Saturday, April 28, 2007

My Friend

This year I have been blessed by God, for I have been able to meet many new people and to make many new friends. But there is one person in particular to whom I would like to introduce you, to paint a portrait, as it were, so that you can know him. For in knowing him you shall meet a truly honorable, worthy and noble individual, someone from whom I have learned and continue still to learn.

I will not name him for I do not wish to use his given name, and any name of my own invention does not suffice. I shall simply tell you of him in an effort to pay tribute to who he is as a person and to the beauty of his soul.

He was kind before I ever met him, for he cautioned me that if I would write freely about my life and my thoughts, it was quite possible that certain Yeshiva University students would figure out who I was. He took it upon himself, therefore, to clarify this to me, in case I was unaware that these students read my blog. He also welcomed me to the university and intimated that if I had any interest in various clubs or organizations, he was more than willing to tell me about them, and simply presented himself as an honest, upfront, helpful individual.

When I did meet him, I realized that he was more than kind. He is handsome, funny, entertaining, rather brilliant, sarcastic, cynical and droll. He possesses a quick wit and a quicker tongue; he grasps concepts as soon as they are presented, analyzes them, and is immediately able to retort. His comebacks are always very sharp, and it's a pleasure to hear them simply because they are so right and demonstrate how well he understands a particular situation. His summations of the caliber of the people in the room are extremely amusing, as is his ability to realize the flaws in a particular approach while simultaneously seeing a solution.

With all these assets at his disposal, it's a wonder that he's not arrogant. In fact, he's quite the opposite. He's extremely considerate of the feelings of others. Upon my changing something due to his suggestion, he was immediately contrite, desperately informing me that I shouldn't "change on account of haters." More importantly, he is able to respond when people are unhappy, sad or otherwise melancholy. I was particularly frustrated by a paper that I had to write on Plato's "Euthyphro." He immediately sent me his own paper on the topic, explaining that he hoped it would "help jar some thoughts loose." Although I was not allowed to look at other student papers before writing my own, the thought was much appreciated.

Another time, I was feeling miserable for no particular reason, and asked that he please tell me something amusing. He responded immediately, telling me a very funny anecdote that had me in gales of laughter. Incidentally, it is not very easy to make me laugh, as I don't respond to most jokes (even though I understand them.)

He is extremely smart. My friend thinks quite a lot and is very persuasive when he argues. He writes with great clarity, cleverly suggesting points and proving them, and sometimes asking questions in order to force you to recognize the truth of his points.

He challenges me, and this is what is most exciting. He doesn't let me get away with sloppy or vague answers to questions. His questions are always very pointed so that one has to give very precise, clear answers.

He is different from me. The most important way in which he differs is his focus. Mine is decidedly individualistic; I go after the special individual, the one who is chosen for a specific purpose, a particular character. He believes it to be his responsibility to help the community on a whole, to act in a manner that gives back, supports and builds a relationship with all Jews. While I often base my views on textual sources, his views are derived through his upbringing and personal experiences. The care he feels toward others impresses me; I admire his firm commitment to the idea that "each individual Jew must be responsible for and take care of the rest of the whole."

But he is most amazing in that he is not afraid of me. He pushes me to be more than I am, and is not afraid of my angry response. I have had teachers who have done this to me before, and it is the most necessary part of my growth, but I have never had a friend who felt comfortable enough (and was adept enough) to do this. To illustrate, let me give you an example.

In twelfth grade, I had an excellent AP English teacher. I had to write a paper on Seamus Heaney. I did not like Seamus Heaney; I did not feel like I understood his poems or his views. I wrote an entire paper about him, but it wasn't the best I could do. My English teacher understood this at once and forced me to rewrite the paper, to delve into the subject and begin entirely anew. I threw a temper-tantrum. I ranted, I raged, I was angry, I decided I hated her. She was unhappy about this, and she offered me an extension, but she stood firm. And that completed, brilliant, utterly different Seamus Heaney paper was one of the best papers I have ever written. I still feel very proud when I look back on it, because it was one of the most difficult papers I ever wrote. But she knew that I had the capacity to do it, and she forced me to do it, and I am the better for having been forced.

This year, I was placed in the same situation. On a day when I was supposed to give my English teacher an outline, I handed her a ten-page paper. She read it, then informed me of something I had already known but refused to admit- that I would have to rewrite the paper. I had deliberately done something I knew was unacceptable- I had treated a character in a very black and white fashion to prove a point, even though I myself knew the point wasn't true. My English teacher wasn't going to let me off so easily. She forced me to write a completely different paper. Again, I cried, I ranted, I raged; I was truly, truly angry. But the end result was brilliant- again, one of my best pieces. And I feel proud of that paper, too, and am glad that my teacher believed in me and forced me to do this.

My friend has the rare ability to push me to go farther than I wish without my deciding he's an utterly worthless human being whom I will never speak to again. In a certain circumstance, when I had knowingly done something but refused to accept the consequences of my action, I resorted to my usual temper-tantrum. I was angry, I cried, I threw a fit- to no avail. When I nastily suggested a way of getting back at him for not giving me what I wanted, he coolly informed me that if I did that, I would be acting like a "jerk." That gave me pause. A jerk? I don't think I have ever had a friend who has called me a jerk before.

