I said goodbye to a friend the other day. It was both parting and reencounter. Distracted over the past year, we had not seen each other much and now he was going and there were too many things we hadn’t done. My thoughts went to all those evenings and confidences that we had not shared.

But the emotion of our final embrace reaffirmed our friendship and gave me some hope that ours might survive the twin devils of distance and time.

While growing up, I was often told in warning, “Tell me what company you keep, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Only this morning did I discover, while searching for the source, that the advice shared in suburban California in the 1970s, was penned by Miguel de Cervantes.

Indeed, I may have taken Cervantes’ advice a bit too much to heart at first, shunning the pot smokers, the hot-rodders, and the fornicators. Fortunately, I realized before it was too late that these were often the best sort of company to keep and that the ones to be avoided were those who spent their time shunning.

These days, I am happy to be judged in the reflected light of my friends. They are generous, passionate, free-thinking, worldly but innocent, avid, fond of conversation, music and nightcaps. They spend their money carelessly and with verve and almost always return the books they have borrowed. They are good company.

More importantly, our friendships have acquired an easy way about them, like the slow taking of a deep breath. Once, a friend chided me, “I want you to like me for my flaws, not just for what I do well because only then is it really friendship.” After that, I began to let my own guard down, trusting that he too would like me, flaws and all.

Because I have made my home in an adopted country and tend anyway to a certain solitude, my friends have become the anchors of my life. As Willa Cather said from the barren Nebraska plains: “Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family—but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.”

Henry David Thoreau, a solitary man if ever there was one, added, “The language of Friendship is not words, but meanings. It is an intelligence above language.”

I do not know what will happen to my departing friend and our friendship that he takes with him. Words do not suffice to paint the full picture or explain away the loss. But his is company I would like to keep.

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