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Knowing Others--From Casual Friendship To Intimacy

Initial Disclaimer:  This blog is NOT about "knowing" other people in the biblical sense; I'm not into being that self-revelatory and indiscreet yet, having entered only the early stages of my dotage.

Knowing other people occurs along a spectrum from casual acquaintance to intimacy.  The acquaintance  relationship, one level below "friend", is both the easiest to handle and least important in one's social life.  One's only obligation is exchanging superficial greetings and inquiring about each other's well-being without actually caring that much, as in the question, "How ya' doin'?" and expected response of "Great" or "Fine".

Any departure from this verbal routine may signal your relationship is either over (in the absence of the  other person acknowledging  your greeting) or that your relationship is about to move to the next higher level of casual friend if your exchanges become slightly more extended and personal.  Casual friends involve somewhat more "investment" of one's self in passing or chance encounters, but little additional commitment.  For example, it would be "outside" expected behavior/etiquette for a casual friend to request anything requiring your time or other personal resources beyond a simple immediate favor such as "Could I use your pen?" The average person has too many acquaintances and casual friends to count or consciously keep "track" of. If you find someone becoming more significant than this in your consciousness, let me assure you from personal experience, it's more than casual. [It's the "fatal" attractions that can be one's nemesis or undoing.]

Moving to the "full" friend level, we first must exclude "political" and merely or temporarily "useful" friends and unavoidable colleagues at work because they are a special category of "expedient" rather than emotionally close relationships.  It was this type of friendshipin 1988 that VP candidate Senator  Bentsen had in mind in his famous debate "put-down" of his opponent Senator Qualye, "I knew Jack Kennedy; he was a friend of mine, and you're no Jack Kennedy!"  When political winds and climate shift, so do such friendships, even if the Kennedys are involved.  That's why we call them "fair-weather" friends. People with whom we are "forced" into relationships at work or otherwise in daily life usually fall into this category.

Full-fledged friends are people that one considers special or close, and are what one usually means when saying, "I know him/her" or "He/she is my friend."  These are relationships that involve emotional commitments, with all the benefits and risks that go along with them.  Such friends can sometimes let one down or raise one up  in a "roller-coaster" course (reminding one of his Red Room dashboard graph) but are most valued when steady and faithful over the "long haul" of life. This type of friend is  the "bridge over troubled waters"  that one  can depend on and trust in time of emotional or material need.

Even the strongest friendships, however, can be severely tested and/or shattered beyond restoration to their former state.  Certain  "discoveries" of major flaws or lapses from decency as well as disloyal behaviors are usually beyond forgiveness and repair.  For example, a relationship can never be the same again if one learns something significantly "damaging" about the other that the other didn't think you knew and had been keeping secret from you, especially if the secret involves you.  This predicament transforms one into an Eve or Adam after having eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  All innocence and trust are then lost forever, essentially ending the friendship even if the two parties continue "going through the motions" to maintain it on a superficial level. This reality holds true for intimate and/or  once special sexual relationships as well.

Lyrics of certain familiar songs in one's cultural canon inevitably come to mind when thinking of friends and intimacy. The first, "He Was A Friend of Mine,"  has been around for a century perhaps, originally as a folk ballad and then made more famous by Willie Nelson and  its subsequent use in the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain. The next is "I'll Stand By You," hovering on the edge between deep friendship and love, the first lines of which are as follows:  Oh, why you look so sad?/The tears are in your eyes/Come on, and come to me now/Don't be ashamed to cry/Let me see you through/Cause I've seen a dark side too/I'll stand by you." I hope you can mentally "hear" the music.

But the one that will forever be the most moving and meaningful to me and that brings friendship to its ultimate level of intimacy, whether with God, a special person or with your one and only loved one,  is Josh Groban's singing of "You Raise Me Up  To More Than I Can Be."  I'll remember it always, too, because a long-time friend of the family and professional vocalist sang it so beautifully and lovingly at my wife's memorial service on the afternoon of January 19, 2010, a day  indelibly etched in my mortal consciousness:

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains;

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;

You raise me up to more than I can be *************************************