Family and Books

A true friend is a valuable thing.

Still, sometimes the desire to have a friend can be a hindrance. If we want to have a friend so desperately that we’ll settle for someone who is a negative influence on our ability to practice virtue or to think clearly about important questions, then we have done ourselves real harm. In that case, the desire for a good thing can lead us to a bad decision.

But the lack of a friend is, on the other hand, a heavy burden to bear. To lose a friend, or to have no friend to lose, can be a difficult experience.

If there’s a chance to make or to work toward a friendship with someone who can be a pleasant and thought-provoking and virtue-encouraging presence, it is worth taking the chance, and making the effort.

When that’s not yet a possibility though, there are alternatives.

I’ve been lucky to have many good friends, and yet there are also moment of my life where I’ve been out of touch with some of my closest friends for a period of time, for one reason or another. During those times, I’ve reflected to myself that having a family, and a habit of reading great books of the past, can be a good way of strengthening oneself against being pained at the lack of friends.

Those two factors provide many of the comforts of friendship. Indeed, practically speaking, it feels to me like they turn good friendships into a privilege which makes a life immeasurably richer, but without which nothing important is lacking.

The close relationships within a family, and the exalted communion possible in reading the great minds of the past, each meet, in some of the deepest ways, the needs for which friendship is a response. They are friendships, of a sort. A life of family and good books is by itself able to be, I think, a life of abundant satisfaction, of bliss.

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