together and fix meals together, and soon some folks jumped to the conclusion that we were an item.  When I was asked, my instinct was to deny it vigorously, but the cultural climate was such that to be too vigorous in my denial could be construed to be admission of guilt, or even denigration of people of alternate lifestyles!  (I wish I could indicate a smirk, but you just have to imagine me wearing a sardonic look and shrugging.)

Eventually, my friend retired, and moved very far away.  Everyone wanted to know how he was doing, as though I had an inside line on his every move!  One thing he had learned, perhaps unwittingly from me, was that he just could not keep everyone satisfied as to the reason that he chose one course of action over another.  That was a lesson that came easy for him, he being a child of the Sixties.  Over the years, I learned through him, who were the good guys--in terms of the people who were most helpful, and kind, and active in charitable work and service, and in support of the Arts, and I tried my darndest to encourage them.  But I had been in financial debt for a few years, and it was more than a decade before I was debt-free, so I could not support all those whom I wished to support, with money.

The Bible says: By their fruits ye shall know them.  This is especially true regarding children.  In my experience, admirable parents often have admirable children.  Unfortunately, some of the best-behaved kids have parents who were martinets, and not entirely admirable.  So this observation has to be taken with a pinch of salt and a glass of Coke, because there are many exceptions to the rule.  Some of my best friends have kids whom you wish had been strangled at birth, and I have always been insanely curious how that came to be.  Luckily, as the years go by, some of those progeny who were absolute terrors up to the age of about 25, settle down to be decent, even wonderful, human beings.  In a country such as this, where everyone guards their prerogatives with almost desperate jealousy, you cannot take any sort of action towards being the village that Hillary Clinton is so fond of talking about, that raises a child, without the enthusiastic and implicit support of its parents.  But you are, even if you do nothing.  Just being a visitor, or a friend of the family, is sometimes all it takes, to supporting certain sorts of values that become a part of the young person's environment.

This friend, about whom I set out to write, was not a low-profile person by any means.  He was, in fact, one of the most influential faculty in the history of the school, and he was an elected leader, whose tenure was fraught with problems.  Solutions that were hammered into shape one year, evolved into a worse problem another year.  But, if not for the guidance of my friend, our school would be a very different place today.  Not necessarily a worse place, I have to admit; just a different place, and possibly a place we would not have liked as much.


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