One glorious sunny day, my girlfriend "C" and I share a seaside restaurant table with a married couple, call them Harry and Sylvia.
Harry gazes at Sylvia with such a glow. I tingled with memory.
"What a look!" I say to Sylvia, while Harry goes to the pickup window for their order. "He seems to love you so much."
"I didn't notice," she says.
Only a second before, I thought the sun rose in his eyes. I wanted for myself what Harry gives Sylvia. I kiddingly consider placing a personal ad: "Done with chemo. Are you man enough for me?"
It was just a thought.
Harry returns, followed by C, with our own fish orders. It's so easy to read bliss into marriage, especially if you're single and imagine that fate cut you short.
Romantic ideals mislead us into regressing into the heroism of King Arthur; that one person can fulfill all needs, not only providing companionship in good times, but compassion during the bad. Long love means ancient patience, selflessness and a willingness to read medical charts and search for Web sites on new experimental solutions; on such myths is domestic rancor born.
Meanwhile, we don't see the light in our loved one's eyes.
With friendship, we suffer no such delusions; gladly, we share the tasks with as many as are willing.
Over time, with each of my friends I have forged marriage-like bonds, comfortable and committed. C won't let me get up to get an extra tartar sauce. We go back more than 30 years, to the days when designer Perry Ellis was alive.
"My friends take turns staying with me," I tell Sylvia. "They hardly leave me alone."
"You're lucky," she says. "All my friends are dead."
I've lived 15 years without a husband. But I wouldn't last a week without my friends.
Disease makes the distinctions between marriage and friendship all the clearer. One man, no matter how good, can only do so much. It takes an e-mail list to heal a woman.
Friendship is the harvest of living. How valuable is the crop.
There is an economy among friends, much like setting the interest rate. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan weighs the financial growth of the nation using job expansion, consumer confidence, unemployment.
So life, too, has its own complex "economic indicators." Health, friendship, intimacy, creativity, finance, shelter, spirituality.
Through these, I assess my own personal treasury, deciding how much to rely on each factor. Whatever my troubles, in terms of friends, there is a strong, good yield.
This week's Torah portion, KiTetze, contrasts the conflicts of marriage to the obligations of friendship.
In marriage, the Torah warns that anything can go wrong. Love starts strong, but can wither. Passion can lead to divorce, and with it comes the obligation to a lovelorn child. No wonder so much space is devoted to care of the orphan, the widow and the stranger, those who suffer innocently when marriage ends.
Friendship expects less, yields more. Even distant friends must be treated like brothers. My favorite of this week's biblical passages suggests that if you see a fellow's ox has fallen on the road, don't ignore it; help him raise it.
Friendship depends on the raising up of each other, on being there for the visits and the comfort. Knowing when to act and when to leave.
A few weeks ago, when my body weight was at its ninth-grade low, my buddies assigned themselves the task of putting meat on my bones.
Some of them did the shopping. Others the cooking. Still others sat with me during the torture of watching me clean my plate, while I was learning once again to swallow.
They didn't ask my permission. Good thing, too. I couldn't speak, but I was tempted to say "no thanks." Part of me rebelled, another part dripped with ego. I was the ox that had fallen. I needed raising up.
My friends were my mirror, and I let them reflect back at me. I needed feeding.
Soup, salmon and ice cream help gain weight faster than false pride.
"Be tranquil," the sages say. "If there is anything needed, my friend will see it and do it for me."
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