There’s a scene in The West Wing where President Bartlett is talking to a member of his cabinet who’s been chosen to stay back from the State of the Union address just in case the entire government gets blown up and someone needs to pick up the reins of power.
“If anything happens. . . . You got a best friend?”
“Is he smarter than you?”
“Would you trust him with your life?”
“That’s your chief of staff.”
In Return of the King, Samwise Gamgee can’t carry Frodo Baggin’s burden. He can’t take the ring of power and bear it for Frodo–Frodo can’t stand to have it leave his possession, can’t stand the touch of another upon it. So instead, Sam carries Frodo, ring and all:
“‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.'”
Our culture glorifies romantic relationships. We talk about soulmates and better halves. A lot of us spend lots of hours dreaming over people we want to date, agonizing about our relationships, wondering about “the one” (as if there’s a “one,” but I guess that’s a subject for another blog post).
And in that shuffle, that search for romance, I think we underemphasize the importance of friendship. Philia, to the Greeks. Friend-love. Love of friends as close as siblings. Love of kindred spirits, as Anne of Green Gables might say.
I’m a huge fan of Robin Hobb, especially her linked trilogies set in the Realm of the Elderlings, and one of the things I like most about those books is that they center the friendship of Fitz and the Fool as the central, guiding thread through their two lives–the loveline crossing the length of Fitz’s palm is the true kinship-heartmeeting-philia-soulmate of his relationship with the Fool. (I also love Hobb’s decentering and problematizing of gender in her characterization of the Fool, but that, again is probably a subject for another blog post.) I’ve read all these books–especially the earliest–quite a number of times, and I keep coming back to them for lots of reasons. Like, dragons. Dragons are a huge reason. But the characters and their relationships and the truth of their hearts. That’s why I come back to Robin Hobb. For friendship.
I don’t know if you’re as lucky as I am, to have a best friend. A true best friend, a best friend like I have.
Without my best friend, I’m not sure how I’d survive in this world. She’s my rudder and she’s my sail. She keeps me steady and she keeps me moving forward. When I get lost in anxiety or fears or grief, she serves as my ship’s charts and reminds me of my own true north, points out where I was going. She is always there for me. Always. She listens. She validates. She witnesses. She helps me interpret and process. She finds the words when I don’t have them. She always understands. How is it possible that another human being understands like she understands? I honestly don’t know. I believe I could tell her absolutely anything–anything I’ve ever done or thought, dreamed or feared–and she would understand. I try to be all that to her. I hope I give her all the same in return. She’s one of the very most important people in my life and I cherish her. I’d, like, give her a kidney or one of my arms or something. Anything. All the things. A kidney AND an arm. Whatever she needed.
She and I have been friends for decades, over twenty years. She’d know exactly how many, because she’s the one of us who knows dates, while I blank on birthdays, anniversaries, years, and all such things. We’re so much the same, with just enough difference to make us marvel and laugh at each other and appreciate each other all the more.
We need more terms for friendship. Like, we have “BFF” and that works, but it’s also kind of tongue-in-cheek and juvenile and half-a-heart-pendant-from-Claire’s, you know? Where’s the serious heartfelt word for the friend-who-is-your-soulmate?
Hopefully–my gods, more than hopefully–nothing will ever happen to my BFF. Like, ever. I cannot imagine life without her. I cannot imagine that level of bereavement–bereavement that doesn’t even have a label? Like…why is there no term akin to “widow” to express that level of loss? Why do we have these terms only for our romantic partners, when our true soulmate friends can mean as much OR MORE throughout the course of our lives?
I find it a real flaw in our culture, this overlooking of the depth and tenor of real friendship. Not enough of our movies and books explore friendship. We don’t allow ourselves to shape our lives and decisions around our friendships.
In the movie Captain Marvel, what I loved most was the friendship between Carol Danvers and her BFF Maria Rambeau. Maria has spent the past years thinking her BFF is dead. She’s been a soulmate widow. She’s been bereft, alone, stripped of her kindred spirit. And then Carol returns. I think about that, what that would feel like. The joy of that moment. The clicking together of two puzzle pieces. The again-rightness of the world.
I’m thinking about my BFF a lot lately as the third book of Calling the Moon nears publication, because without my BFF’s faith in me NONE of these books would exist.
I hope you have a BFF like that.