But he was right. I looked at what I was doing, why I was complaining, and realized that to some extent what I had done was my own fault. And I would be acting like a jerk if I put my revenge plan into play. He showed me how to act and I learned. He also, in his way, offered me a solution, suggesting a kind of compromise. I didn't fulfill his terms due to the reward he offered, but because I knew that he was right and I was wrong.

Now, lest you think that the way to win my friendship is to refer to me by less than complimentary names, let me explain that I generally do not react well to criticism. My friend happens to have a rare quality which enables him to critique me and for me to understand and appreciate his criticism, even if I do not like it. His casual sarcasm allows him to do this; although initially hurt by one of his remarks, I grew to appreciate and enjoy his very clever, very smart sense of humor. As I said, he's not afraid of me. He'll call me on my behavior or engage in very clever dialogues where he gets the better of me, and I enjoy it immensely because it's such fun.

The only thing I wish is that I could know him better. He's such a unique and rare individual that I wonder who he is, what he is, what matters to him, why he is the way he is. But he is a very private person and he will not share this information freely. That is another way in which we differ- when I write, I reveal myself; he, in contrast, will not necessarily put a name to his opinions. Perhaps it is because he wishes others to consider these opinions on their own merit, and not due simply to his name. As I said, he is very honest.

It constantly amazes me that he doesn't take offense when I bother him (or if he does, he's too polite to show it.) I needle him constantly, after all, because I'm very curious by nature, and I'm especially curious about him.

He is a truly wonderful person- caring, considerate, kind and insightful. I am blessed to have such a friend, and I am going to miss him when it comes time for him to move on to bigger and better things. He makes the world a more beautiful place, and I consider it an honor to know him. I wish him all that is good, and thank him for helping me to grow and to be a better person. I have learned so much from him.

He is one of the best people I know.


smoo said...

Why on earth do you believe you have to give him up as a friend once he moves on? True friends can remain so over long distances and over long periods. Phone and email can help you catch up and there is no harm in getting together for coffee.

I have noticed that many people give up their friends of the opposite sex when they get married. I think this is a terrible shame and unnecessary. If your mate trusts you and you trust yourself, you should be above reproach. And if this person is has such a positive impact on you, why lose that?

Consider yourself blessed to have such a person in your life.

Of course, the real question should be, "Why don't you ask him out?"

Ezzie said...

I want to meet him. As I said to another [mutual] friend tonight... "We like nice people." Nice isn't just a term to be thrown out - it has much deeper meaning. Your friend sounds very nice, and incredibly - almost impossibly - impressive. :)

Moshe said...

Oh, I want to meet him. He almost sounds too good to be true. I agree with smoo -- Why can't you remain friends even as he moves on to "bigger and better things
." There's always a way to keep up with a close friend, especially someone like this.

Chana said...

Dear my readers,

To assuage the concerns of those close to me who worry about how some will interpret this post, I want to explain that it is meant only insofar as I respect my friend and would like to give him a "gift," as it were.

Some people bake amazing cakes, so they give their friends cakes. Some people are divine singers, so they will compose songs. My talent is for words, hence I write tributes.

I have always thought that it is a sad thing to praise people after they are dead, because even if theoretically the soul listens, the person himself/ herself doesn't know how appreciated they are. Far better to let the person know while they are alive how well you think of them. And if you would eulogize someone in a public forum, how much the more so should one praise or write a tribute to a living person in a public forum.

So I hope you will think of your own friends, and anyone who has bee kind to you, and remember to thank them now, today, while they can hear you...and not wait till it is too late.

Miriam said...

What a beautiful tribute it is...Chana once again well done:)

Anonymous said...

Chana, I stumbled across your blog and I have to say I am fascinated. How you have the time to maintain this blog with our SCW dual-curricula is beyond me! I guess it is a passion of yours...anyway, this piece about your friend is beautiful and a little mysterious. This guy sounds a lot like a guy I know, a secret admiree of mine, you might say. Anyway, you say you aren't interested in him THAT way, but I do hope that you get to know him better...and by all means, if you don't want him, spread the wealth.

Chana said...


A secret admiree of yours? And if I don't want him, I should "spread the wealth?" Ye gods! Heaven forfend that I should place my friend on any sort of market. Though I suppose he'll be pleased to know that you, whoever you are, are secretly in love with him. Now I can tease him! Huzzah!

Anonymous said...

A comment on your first comment:

"Do not save your loving speeches
For your friends 'till they are dead;
Do not write them on their tombstones,
Speak them rather now instead."

~Anna Cummins

Anonymous said...

"With all these assets at his disposal, it's a wonder that he's not arrogant."

A better question would be why on earth a guy like this would be in YU? Perhaps he is lost.

Chana said...

Last Anonymous,

Ouch. You really think that good people don't come to YU? That's a shame.