Our national broadcaster recently had a show about colossally bad first dates. There were your classic stories, from the lack of a spark to the instantaneous stalker. One of the stories was of a guy who asked a girl out to a concert in another city. He decided for their first date to drive her three hours from Calgary to Edmonton, go to an outdoor concert, and drive the three hours back.
Needless to say, it was a disaster.
It began well. They were fully engaged in conversation on the way there. As he was looking at her, talking, he bumped into the car in front of him. Late for the concert, in the freezing cold—it is Edmonton, after all—they found their seats a mile away from the stage. They huddled in the brisk wind as miniature figures danced to rock music on the stage far below. Defeated and exhausted, they made their way to the car, fought traffic, and pulled back onto the highway. About halfway through the drive—late at night, after a long date—they ran out of gas. They put their four-way flashers on, pulled off the road to make a phone call, and were promptly hit by a truck, hurtling them hundreds of feet toward their destination.
They both lived, miraculously, but needless to say it was a quiet drive back to Calgary—him in the back seat of her mother’s car, in the middle of the night, while she stared out the window in the darkness.
Granted, this is an unusually bad date. But I don’t know what the guy was thinking at all. You don’t go for a six-hour drive on a first date. It’s just the wrong thing to do. Going on a drive, two adults staring ahead through a bug-smeared windshield, is fraught with first date dangers: lulls in conversation, awkward silences, permanent disagreements, and, apparently, traffic violations. There was no second date.
There is a principle, I think, in the drive together. C.S. Lewis talked about friendship in his book The Four Loves. Set apart from other expressions of love, friendship is unique in its disposition. The natural posture of lovers is “face to face,” Lewis argued, but friends walk “side by side; their eyes look ahead” (Lewis, The Four Loves, 98). Driving together—especially long drives on the highway—is simply the wrong posture for lovers; it is the posture of friendship.
This is how it has always been with my friends, facing forward on a journey together.
I know people that are users—they leverage themselves in relationship to get what they need. Even when it is done generously, reciprocally, that isn’t friendship in the way I mean. My best friends now are people of power in their own worlds—quite disparate worlds—but leveraging that friendship is an idea so foreign to me. Friendship, according to Lewis, must be “free without qualification,” (111) by necessity it is free from “need,” full of a casual disinterest in the actual relationship. We simply walk beside each other in life. Friendship yokes us together, like oxen paired to plow a field. As Lewis says,
“You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him” (104).
This is why I think the metaphor of “pilgrim” is so important to one’s life: we are on a journey, walking beside others who share our destinations, who dream our deepest dreams, who are willing to risk in the same crushed hope. Like the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus, we may even forget what our fellow pilgrim looks like, even as “our hearts burned within us while he talked with us on the road.” We get lost in lovers’ eyes, but with friends we may even forget to look as we point our faces down the shared road. This is the nature of friendship facing forward.