“And in poverty and misfortunes men think friends are the only refuge.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
In sorrow as well as in joy, but even more so in sorrow, we feel that we need to turn to other people. This says much about human life. It is worth asking ourselves: to whom can we turn? And what happens if we turn to them?
What happens when we turn to another in sorrow is perhaps the single best gauge of a friendship. It is then that we are most grateful if the friendship has been an ongoing work-in-progress, the object of intentional building—during the ‘normal’ times of life. Of course as we grow older we can find that ‘misfortune’ is not so abnormal.
Is there someone who is willing to take on my problems, my brokenness, thereby adding them to his own? For someone really to be a refuge for me, it requires much more than that he hear my issues. It requires that he enter into them. A psychologist I know once said to me words that have changed how I think about life. “You cannot avoid suffering…” he said.
“But, you can avoid suffering alone.”
Aristotle seems to imply that you cannot make it through life without friends. Yet isn’t this disproved by experience? Clearly, people can live without true friendship.
Yet something in us dies when we suffer alone: something at the core of who we are. This is evident in bad men, who in their malice isolate themselves from others. It is also evident in the lives of many others, whose tragic loneliness—one often draped in bustle and noise—suffocates as it paralyzes real human life.
Friends are the only refuge. But they are even more. To suffer together is not only to ‘make it.’ When someone truly enters into my suffering, or I enter into his, something deep within us comes alive. And we actually discover that every single turn of fortune in our path is in fact an opportunity to live all the more. Together.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his main moral treatise.
Image: Jonathan Lovingly Taking His Leave of David, by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld (1794-1872)