V – LA GRAPPE DE RAISIN
Mais ce que j’aimais plus que chaque chose en particulier, c’était l’ensemble des choses: la maison, l’air, la lumière, que sais-je? la vie enfin! Une grande douceur m’enveloppait. Jamais petit oiseau ne se frotta plus délicieusement au duvet de son nid. Elle était toute petite, ma vie; mais c’était une vie, c’est-à-dire le centre des choses, le milieu du monde.
Anatole France, “Le livre de mon ami”
Apart from the obvious desirability of business alliances when working for a living the only evident fealty in relationships is to family (in which I include amorous relationship) and friends. What distinguishes allegiance to family is the complete lack of necessity (unless you include duty); but for the most part it’s sous entendu. What distinguishes friendship is the pleasure of association, a close second but nonetheless having an underwritten objective (though not so much a need or ambition). Competing with these predominantly selfless confederacies is the confession of the ultimately personal nature of the universe.
It is unfair to say there is a competition (in the sense of rivalry or opposition) between these polarities of loyalties – family and friends on the one hand, individuality on the other. It may simply be an acknowledgment of the bifurcation of reality; that is, apart from family and friends nothing much matters but oneself. Though it is a hard divide it amounts to little more than a clarity. What it does promote is a subtext analysis of the constituent parts.
Notably the least complicated of the three – self, family and friends – is family because of its indisputable origin (by which I include the magnanimity of adoption). In my experience most family members support one another. Familial conflicts, if any, normally surround questions of hierarchy, but whatever the differences they usually involve matters exclusively within the context of family (as opposed to “outside” considerations). This is significant because it preserves the over-reaching unity (even if conflicted) and focus of the family connection.
Friendship is only somewhat less tenacious. It has the “purity” of family in that its motives are generally altruistic. Where friendship runs into particular difficulty is when mistakenly aligned with acquaintance or outright calculation. Acquaintance as the word suggests is casual, at best a fellowship yet always but a familiarity. The word derives from the Latin ad (to) cognoscere (know). It is not intended to go beyond contact or awareness. Yet it is common to abuse the term to imply friendship with the result that the meaning of friendship becomes inadvertently and misleadingly contaminated. It is a consequence which regularly leads to embarrassment and disappointment on both sides, often with the same effect of awakening from an alcoholic companionship with a stranger. It is also a misdirection of erstwhile business associations which can evaporate as quickly as the underlying commercial enterprise succeeds. The only exception I willingly make to this rule is the bond of friendship among “Brethren of the Craft”; that is, the fraternity of the Masonic Lodge. I recognize that it may in the minds of some constitute an absurdity to extend the meaning of friendship in this manner but it has proven entirely reliable on many occasions. Naturally there are those who distort the entitlement for the wrong reasons but the discredit is to them not the Craft.
It is at this juncture that we entry upon the putative competition of family and friends with the individual. While no man seeks to be an island, there are moments when we recognize that things are ultimately personal. I view this more as an empirical observation than one for example advancing existential nihilism; that is, not “a matter of contemplative theory” nor “a consequence of engagement and commitment” but simply a fact of life that in the end it’s what we see and feel. I extrapolate to espouse that we’re as bound to ourselves as much as to family and friends. Similarly we’re tethered to self-awareness as much as to allowing family and friends to express themselves.
It is in this context important to preserve the equivalency of the two poles. For those of us who do not have children or grandchildren to distract our attention or to consume our legacy, the contrary proximity of self is comparatively egotistical even inconsiderate. Indeed there is a tendency for us unfructuous sorts to diminish or hide our self-awareness which granted can become more enlarged than discrete. The profligacy is naturally a result of its singularity but it carries the stigma nonetheless.
Whatever the relationship – family, friends or self – the characterization of each is significant. It can avoid a great deal of consternation to preserve the definition of each, including the depth (or lack of it) of each. Being merely ships in the night is no misfortune. The misfortune is to expect more of it. Confinement is not something most of us care to admit but doing so will not only preserve the more restrictive relationships we have but also spare us the deprivation of those we do not.