Someone recently asked me what the goal of Quakerism is, offering that the goal of his church is ascension. This brought me pause, because I have not thought of religion or faith in practice as having an end goal. The answer I came up with is Friendship, otherwise translated as right relationship, whatever that means.
Right relationship itself is determined by many factors, so that what is right changes. Sometimes, secrets are to be held. Sometimes, secrets must be told. Sometimes, friends must be allowed to fall down and all around themselves. Sometimes, friends must be stopped from going over the cliff’s edge.
No matter, essential to friendship is a practice of non-grasping, in which devotion/attachment is to loving kindness itself, to the glue that is friendship rather than to identity; form. Friendship loses itself if one allows desire for what a friend has, offers, or is to override the longing for loving kindness. Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling.
Today, International Day for Tolerance, I want to say that while it takes effort and time to mend the cloth, friendship is something that tolerates shortcomings. I do not know to count the times I have fallen short of my aspiration to resist any desire other than to love, be love, and be loved regardless of the bending and surrender this primal devotion may require.
I am well aware of a few instances when I have let desire for a man’s affection override friendship with a woman. I am well aware of when I was cruel to speak something shared with me in confidence. I am well aware of these shortcomings because of the painful division created by my ignorance and greed, and the challenged recovery of my own sense of personal integrity.
The first step in my mending the rift is to trust that I am also otherwise. To see myself not only by my shortcomings, but by my triumphs in friendship. Friends may forgive me a thousand times, yet if I do not embrace my falls, I either stay down or float above in fantasy. Then, either I and I alone am selfish and loathsome or I, and I alone, am a supreme sort of being who is incapable of succumbing to desire and screwing everything up.
Friendship applies in all relations, the most intimate and seemingly distant. These words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, are as real as the heart capable of embracing the pain of being slighted while understanding that this pain is as universal as the capacity to slight another.
Friends do not seek revenge. As soon as I seek revenge for my pain, I become the intolerant unfriendly culprit and widen the rift. If revenge goes on, the cloth itself may be completely torn apart. The result is a thousand threads with ends unrecognizable to themselves and one another. Eventually another cloth, just as delicate, will be woven and held together by friendship.
This eventuality consumes eons when that cloth is the fabric of life.
If I were barefoot and you were barefoot
and we had traveled long over stone and thorns in search of water
to chance upon a pair of sandals and some salve,
I would rub your feet gently, put the sandals on my feet
and carry you until your feet healed.
Then, if you would do the same for me, eventually,
we could each wear one sandal
link arms and learn to walk, if goofily, as one