Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Ships That Passed in the Night

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
"The Theologian's Tale: Elizabeth"

I've spent a total of 24 hours in Germany--I went to commemorate the wedding of two of my friends from college, who were married in Illinois while I was living in France. At their reception-diner, I had a very nice chat with a young German fellow, and afterward I found myself contemplating one-day friendships: Two paths cross, two people enjoy each others company for a time, and then they continue their separate ways. Was there a point to such brief encounters, I found myself asking, if they produced no lasting connection?

"If a thing is a pleasure, a hmân wants it again. ... But the pleasure he must be content only to remember?"
"That is like saying 'My food I must be content only to eat.' "
"I do not understand."
"A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmân, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. ... What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then--that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?"
-- C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

Would it be reasonable for a ship to mourn the passing of another, saying "What good did the meeting accomplish? I would have been better off alone." Not at all. The encounter brings a little light, a little comfort, and a little memory to carry along on the journey. Instead of wasting energy regretting the brevity of a short meeting, better to enjoy the moment fully and cherish the memory as the friendship's final fruition.