I’ll leave my heart as payment among the coins, and pass… – Nichita Stănescu
Long ago, I came across an old saying in one of Aristotle’s works that said: “Distance has put an end to many friendships.” I thought with unease of many of my acquaintances, relatives and friends who had left the country, some moving even “halfway across the world”, as one would say to emphasize the insurmountable distance. Sometimes, one gets the impression that not only time is irreversible, but also space. Even with today’s technology, distance is still mostly irreversible, as evidenced by the many “long distance” relationships that cannot be saved, or the so-called “online grandparents” who cannot be consoled.
Those who pay with their hearts
In the communist era, in Romanian language classes we were told about the untranslatability of the Romanian word “dor”, which represents the feeling you get when you’re missing someone. We learned that its equivalent in other languages cannot reproduce its semantic richness—neither in terms of emotions, nor in terms of the ideas it inspires in us, the native speakers (emotions such as nostalgia, the desire to go back in time, melancholic love, longing, sweet recollection, living with memories, communication in thought with our loved ones, their imaginary involvement in our present, etc.) Then, after the 1989 Revolution, almost as a punishment for the soul, we experienced the huge exodus of Romanians to all parts of the world, when the word “dor” painfully proved its untranslatable nature: so many friendships were put to the test, so much longing began to hurt, until it faded, died or transformed itself.
If what had created friendships until then had been circumstantial—going to school together, playing games, travelling and being neighbours, common passions and concerns, holidays spent together, work relationships and even kinship—then friendships began to fade as a result of the total change of circumstances. However, other friendships were maintained, being surrounded by the emotional halo of love fused with nostalgia, the two sides of the same coin—the one which pays for the longing.
Only those who pay in heart currency could create such a touching pet name as “Little Romania” for their country, as you would do for a living being.
We, the ones who stayed, would not have thought of using this kind of diminutive that you would give to a beloved and abandoned friend who is so far removed… Little Romania! If we pick up a cue for longing in this “nickname”, it means that we have empathy, that we can feel together with those who left, leaving in the past their childhood or adolescence, their young and lively bodies, the humour and serenity of a late-discovered youth and innocence, their wives, their sufferings, their loves and…friendships. In other words, part of the charm of their personality has been left behind. They are the ones who cherish and cultivate old friendships, because they have invested a lot of their soul and don’t want to lose it. They know that those invisible strings that bind them to their friends from afar make up their identity, without which they would no longer be whole. Is it a selfish impulse to want to preserve, in the souls of our friends, all those memories that make us unique and charming and give us the stability and confidence to know who we are?
Originally, “companion” meant “the one with whom you share bread on a common path.” Today, beyond the old military resonance, the companion friend is the one with whom you spend a lot of time or go through crucial times or significant experiences, trials or crossroads in life. Usually, all of this welds the soulful relationship forever. Exceptions are cases of betrayal, which can be dramatic for the soul and personality of those separated in this way.
It is said that when we think back to the particular moment we met someone, what comes back most vividly in memory is not what they are, what they said or wrote, or other facts and personal data, but the way they made us feel. The companion friend is valuable for the way they make us feel. They instil in us a desire to spend a part of our lives with them, to seek out their company and participation in our important events and to evolve together, to be more and more alike. They are the ones who inspire in us a sense of reciprocity, a desire to give and receive. This kind of friend is your comrade, your companion in everything; a deep communication is easily created between the two of you, sometimes only through your eyes or through codes and messages known only by you; you share preferences, dreams, plans, occupations, lifestyles.
The companion friend is like a brother, often with the sensitivity and intuition of a twin brother. From this strong sense of dependence and mutual loyalty was born the chivalrous custom of becoming “blood brothers”, with promises and oaths.
