conversation and the rhythms of friendship

Over the past few weeks Natalie and I have been blessed to spend lots of time with some old friends: first we had a week in Sydney, then my brother and his wife stayed with us last weekend, and most recently a bunch of friends visited Melbourne and stayed with us. It’s been a blast. But it’s also led me to dwell on the great privilege of friendship and the gift of conversation.

We’ve had some terrific conversations. You know the ones — personal, illuminating, sprawling (in terms of the time it takes for them to follow their winding and ever-interruptible course as well as in terms of their expansiveness), full of good humour and tantalising glimpses of new possibilities for thinking, feeling and acting…

The Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris is perfectly equipped for conversation

What’s been especially lovely about our conversations has been how they’ve resonated with what Ben Myers recently had to say about silence, conversation and friendship:

Silence is not the phenomenon that ensues when language reaches its limit, much less some primordial pre-linguistic abyss from which language subsequently emerges. In the company of a close friend, I sometimes find myself reduced to silence. Not because the relationship is wordless (nothing is more verbose than friendship), but because in friendship one can never say enough; the real goal of friendship is to talk your way into silence.

This might help further characterise the unique — and uniquely humanising — ‘rhythm’ of friendship in an age of economics, which philosopher Todd May points out in his online opinion piece for The New York Times.

According to May, this rhythm marks off genuine friendship from both consumer relationships (which are all about pleasure in the moment) and entrepreneurial relationships (which are about investing for the future). At its heart this rhythm has everything to do with the way friendships are past-referring instead of looking towards what the relationship can do for us now or in the future. And yet they’re never simply past-referring. Genuine friendships always ‘live’ for us, generating — and promising to keep generating — meaning in all sorts of unanticipated ways.

This, I think, is why I’ve found recent conversations with our dear friends so delightful. Deeply rooted in shared experience, they’ve continually opened up new vistas of possibility. What a precious gift!

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