Best Holiday Gift Idea Inspired By 17th Century Fable
’Tis the time of year for family and close friends; to spend time with those who know us best …
Two real friends lived in Monomotapa. Neither possessed anything that did not equally belong to the other. The friends in this faraway land are well worth as much as those in ours, as we say.
One night after each has made all his preparations for bed and is taking advantage of the sun’s absence, one jumps from his bed in alarm. He runs to his dear one’s house, and wakes the valets. Morpheus had touched the threshold of this palace.
His sleeping friend is stunned. He grabs his wallet and arms himself, runs to meet the other and says:
It almost never happens that you come running when I’m sleeping. You strike me as a man who uses the time to sleep better. Did you lose all your money at cards? Here’s some. If someone has started a quarrel with you, I have my sword. Let’s go. Are you bored of always sleeping alone? A quite beautiful slave was at my side, do you want me to call her?
No, says the friend, it’s neither one nor the other. I am grateful for your zeal. You appeared to me while I slept, and you were sad. I feared that it was true and came running as quickly as I could. It’s the damned dream’s fault.
Who of the two loved more? What do you think, reader? It’s a challenging question, worth asking.
Oh what a sweet thing is a true friend! They look to understand the needs you hold in the bottom of your heart. They spare you the immodesty of having to discover your needs yourself.
A dream. A nothing. Everything scares them, when it comes to someone they love.
When I first read this fable, I thought: Ah yes — the immensity of dear friendship. The fabled someone who knows your every desire before you do, who comforts you before you even recognize the source of your sadness.
Then I thought: I’m not with La Fontaine on this one … I’ll take the lead on knowing myself.
To start, why is it a good thing if someone else understands me better than me? Isn’t that a bit weird? At best that makes me a bit of an ignorant creature, a person who has not quite grown up enough to take responsibility for themselves and who they are; at worst that makes me a train wreck waiting to happen and the question is how many people I’ll take down with me.
For as much as we like to imagine that true love equals perfect (even predictive) understanding, it’s not possible. And, the illusion (more like delusion) that such an ideal is worth reaching for does more harm than good. When we believe that others should read our minds and hearts (and if they don’t, well then they don’t love us) we set them up for failure.
We owe each other clear communication, if we want to implicate someone else in the job of meeting our needs and desires. It’s our work to know ourselves, not others’. In fact, how can they really know us if we do not?
And isn’t this mythical friend who anticipates our every need and wish now manifesting in the technological world? Alexa is but one example and the tip of an iceberg. Boon or bane? True friend or stalker creep?
If we remove our responsibility to know our own selves, what’s left? Certainly our friends may help us see things about ourselves that we haven’t seen before. My friends often do this for me. I love my friends because they know me, not inside out, but with the perspective of our shared history or the fresh eyes of a newcomer to my life. I treasure the open and expansive relationships I have with my friends, where I feel cozy and where there’s room to grow.
Kind, compassionate, warm, available, discerning, engaging, challenging and comforting — these are some of the words that pair with friendship in my mind. And though I’ve been talking of friends, I include family, too, of course, in all that I’ve said here. They are the greatest gift I’ll ever receive this season, and every other season for that matter.
For a long time I’ve kept a list in my head — of people who will, should I call, come running in the middle of the night with sword and wallet and whatever else I need. In the meantime, it’s my responsibility to know who I am, so we can all get a good night’s sleep.
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Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 19, 2017.