As I was perusing my old philosophy notebooks recently (as I'm often found to be doing, now that I'm on a mini college hiatus and yearning to go back) one particular quote attributed to Aristotle popped out at me. It vibrated in the margins of my notes the same way a solitary birch can shimmer in a forest of firs and elms.
Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit
There are countless platitudinous throw-aways to friendship out there. You see them all over Facebook. Those infernal placards posted by your friends dripping with Leo Buscaglia, and as trite as a Hallmark movie featuring a child sitting in a field of dandelions on a sunny day in August while drinking lemonade with her grandmother.
I like Aristotle's take on it. A very simple statement. Uncluttered. Unadorned by sickly sweetness. He puts it right out there: getting friends is a hell of a lot easier than keeping them.
Like you, I count many people in my life as "friends", when applying a very broad definition. But I can truthfully say that really only a few fall into Aristotle's ripe variety. A friend that has been around for awhile, whose friendship has lasted on the vine, so to speak without falling away.
I think the Big A was suggesting that it's natural that we humans desire the closeness of a companion, but that we hazard failure if we don't make the time and effort to let it mature. And really, how many friendships can you recall that have been long lost to inattention? To "life" sweeping us away from them? When the graduations and the marriages and the births and the promotions far outweigh (so we believe) the diligence necessary to maintain friends.
Like the viticulturist who nurses his vineyard, the work is daunting and time-consuming, in a world where slamming down 30 bucks for a bottle of wine is a hell of a lot more convenient than doing the work itself. The implicit attitude here being "Why would I work so hard at something that I can get so easily at my local grocery store?"
I've certainly made quick work of my share of friendships, so understand that I'm not throwing green apples at glass houses here.
I do have a couple of good, ripe friendships to my credit. Friends I've known now for many years and whose company - regardless of the distance between us - I savor. So naturally I've wondered why they've stood the test of time and not all those others, and the answer actually just now came to me as I write this.
In those few instances they - like me - worked to cultivate the friendship, not the friend. It's a subtle difference, but it's an important one. They didn't want me to ripen ("get better with change") they wanted the friendship to.