Friends & Family

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately: what a blessing it is to have true friends, and what a long journey it is sometimes to find out who they are.

My current definition of a real friend: Continue reading “Friends & Family”

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Throwback Thursday: Knowledge of Good and Evil

When I made the goal of posting once per month this year, part of the intention was to blow through some of the backlog of abandoned post ideas. Accordingly, a few months ago I read through the over 50 pieces sitting in the Blog folder. A majority were fragmentary, things I didn’t have any really developed thoughts about at the time and which, on review, I still don’t have much to say about; those were discarded. A handful were worthy of further development. And one or two were more or less completed but, for whatever reason, never quite satisfactory and never posted.

This is one of them.

It’s a bit odd to reread something I had no memory of and which is completely, absolutely out of date. Nearly 6 years after writing it, neither of the relationships written about in it still exist, or exist in the form written about. The questions asked are not ones I would ask now. Or rather – it is not the way I would ask them. And I think that is progress, which is about the only reason I’m mustering the courage to toss this out into the world at last. Continue reading “Throwback Thursday: Knowledge of Good and Evil”

Never a Good Time

The book club I’m part of has one very convenient feature: two of our members are Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library librarians. They label and check out our books for us, and when book club is over, they gather them up and return them. So last month, when it happened that neither librarian could attend, we all looked at each other blankly and asked ourselves, “How will the books get back?” Lisa volunteered to take them.

There was no particular reason that Lisa should have been the one to do it. Continue reading “Never a Good Time”

Letter to No One

Dear Friend,

It has been far too long since we’ve talked – or rather written. I miss our old exchange of ideas, the conversation, the flow of words, the surprising revelations that only written thoughts make possible.

Oh, Facebook can be very charming. I appreciate the news of babies I would not have heard of, job successes and health problems and hilarious videos and pictures. I enjoy all of this. The trouble is, Continue reading “Letter to No One”

Harry Potter

Recently I have found myself tearing through the Harry Potter books. While there is plenty that could be said about their subject matter, so controversial in certain circles, and their shortcomings in the more technical aspects of literary merit, the thing that has struck me most is the courage and leadership consistently displayed by the hero, young Harry himself.

Harry is a celebrity within his own community – a celebrity in the most trying way and to the most trying degree. Born into the highest social class, as an infant he survived the attack that killed his parents with only a small cut on his forehead. Nobody knows why or how, and speculation runs rampant until, 11 years later, he is brought out of the safe hiding place where he was raised.

He is famous for something that wasn’t his doing, and which he doesn’t remember. People stare at him when they first meet him. Some people court his favor because he’s famous, including a young schoolmate who follows him everywhere and snaps photos at the most inopportune moments. Other people assume he’s stuck-up and trying to increase his fame. In such a situation, it would be all too easy to become rude, surly and withdrawn – or to get a big head. Harry does neither. He behaves with unfeigned modesty and humility, yet does not fear accomplishing good and impressive things, even when those accomplishments will earn him more publicity.

Harry is unfailingly polite to people of all walks of life and in all situations, no matter how much the other person may be inconveniencing him. (The exception is when someone insults or harms a friend, in which case he leaps to his friend’s defense.) An example is Dobby, essentially a slave. When we first meet Dobby, his ill-advised attempts to save Harry’s life cause Harry no end of trouble. Yet Harry treats him with kindness, and at the end of the book, contrives to set Dobby free. Later, when he meets Dobby again, he graciously gives him permission to come and visit him sometime – even though the reader, and Harry, know this is likely to lead to further inconvenience. If, as one character remarks, the measure of a man is how he treats his inferiors, not his equals, Harry is a great man.

Harry’s kindness and loyalty earn him the same in return. The fourth book revolves largely around a tournament between the scholar-champions of three schools, which consists of three extremely difficult tasks. The scholars are supposed to prepare for the tasks without help, but so many people care about Harry that he keeps getting unsolicited assistance. Several times this assistance is crucial to his survival. But his kindness is not limited to those who are his friends. In the second task, he rescues the sister of one of his competitors when the competitor is unable to do so, even though this delays him and costs him points from the judges – turning the competitor from an antagonist to another friend and supporter.

But Harry is not seeking an unfair advantage; he has an acute sense of fair play. When someone shows Harry what the first task will be and Harry realizes that the champions for the two other schools also have this information, he takes it upon himself to tell the one champion, Cedric, who doesn’t know. When asked why he would do such a thing, he says, “Well, it’s just fair, isn’t it?”

In the end, Harry’s concern for others makes them believe in him in return. Cedric, who initially views Harry with suspicion, ends up helping him with the second task. In the final task, Harry saves Cedric from danger twice – even though this decreases Harry’s chance of winning. In fact, this assistance allows Cedric to reach the finish line ahead of Harry. But instead of taking the trophy, Cedric lists the reasons why Harry should be the winner, and refuses to finish the task. Harry protests, and, finally, when neither will budge, suggests they finish together and tie for first place.

The tournament, and Harry’s approach as well, is summed up in a speech by Dumbledore, the headmaster of the school, who exemplifies wise leadership. One quote in particular stands out: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided… We can fight [discord and enmity] only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

The Secret Weapon

I finally watched all the Lord of the Rings films for the first time over Thanksgiving weekend. For those few of you more stubborn than I am, the story is a good vs. evil epic set in a fantasy world based vaguely on medieval Europe, and as you might expect, there are lots of battles complete with swords, bows, and horses charging into lines of lowered spears.

Somewhere around the 30th of these battles I began to wonder, “How did anybody ever survive in the days of hand-to-hand combat? No matter how great a fighter you are, there’s no way to maintain a 360° view of what’s going on around you and defend yourself from multiple attacks from every angle.”

But if you pay attention the question answers itself. The answer is, quite simply: have a lot of friends.

I don’t know how accurate these fight scenes are, but in almost every one, one of the main characters is saved from imminent unsuspected death by a friend who has conveniently just killed their assailant and is able to run to the rescue. And this does tie in with various historical records of great enemies fighting their way across the battlefield towards each other – in the sense that the good fighters were not only absorbed by their own immediate fight, but were keeping an eye on other people of importance to them. So the more friends you have, the more close-knit you are, the more likely you are to escape alive from battle.

“Oh, very useful,” you’re saying. “I’ll keep that in mind the next time I run into an angry band of Visigoths and Huns.”

But of course battle can be anything: for instance, the political maneuverings at a company, when the victor is usually determined by how many impressively-titled fans they have. In a lesser and looser sense, it could simply be those times you need a favor. It’s nice to have a close group of friends to choose to ask it of.

Nor is this advice as self-centered as it sounds. Aragorn, arguably the most popular guy on the battlefields of Middle Earth, earned that loyalty by taking up a fight that was not his own, fighting at the front line of every battle, and offering support, rescue or encouragement to others many more times than he received it. You have to be a friend to have friends – advice most often given to teens looking for someone to hang out with, but which actually has a much wider application.