“I recall now two of my friends, who although no longer among the living are still alive for me and always will be.”
Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship
People die. This is one of the thorniest problems in the philosophy of friendship, as in the philosophy of human life itself.
Perhaps the most unnatural aspect of the monstrous reality called death is that it separates what should never be separated. Here I don’t mean body and soul; I mean friends. Given the nature of true friendship, how can it ever come to an end?
For many, Christmas time brings the terrible separation home to us each year. Of course this shows just how special Christmas time is. This time of year we turn our thoughts to the things that matter most; we simply want to be with those we love. The absence of dear ones is more real to us than ever.
Aelred has a remarkable and simple approach. I don’t think he sees an ongoing friendship as simply a matter of fact. It is in part a matter of choice. We can choose to continue the relationship.
My friends are still alive. For me. And always will be. I choose to continue to live in their presence. To share a life together.
This does not mean an unhealthy holding on—which could indeed keep us from attending to others around us in this life.
It is always about presence. Especially today, we need to focus on living in the presence of those who are right under our own roof, or next door. At the same time, we can choose to live in the presence of the deceased. This takes faith, and, as always, it takes looking to the good of the other.
Christmas is never ultimately about what has happened in the past. It is about persons and realities that are truly present today. And always will be.
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St. Aelred (1109-1167) was the abbot of the English Cistercian monastery in Rievaulx. He is most known for his treatise On Spiritual Friendship.
Image: Burying my father.