Should Auld Acquaintance Be Ignored

This page written circa 22 Jun, 2002.

Two interactions with old friends took about 1% of the last month to happen, but easily ten times that have I spent reflecting on them. One haunts me, one gives me a warm glow. Perhaps I can excise the ghost and explain the glow by setting out the stories here.

I could feel something amiss, something unspoken, behind the words in the email. I followed up the email exchange with a phone call, but I chose an inopportune time. Now my friend likes email, because it waits for you and you can compose your replies carefully. The next exchange carried more news. My friend has a friend who chose to become a single mother. The baby was born with Down Syndrome. All I could think to say was "What a mess". Not a useful comment.

Most of my readers will now be thinking "How can this happen to a sensible person in the 21st century?". Nothing less than religion should be able to cause such unnecessary ruin. The answer lies in the timing: Conception overseas, dubious medical response, and an inability to face a very late termination. Perhaps religion in the other country applied some pressure.

"What a mess" gave way to "My poor friend". "Glad I don't have a friend in that mess" followed. The ghost that haunts me is the question "What would I do if I had a friend in that position?". How would I respond if a friend looked like becoming a major burden, as a consequence of inaction or weakness of which I disapproved intensely?

On a completely different front, I has a few minutes to kill while a program ran a few weeks ago. I browsed the internet. In fact, I practiced the searching techniques Warwick had discussed last year. (I was pondering the prospect of writing an agent that could scour the internet for lost connections.) Seeking a difficult target I looked for a person with whom I had lost contact in the early 1980s, and for whom I had looked unsuccessfully, if casually, before. I found his name mentioned incidentally in a Victorian State Government document, a pdf file about an ephemeral event at which some institution would be represented by the said Mr Brett Wake. Emailing the institution I found he had since left, but the current director said he would forward my email. In due course we connected. It was a near thing, for the degree of separation was great. It was a blast from the past, and it has been an ongoing delight to catch up.

Brett was the main reason I chose to live at Wesley College in 1977. He unwittingly made major, positive alterations to my future. Mostly I remember him because he was a fun, kind, sensible person with whom I lost contact for no reason other than our movements at the time. This does not seem like justification for the extent to which I am glad to find him and to find out that his life goes well.

In this last month I must also have watched "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone" with Merinda at least twenty times. It stands this accelerated test of time. I tell Meri how much like Hermione I would like her to be.

It is all about friendship and loyalty. These are central ideas in Harry Potter: The houses represent Ambition, Loyalty, Courage, and Wit. These are not orthogonal attributes, of course, a weakness in the Rowling model. Our heroes and heroine in HP:TPS have courage as their forte, but loyalty also. (Makes Hufflepuff rather superfluous, but then four houses are needed for symmetry.) The bad guys have ambition, for which loyalty can be an impediment. There was a time when I thought loyalty to be of prime importance, Andrew and I remarked upon our agreement on this. Now I believe it needs to have bounds.

I still cannot answer the question. I suppose I do not know what to do with my only dear old friend who believes in a god and has lately taken up creationism, one of the few beliefs that is demonstrably based on erroneous, selective, and out-of-context information, not to mention occasionally lies. It is only distance that removes from me the need to respond. Nevertheless I definitely hold that one of the main parameters of a person is the "limit of loyalty", and too much can be as unwise as too little.

| Home | Back |