Most friendships easily come and go.
On a chldren’s playground, alliances form, shift, and disappear as easily as sand dunes in a desert. As we grow, we make friends at school and at work, on sports teams, at committee meetings, and ice-cream socials.
These friendships stem from mutual interests and afford us companionship, but they are not particularly special. They are coolly refreshing, but do not satisfy a hunger deep down inside.
Once in a great while, however, we meet a true kindred spirit – someone with whom we feel immediately comfortable, with whom we can amicably discuss anything that comes to mind, to whom we can bare our souls without fear of mockery or misunderstanding.
As two ships navigating a storm-tossed sea on a moonless night take comfort in knowing that the other is there, so the knowledge that a soulmate exists helps make everyday life more bearable.
The French author Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) writes about such an experience in his essay, On Friendship. For four years he and Etienne de la Boetie were the best of friends, so attuned to each other that they were as one soul in two bodies.
When La Boetie fell ill of dysentery, though the disease was contagious, Montaigned stayed by his side night and day until La Boetie’s death.
In reading the following description, some may be tempted to snigger and make light of the relationship because of Montaigne’s use of the word “love.” Wonder instead about a society that is uncomfortable with a deep and abiding friendship between two men:
“What we ordinarily call friends and friendships are nothing but acquaintanceships and familiarities formed by some chance or convenience, by means of which our souls are bound to each other. In the friendship I speak of, our souls mingle and blend with each other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them, and cannot find it again.
“If you press me to tell why I love him, I feel that this cannot be expressed, except by answering: Because it was he, because it was I.
“Beyond all my understanding, beyond what I can say about this in particular, there was I know not what inexplicable and fateful force that was the mediator of this union. We sought each other before we met because of the reports we heard of each other, which had more effect on our affection than such reports would reasonably have; I think it was by some ordinance from heaven. We embraced each other’s names.
“And at our first meeting, which by chance came at a great feast and gathering in the city, we found ourselves so taken with each other, so well-acquainted, so bound together, that from that time on nothing was so close to us as each other…
“Not one of his actions could be presented to me, whatever appearance it might have, that I cound not immediately find the motive for it. Our souls pulled together in such unison, they regarded each other with such ardent affection, and with a like affection revealed themselves to each other to the very depths of our hearts, that not only did I know his soul as well as mine, but I should certainly have trusted myself to him more readily than to myself.
“Cyrus, King of Persia, asked a young soldier for how much he would sell a horse with which he had just won the prize in a race, and whether he would exchange him for a kingdom: ‘No indeed, Sire, but I would most willingly let him go to gain a friend, if I found a man worthy of such an alliance.’
“That was not badly spoken, ‘if I found one’; for it is easy to find men fit for a superficial acquaintance. But for this kind, in which we act from the very bottom of our hearts, which holds nothing back, truly it is necessary that all the springs of action be perfectly clean and true…
"The ancient Menander declared that man happy who had been able to meet even the shadow of a friend. He was certainly right to say so, especially if he spoke from experience.”
Donna Nielsen Murphy, "A look at kindred spirits," Irondequoit Press, January 19, 1995. Translation of de Montaigne by Donald M. Frame.