However, this strong and lasting connection, like with a twin, can be diminished by the test of that irreversible distance we were talking about. Over time, as a consequence of advancing in age and in a life foreign to others, all those unseen strings evaporate and become memories. This explains why, on seeing each other after many years, former friends tend to reminisce more than to recount experiences they’ve had without one another; they are more eager to rekindle the camaraderie of their youth rather than acknowledging the reality that they have both gradually become other people than what they were in their common past. Moreover, the present can be disappointing: Where is the great high school athlete hiding in the chubby, IT specialist? Where is the irresistible charm of the winner of “Miss 1995”? What happened to the rebellious poet, a student of Letters, who is now retired and no longer writes lyrics? Why did my neighbour’s guitar collect dust? How did it happen that the strongest couple, our role model in college, broke up?
There is another type of friend: the “tree” friend, who is almost timeless. It is what you need as a firm support, as a stable point to refer to, as a landmark. They can be your compass in life precisely because they are not always by your side, involved in the same activities and events, madness and mistakes. Sometimes, they aren’t really like-minded, but they’re the best suited for an open-minded discussion. They understand you like no one else. They are the ones who know how to listen to you with their mind and heart; who always see your situation differently, more clearly, more objectively, who always have the generosity to help you by soothing your wounds. They have a sense of reason, they keep you afloat, they give you confidence, they quarrel with you, they reconcile with you, they keep you on track.
Miraculously, the “tree” friend really has the stability of a tree, in the sense that they can be found every time in the same way, in the same “place” between being apart and seeing each other again. Time can pass indefinitely without affecting the reunion, the relationship and the openness. The thread of confessions can be resumed from where it left off, without much preparation, without detour.
Somehow, they know that when you look for them, you need their balancing presence and they’re there for you, next to you, even if at a physical distance of thousands of kilometres. They are the ideal confidant, your anchor in life reduced to the essence, beyond the daily hustle and bustle. Sometimes, their support for you is simply to listen, empathize with you, encourage you, or, if they see no solution, to carry the burden with you—as the apostle Paul urges us to do in Galatians 6:2.
This kind of friendship demands from the confidant responsibility and respect towards the trust granted by the confessor. The “tree” friend does not inspire reciprocity and does not imply resemblance, as in the case of the companion friend. Moreover, your “tree” friend may be so different from you, in terms of character and personality, that you may not even be able to share activities and projects. But you are bound by mutual appreciation, admiration, gratitude, even the complicity of some troubles solved together. This friend is the one who comes with wise advice when you ask them, with a new, inspiring vision, a soothing encouragement; they don’t back down if they need to defend you, to do you justice, to soothe your soul or even to sacrifice themselves for you; they caress and embrace you with their words, from a distance; they cannot conceive of not helping you when you’re at an impasse. Their words sound so sweet: “Leave it to me, I’ll take care of it, I have an idea!”
Like the tree, their stability attracts you and their calm reassures you. They may be older than you or have a different background, but they certainly have a special emotional intelligence and a wisdom that is not worldly; it is heavenly. This is where their generosity comes from. Usually, such “trees” are your friends even after death, through their persistent spirituality. And, like the trees that die standing, these friends remain in the emotional memory and continue to support us, in thought, through an unconscious archetype of the Friend: “I will keep you up!” “What’s yours will find you” “You have to shine!” “You are not alone. The Eucharist in the soul!”
I was privileged to have such a “tree” friend and to them owe what I have become, to a large extent, even though they passed away 15 years ago. Thanks to this friendship, I learned to face loneliness, to value time as a resource, to show gratitude to Heaven for everything I was given, to live and to look for the lessons to be learned from all this. These friendships are invaluable and, over time, we increasingly realize their moral support.
If others give us the even greater privilege of being their “tree” friends, then let us rejoice that we have the chance to love them permanently, following the highest measure that the Friend of all, the Saviour, has given us. Let’s tell them, with a warm smile: “If you need me, you know where to find me. I’m here. I’m waiting for you.”
Corina Matei, PhD, is an associate professor at the Faculty of Communication Sciences and International Relations at Titu Maiorescu University.