This post by Billy Biegler, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post.
Mid-sip of a cup of coffee, on an outing with an old high school friend, I heard the beginning of a terrifying sentence; “Remember the time in high school when….” Immediately, possibilities ran through my head–most of them embarrassing: Do I remember the Junior year belly flop contest? The angst ridden livejournal entries? My colorful tongue, Italian temper, liberally bumper-stickered Volvo or large collection of novelty sweatshirts? Sadly, I remember all of that.
And then I wonder, “Why is this person still friends with me?” Sometimes, fidelity in friendship is mind boggling. Are people gluttons for punishment, enduring the obvious imperfections of their fellows? Or are they blind to the issues and insufficiencies of their closest friends?
Recently, speaking at the University of New Hampshire’s Commencement Exercises, Jennifer Lee, Creator/Writer of Frozen, assuages these more troubling questions. With clarity and vulnerability, Lee opens a door to the unique potential of our embarrassing or difficult human attributes: (Feel free to watch the entire video, but pay particular attention to 7:30)
That which Lee names is that which many actors recognize at some point in their careers: characters preoccupied with their inadequacies are boring. They are unable to move past personal obstacles because of self doubt. But equally as boring are perfect characters. Characters without inadequacies are flat, lifeless, generic and two- dimensional.The ideal characters are imperfect and comfortable with their imperfections. These are characters that actors love–and love to play.
And so it might be with friends. Good friends–those who know us best, with whom we are our truest self–are not those who expect us to be perfect. Neither are they those who demand a constant state of remorse, guilt or shame for imperfections. Rather, close friends are those people who love us because of our imperfections–not in spite of them. They are those that understand that a good character, and the foundation of a good friendship, stems from imperfections. Yes, close friends are people who allow us to be ourselves and to love ourselves– not in denial of our flaws, but with an appreciation for them.
Perhaps Lee reflects the truth of many spiritual practices: Where we are weakest is where we are most loved. It is because of those more human characteristics, those frustrating personal tendencies, and even the embarrassing stories of the High School self that friends are afforded the opportunity to laugh, smile, reminisce and appreciate all that they share in a truly human relationship. It is in knowing the imperfection of the other that the friend is afforded the opportunity to love. And it is in being loved that the beloved friend can more fully appreciate her/himself. It is no shock, then, that fidelity is mind boggling. Because fidelity is the seat of a friendship rooted in love. And love is a mystery.
The final sip of my cup of coffee and one more high school memory brings the reunion to a close. “I’m sorry for all of these stories,” he says. “I am all over the place!” “You’ve always been a bit frenetic…” I respond. “And I love you for it.”