Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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You Can’t Sink: On Friendship

Res Publica

July 2004

by Lisa Otten

The pictures don’t lie. You can’t sink in the Dead Sea. Before traveling to Israel in May of 2000, I had seen magazine pictures of people reading the newspaper while floating completely unassisted in the Dead Sea, but I had always harbored a sort of closet skepticism as to the legitimacy of those photographs. When I got to the sea myself, I found that those pictures were, in fact, depicting reality. You simply cannot sink in the Dead Sea. It is the saltiest body of water on the face of the earth, and as such, completely devoid of nearly every form of life. The water is very clear and perfectly blue, with delicate shimmering swirls of concentrated salt. Once you get past the jagged miniature mountain range of salt crystals that have formed in the shallow regions and threaten to slice your feet, you find yourself floating whether you want to or not. The typical mode of operation in any other body of water is to tread water with your feet dangling beneath you, but I had to unlearn that in the Dead Sea. Imagine being right side up and yet toppling over with your head rather than your feet being the pivot point. It’s toppling up really, and very bizarre. Until mastering an unusual form of balance, my feet kept popping up in front of me, behind me, or off to the side. The entire body naturally floats, and you simply cannot sink.

Friendship ought to work like this; surrounding you like a natural buoy forbidding that you should sink. There are many forms of friendship. There is friendship based solely on pleasure, which keeps your head in the clouds, but it is neither anchor nor buffer when hurricane winds blow. Friendships based solely on convenience and utility keep your feet on the ground, but have no room for laughter, tears, magic, or even silence. But what glory, what wonder, a third form of friendship affords! This friendship is rooted in souls that truly love all that is real and true and good and beautiful. It walks firmly on the foundation of enduring faithfulness, but not a faithfulness that tolerates falsehood. It lifts the spirits in whirlwinds of joy, but still manages to keep the head clear. True friends point out with the light of reason one another’s vices, and with patience and fortitude, assist one another in combating those vices. True friends build into one another shining rays of virtue that are continually honed in their mutual striving for greater goodness. They learn to love one another, seeing one another through trials, standing together in storms, and sitting through the late watches of the night. True friends will always protect each other from injustices, betrayals, and all other forms of harm. When the world turns against you, these friendships simply will not let you sink.

True friendship provides a rolling savannah of patience lit by a razor-like beam of unyielding truth. Bad habits formed in other types of acquaintance must be unmade in this world. Here, decisions are made on the basis of what is good, not what may be fun or easy. Here, there can be no excuses and no forgery. Evil is banished, and all that is ugly is either erased or restored. You must learn to walk all over again as the center of gravity rises from concern only for the appetites to the good of the soul. True friendship is an ocean of peace fiercely guarded by a sword. And it will not let you sink.

At the end of the film, The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, Samwise Gamgee follows his friend Frodo Baggins out into a river. Frodo is on his way into the greatest trial of his life and he understands that he must face the fears, the dangers, the darkness as he performs the task laid before him, and he knows he must do all of this alone. As he starts off on this journey, Sam follows him into a raging river, shouting for him. Frodo shouts back, “I’m going on alone!” Sam’s response is profound: “Of course you are! And I am going with you!” While understanding that Frodo carried a burden that no one could lighten, Sam had already chosen to go with Frodo as far as he could, even at great peril to himself. In his attempt to follow Frodo, Sam begins to sink beneath the waves. But Frodo’s hand is there. True friendship provides solid ground to walk on, companions to walk with, and strong hands to cling to. And it will not let you sink.

Lisa Otten is a senior from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, majoring in Philosophy, Political Science, and History.

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